Post blog entry #2: Allen Smith’s essay is explicitly concerned with the “terms of contemporaneous racial discourse” (564) that he holds should inform our reading of Victor but which have not factored in some of the novel’s most recent criticism. What have been the dominant terms of those other readings? How does Smith change or add to them to make them part of his “project.” What questions does his project raise for you? Be sure to incorporate specific passages from the essay when responding. What connections might you make between Allen’s work and Angela Davis’s talk?
The number of lenses through which critics have analyzed Shelley’s Frankenstein is mind-blowing. If I had to apply every method to the novel at once, I’d scream. A postcolonial approach is something I’ve never thought of previously, and Smith’s essay raises great questions about Frankenstein when keeping elements of racial discourse and slave narratives in mind.
In the beginning of his essay, Smith notes other ways that critics have recently interpreted the novel, particularly in terms of feminism, maternity, science, religion, and class. He then delves into the myriad of connections to race and, more particularly, slavery, while also tying in these other aspects. For example, he notes the religious parallels Gilbert and Gubar make between Frankenstein and Paradise Lost, comparing the Creature to Eve, who falls into a life of sin (550). One could make another parallel between God and Victor, who creates his monster as a “magician of science”, and think about the impact of Victor’s carelessness as a creator and the monster’s rebellious response. Smith addresses this by detailing the ways in which Frankenstein echoes the pattern of various thematic subjects found in slave narratives, which concludes with the notion that “self-education leads to an increasing historical and political awareness before ill treatment develops his consciousness of personal wrong and alienation…” (555). Smith alludes also to feminist undertones by referring to the “[Intensification of] Elizabeth’s Saxon racial features as the flower of white girlhood” that Shelley incorporates in her 1831 revisions (560). He takes this heightened European ideal to the next level by discussing how it “echoes…dominant cultural anxieties and rape fantasies about white women and black men” (560).
When I first read Smith’s essay, I was floored at how deeply and how easily he was able to find example after example of racial undertones throughout Frankenstein. Without thinking too much, I could initially think of perhaps one passage that stuck out to me in which the Creature says something along the lines of “you created me but I am your master”. Smith points out the various characteristics of the Creature, such as his tolerance to pain and the way in which his unusual visual features are described, and draws parallels to racist postcolonial notions of non-Europeans. Since reading this essay, I’ve come to realize that the way I see the world by default is actually very whitewashed. I had the very same sensation after attending Angela Davis’s talk. I don’t think everyday in terms of race, even when it is sometimes necessary. I’m hoping that throughout this course I can add a collection of lenses through which I can read and criticize more accurately to become a more well-balanced, aware, and productive member of society.
(P.S. I apologize for rambling. It is currently 2:00 AM, though, so can you blame me??)