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Mary Shelley's intent behind the creation of Frankenstein was to horrify the reader. In her 1831 introduction to the novel, she defines the desire to horrify.
O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night!
Therefore, the diction which dominates the text of her novel is decisive and immediate. Like her own nightmare which sparked the creation of the "pale student of unhallowed arts," Shelley's word choices illuminated the horrific nature of the tale. For example, in chapter four, Shelley's words create an image of a being so horrific that the words chosen highlight the atrocity Victor has brought to life.
His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!—Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.
Not only does Shelley elevate the language of the novel, with attention to both the imagery presented in the novel and the internal dialogue of Victor, her choice of words helps readers to create very defined images of everything--the settings (from the mountains and countryside) to the deaths of William, Justine, and Elizabeth.
That said, there are intentional "gaps" in Shelley's writing. In order to engage the reader and their own imagination, Shelley fails to paint complete pictures for the reader, especially when it comes to the creature. Instead of giving readers a direct characterization of the creature, Shelley only suggests little things about the creature's physical appearance. This allows readers to take responsibility for filling in the gaps. At the same time, this allows readers to use their own imaginations (something Shelley was required to do when charged with coming up with a ghost story by Lord Byron).
Frankenstein is the story of an eccentric scientist whose masterful creation, a monster composed of sown together appendages of dead bodies, escapes and is now loose in the country. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelly’s diction enhances fear-provoking imagery in order to induce apprehension and suspense on the reader. Throughout this horrifying account, the reader is almost ‘told’ how to feel – generally a feeling of uneasiness or fright. The author’s diction makes the images throughout the story more vivid and dramatic, so dramatic that it can almost make you shudder.
A clear example of the use of diction to provoke fear is seen in Chapter IV. Mary Shelley uses words such as “wretch”, “yellow skin”, “horrid”, “white sockets” and “shriveled” to describe the monster, thus making our stomachs churn. Later on, she uses words such as “livid”, “grave-worms”, “crawling”, “dim” and “convulsed” to describe a terrifying nightmare Victor Frankenstein the main character, had had the night his monster came to life.
Mary Shelley carefully picked which words to use when describing a certain object, place, or situation. She obviously knew what words would arouse our trepidation and make us quiver at the thought of such a horrifying description. Whether it’s because of the way the word fits in the sentence or because of the sound of it, words like “disturbed” and “chattered” simply make us feel uneasy.
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