Who is the narrator of Frankenstein, and why is the narration important?
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There are three different narratives in Frankenstein. Shelley, the author, uses something calling a "framing device" and "epistolary" narration. A framing device is used when a someone's story is told through someone who reads it or hears it (an objective person) (eNotes). Epistolary narration is when a story is told through letters.
First, Shelley introduces Walton's point of view. We get his view of Victor and how he feels about Victor's personality and actions. Secondly, we're introduced to Victor's point of view. We get, first hand, to hear about his childhood and studies, etc. Finally, the creature interrupts Victor's narration and we get its point of view, leading up to its request for a companion (eNotes).
This is important because we get 3 different looks into the same story. The three perspectives allow us to form our own opinions about the story. Also, eNotes points out that "by incorporating three different narratives, that readers get to hear all sides of the story. Walton's letters introduce and conclude the novel, reinforcing the theme of nurturing" (eNotes).
There are three different narrators in "Frankenstein". The effect of this method of storytelling is that the reader is provided with an understanding of events from multiple points of view.
The first narrator introduced is Robert Walton, who, as a neutral party is able to give the reader a sense of objectivity and reliability. The author, Mary Shelley, uses a device called "epistolary form", in which Walton relates what has happened through a series of letters written to his sister. Walton's letters appear at the beginning and the end of the narrative, framing the main body of the story which is told by Victor Frankenstein and the monster.
Victor Frankenstein is the second narrator presented in the book. He gives us background on his own childhood and upbringing, and the events which led to his fateful creation of the monster. The monster himself then interrupts Victor's narrative to tell his own story, after which Victor once again resumes the tale, describing what transpires until the very end, when the narrative is returned to Walton, who provides the conclusion.
There are actually three narrators in the novel. Walton begins and ends the novel by corresponding with his sister through letters. This is known as the "epistolary form" in which letters are used to tell the story. Walton introduces Frankenstein and his creature through his letters to his sister, creating suspense by using Victor's word "demon" to describe the creature. Walton is an objective narrator of both Frankenstein and the creature. Victor Frankenstein then picks up the story, telling the reader about his childhood up until he attends the university. The creature then begins his narration, and the reader is able to learn the thoughts and feelings of the creature to the point where he asks for a mate to rescue him from his loneliness and isolation in a world that abhors and abuses him. Shelley is allowing the reader to judge the story by providing the three different points of view. Do you sympathize with Victor or his creature of both of them? Shelley allows you to make that decision for yourself.
The story of Victor and his creation is told within a frame narration. A frame narration is a story within a story.
When the novel begins the reader is introduced to Robert Walton, a failed writer turned explorer. As Robert is writing to his sister about his adventures in searching for the North Pole, the Robert and the audience meet Victor.
Victor then tell Robert his story about how he ended up in the North Pole. The reader learns of his creature, Victor's past --essentially the story of Frankenstein.
There is a twist however, while Victor is telling his story Robert, he then begins telling the creature's side of the story. In telling the creature's side of the story to Robert, Robert is able to relay it the reader in the letter he is writing to Margaret, his sister.
The significane of this frame narration is the parallels that form between the characters. For instance, Robert Walton shows loneliness and a need of a friend, this same feeling essentially is what drives the creature to his destructive behavior; a need for a mate. Walton also parallels Victor in his love of science and adventure. Walton, the first narrator, is the halfway point, as far as characterization is concerned between Victor and his creature.
Frankenstein is what is called a frame novel. The novel is framed by letters and personal narratives. Therefore, there is no single narrator. The change in narrator signifies whose perspective of the story we are reading. These shifts in point of view give meaningful insight on the motives and mentality of the narrator in question.
Mary Shelley uses a ‘framed narrative’ in Frankenstein, with three different characters telling their story at various points over the course of the novel. First the reader receives Captain Walton’s narration, in the form of letters to his sister. Secondly, they receive Victor Frankenstein’s tale and within his account of events, they receive the perspective of the Creature – Victor Frankenstein’s indomitable creation. The structure is important as “fatal prejudice” is a key aspect of the story. By keeping the Creature’s account of events from us until halfway through the novel, Shelley blinds her readers with the same “fatal prejudice” her protagonist suffers from.
The novel opens in epistolary form, using letters to narrate events. The first letter is from Captain Walton, addressed to his sister, Mrs Saville. These letters detail the progress of Walton’s naval expedition and introduce the reader to his ambitious character, who shares many character traits with the novels namesake, Victor Frankenstein.
The epistolary form allows Shelley to show the reader aspects of Walton’s character, rather than explicitly telling them what he is like. This will enable the reader to understand the sacrifice involved on Walton’s part in the end of the novel, as he agrees to turn his ship around and return to England, in accordance with the wishes of his crew:
“I have consented to return, if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision: I come back ignorant and disappointed.”
Exposing Walton’s wishes to “tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man” in the early chapters is crucial if the reader is to understand that it is Frankenstein’s tale which forces Walton to know his limits and turn back before it is too late.
When Frankenstein boards Walton’s ship and recounts his tale, his words are related to Mrs Saville in Captain Walton’s letters, and in turn to the reader. The narrative shifts to a first person narrative in Chapter One, with Victor Frankenstein explaining his family background before detailing his academic pursuits and accomplishments, culminating in the animation of the Creature. The first person narrative imparts Frankenstein’s passion and need for intellectual stimulation and challenge to the reader, as well as conveying his sheer horror when faced with the animated Creature:
“I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
This narrative is interspersed with letters from Frankenstein’s “own Elizabeth”, whom he promised his mother he would marry on her deathbed. The integration of letters allows Shelley to show the reader what is happening in various places at once, without an omniscient narrative voice.
Following Elizabeth’s letter, is a letter from Victor Frankenstein’s father, conveying the shocking news of the death of innocent William. The narrative shows Frankenstein’s emotional response to this news in comparison to the emotional responses of his family. The effect of this narrative is to see a deteoration in sympathy for Frankenstein, as he is selfish and insular in his family’s period of need.
Eventually, the reader hears the Creature’s side of the story in Vol II, Chapter III. The first person narrative continues, but the voice shifts to that of the Creature; he recounts the “original era of my being” and the series of hardships he endures at the hand of man. The narrative of the Creature is important as it signals a process of realisation for the reader; they realise that they – much like Agatha, Safie and Felix - are blinded by a “fatal prejudice”. Thus far their only opinion of the Creature has been derived from Victor Frankenstein’s hyperbolic descriptions. They see the implications of Frankenstein’s abandonment on the Creature and come to sympathise and, perhaps even justify, his violent actions which cause the death of innocent young William, and Justine.
The narrative shifts back to Frankenstein’s point of view and by this point, the reader feels little sympathy for the selfish scientist; firstly because of his detachment from Elizabeth who does not receive the attention she deserves, and secondly because he abandons the creation of a companion for the Creature despite promising to make one. There is little surprise on the part of the reader when Frankenstein discovers the print of the murderers hand on Elizabeth’s neck. After all, the Creature was perfectly explicit: if he received a female companion he would isolate himself from society, if not he would bring about Frankenstein’s demise.
The novel concludes with Walton’s letters to his sister, following his decision to return to England. This follows the death of Victor Frankenstein and the departure of the Creature “borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance”. The novel concludes with Walton having learnt from Victor Frankenstein’s mistakes and it is pertinent that his voice is the one Shelley gifts the last word.
The framed narrative highlights the dangers of being prejudiced, raises pertinent questions about the extent of human creativity and remains to this day a chilling work of Gothic fiction with messages for us all.
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