How do authorial choices regarding structure and viewpoint create order and influence meaning in Frankenstein and Never Let Me Go?

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Both Frankenstein and Never Let Me Go, though separated by nearly two centuries in publication, deal with unethical or irresponsible uses of technology. Also, both Mary Shelley and Kazuo Ishiguro structure and narrate their novels in interesting, thought-provoking ways for various effects.

Frankenstein is a frame narrative and an epistolary novel. The frames consist of a series of letters from Robert Walton to his sister, Mrs. Seville. We see this letters at beginning and end, while the story of Victor Frankenstein is contained within those letters, as Victor told his story to Robert. Further, the innermost frame of the novel is Frankenstein's creature narrating his own experiences once Victor has abandoned him.

The frames and the letters alter the reader's perception of the characters, namely Victor. The outermost frame shows us how a stranger initially reacts to Victor (he is very sympathetic) and almost mirrors how we will first see Victor when he tells of his childhood and education. The Walton frame also allows us to see how Victor's story changes Walton's mind about his ambitious mission to the Arctic; he has seen the danger of excessive ambition and thinks better of the mission for the sake of his men. Victor, on the other hand, created his monster without sufficient forethought and for selfish glory.

The innermost frame of the novel, the creature's story, certainly complicates our sympathy for Victor and leads most readers to side with the creature, who has been greatly wronged by his creator. The creature's story suggests that he was "born" good and only became evil through the mistreatment and rejection of others. The frames mitigate the first-person narrative by Victor and give us other contexts by which to judge his actions and his version of the story.

Never Let Me Go does not have as complex a structure as Shelley's novel, but the narrative voice is very important to the way the story unfolds. Kathy is the narrator, and she is also one of the "creations," genetically engineered to one day donate her organs to "regular" humans. These people are basically clones, and while they grow up with a somewhat normal life, in young adulthood they transition into roles as donors or carers, until they "complete."

The narrative choice to have Kathy tell the story means that she only has limited knowledge of the genetic engineering and can really only guess at its motives and suggest its potential outcomes. We hear the story of her life from early in her time at Hailsham, a boarding school for the donor children. While there is some mystery, Kathy's lack of information creates suspense for readers, and the big reveal comes as quite a shock to both character and audience.

As Kathy struggles with the meaning of her own life and those of her friends, and as she desperately tries to find a "way out" of her fate, we follow her agonizing emotional rollercoaster. Therefore, Ishiguro's choice of narrator and the suspense created by the way she tells the story definitely impacts the revelations we see and how we react to them.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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Both Frankenstein and Never Let Me Go are told from the perspective of their protagonists years after the meat of the story has already taken place.

In Frankenstein’s case, the novel is set up through a frame story involving Captain Walton in the North Pole, and it is largely related by Dr. Frankenstein himself, who he finds shivering in the ice. This device allows the reader to hear the story from Frankenstein’s point of view, and since his is a flawed and egocentric character, it adds depth to the story through his inner torment and regret. It helps create order in the novel by allowing Frankenstein to pace the story as he sees fit, skipping over the entire question of how he brought the monster to life, for example, and spending more time philosophizing on his character and actions.

Similarly, Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is told from the perspective of Kathy and is set after her friends Tommy and Ruth have already died. Like Frankenstein, Kathy recollects through embedded stories, which allow her distance from the events of the novel while still showing the reader how she continues to process them. Certain aspects of the world she lives in—like what it means to be a donor—are taken for granted, allowing her to reveal them to the reader in a natural way, at the novel’s own pace.

Both these novels are difficult to classify but fall under the purview of sci-fi, even though neither necessarily feels like sci-fi. The choices to tell these stories in the first person, after the fact, is part of what helps them not to get bogged down in the details of the science at hand. These are stories about human nature, told within the specific framework of human memory.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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