Shelley and Rilke use contrasting syntax to describe the impact of environment on a child’s development. Whereas structure provides a child with basic social skills, a child in an unstructured environment does not learn these skills and consequently faces problems communicating with others as he grows up. In his poem, Rilke favors short, commanding sentences, writing “Embody me” (l. 6), “Just keep going” (l. 10), and “Give me your hand” (l. 14). Though the commands are short and fragmented, they allow Rilke to convey his message to the reader clearly and with ease.
Additionally, the structure of the commands demonstrates the importance of a nurturing environment for children. Rilke places the creator in a position of power, allowing him to model behavior for his child through the commands. Children are very impressionable, and they look up to their parents for guidance, especially at the beginnings of their lives. Though Rilke speaks to the created through commands, they are not authoritarian in nature, rather, they have a nurturing component to them.
This component is key to Rilke’s message, as it grants anyone understanding of his words. By using simple and brief language, Rilke allows for developmental access to people of all ages, thus permitting universal comprehension of his commands. Rilke’s creator is a good model for his child, teaching him to communicate with others in a way that is brief, but still carries meaning. Communication is a skill essential to success throughout one’s life, as it allows for collaboration between people, as well as allowing one to develop relationships with others.
People who are lonely and isolated typically lack communication skills, which contribute to their lack of satisfaction with themselves. Rilke’s commanding, authoritative creator models socially acceptable behavior for his child, therefore giving him the tools he needs to succeed as an adult. Conversely, Shelley’s passive parent is not present in his child’s life at all, allowing his child to grow up without having learned effective communication skills.
Consequently, the child grows up lonely and isolated, and, having never been taught appropriate communication techniques, remains in this state throughout adulthood. Shelley uses long, rambling sentences to convey this to the reader, writing, “G-d in pity made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of your’s, more horrid from its very resemblance” (Shelley 91). Victor’s Creature displays a startling lack of communication techniques, cramming a myriad of ideas into one overly long sentence.
As Victor never models proper communication technique for his child, the Creature remains unsure of when to stop speaking, consequently confusing his audience by introducing them to too many new ideas, as evidenced by Shelley’s use of the semicolon, a tool which connects two different ideas in one sentence. The Creature, who clearly lacks communication skills, remains neglected by society throughout the entire novel. This is due, in part, to Victor’s poor parenting, as he holds the responsibility to prepare his child to the future.
Victor’s absence led to a lack of structure in the Creature’s life, thus depriving him of having a parental figure to model socially acceptable behavior. Had the Creature been in the presence of such a model, he would have learned tools to speak more effectively with others, and may not have been so isolated as an adult. Shelley and Rilke create drastically different parents to convey a single message to readers –– parents must model socially acceptable behavior for their children, should they be successful as adults.
Just as they utilize opposite syntax, Rilke and Shelley employ contrasting diction choices for separate reasons. In Rilke’s poem, juxtaposing diction is used as a teaching device by the creator, helping the created learn to navigate the spectrum of life experiences in a healthy way. On the other hand, Shelley uses opposing diction to show the consequences to the created when the creator displays no interest in teaching these lessons.
In Gott spricht zu jedem nur, eh er ihn macht, Rilke describes the creation of humans, saying that “G-d speaks to each of us as he makes us” (l. 1), before walking us “silently out of the night” (l. 2). Rilke contrasts the words “speaks” and “silently” to emphasize the importance of balance in a child’s life, arguing that a parent must be protective of his child, yet still allow him the freedom to experience the world for himself. Additionally, Rilke addresses the created directly, instructing him to “let everything happen to you: beauty and terror” (1. ), leading to a myriad of life experiences and aiding the created in becoming a well-rounded person.
In particular, Rilke focuses on the juxtaposition between “beauty,” which has a positive connotation, and “terror,” which has a negative connotation. Despite the opposite meanings of the words, both have the same number of syllables, and in both, pronunciation emphasizes the first syllable; these similarities connect the words together and bring to life the notion of “everything” a parent must give a child.
The broadness of “beauty” and “terror” is yet another argument of Rilke’s, saying that the good and the bad come together, and that one must learn to succeed in spite of either one. Rilke places responsibility on the creator to ensure he teaches the created to respond in a healthy way to “everything,” speaking as the creator when he writes, “give me your hand” (l. 14). Rilke contrasts the imagery of connectedness in the word “hand” with the idea of G-d walking humanity “silently into the night” (l. 2).
The word “silently” creates imagery of disconnectedness and abandonment, particularly when paired with “night,” a word typically associated with negative imagery. Rilke creates the contrast to teach the created that they cannot expect everything in their lives to go as planned. In order to thrive and be successful, one must be prepared to accept the good and bad, persevering in the face of adversity. The idea of the created reaching up towards the creator, and the creator reciprocating with his own “hand” is Rilke’s final line of the poem.
By choosing to end with the word “hand,” as opposed to the word “night,” Rilke leaves readers with a powerful message: the parent must be a constant presence in their child’s life in order for the child to be prepared for a spectrum of life experiences, whether they be good or bad. Alternatively, Shelley uses opposing diction as a warning to passive parents of the negative impact they have on their child’s life. Victor’s Creature laments his birth, asking his creator “Why [do] you form a monster so hideous…? (Shelley 91) before reflecting on G-d’s creation of man, using positive diction to characterize it as “beautiful” and “alluring” (Shelley 91).
By calling himself a “monster,” the Creature removes himself from humanity, a consequence of his isolation throughout childhood and adulthood. Victor’s passivity as a parent makes it impossible for his child to maintain a balance of control and independence over his life, forcing the Creature to develop self-reliance to the point where he feels so cut off from humanity that he does not consider himself human.
Additionally, the Creature’s “solitary” (Shelley 91) lifestyle, one forced upon him by his creator, makes him incapable of interacting with others in social situations, which only furthers his isolation and subsequent self-hatred. Instead of teaching his child self-acceptance, Victor’s abandonment teaches his child only to be prepared for negative life experiences, and consequently, the child views life in a negative light. Life is full of juxtaposition and tension, and part of maturing is understanding that opposites hang together.
When children are young, they view the world in black and white; life events are categorized as being either good or bad. An authoritative parent teaches a child to succeed in spite of the bad and the good, as well as teaching the child that not all of life fits into the two categories. A child who learns these lessons gains wisdom and knowledge, and understands that the “grey areas” of life are often the most fulfilling. However, a child whose parent neglects to teach these lessons cannot comprehend the importance of “grey areas,” forcing him into a state of panic.
The Creature, raised by a father who neglected to teach these lessons is a representation of that panic. Unlike Rilke’s intimate relationship between creator and created, which fosters positive self-esteem and confidence, Shelley depicts a hostile relationship between parent and child, arguing that their separation from each other negatively impacts the possibility of success for the child’s future. Both authors further explore the dynamic between created and creator, as well as the way in which it connects to the created’s success.
Shelley and Rilke use contrasting allusions to portray the created as either kind or cruel, however, both argue that a kind creator is essential to the healthy development of the created. As noted previously, without such a creator, the child faces loneliness and isolation throughout his life. In his poem, Rilke speaks as the creator, instructing the created to “flare up like flame/ and make big shadows I can move in” (l. 7-8). The words “flare up” take on a positive connotation, eliciting images of connectivity by linking light and dark, brightness and shadow.
When this image is paired with the word “flame,” it alludes to ancient knowledge. The Greek legend of Prometheus details the story of the titular Prometheus and the way he steals fire from the gods to give to humans, with images of “flame[s]” to emphasize the importance of individual curiosity. Without such curiosity, humans cannot truly find future success. Nevertheless, Rilke insists that the created “make big shadows I can move in,” I being the creator.
Whereas Prometheus steals the fire alone, Rilke argues that this is not necessary for a child raised by an authoritative parent, as the parent should give the child fire. Instead of punishing children for curiosity, Rilke mandates that a parent must honor that individual curiosity as well as help the child navigate it. A parent who performs this service for their child is kind, as he has fostered an appropriate balance independence and dependence in his child. Should the parent give the child too much “fire,” the child will not learn to think for himself, and thus will be unable to succeed in the future.
However, should the parent be too absent from the child’s life, not providing enough “fire,” the child will become too independent, as well as unable to interact productively with others, thus preventing future success. The parent who perfects this delicate balance is deemed as kind, as he has paved the way for the future success of his child. Conversely, Shelley depicts an entirely different creator in her story, one who does not perfect a balance of independence and dependence, giving his child too much of the former.
The child, grown up at this point, confronts his father, telling him, “Satan had his companions, fellow? devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and detested” (Shelley 91). Shelley alludes to the biblical tale of G-d and Satan, in which the latter was cast out of heaven for trying to overthrow G-d, along with his army of “fellow-devils. ” Victor’s Creature, the created, grows up without parents, and consequently has too much independence as a child, leading to the development of poor self-image.
By comparing himself to “Satan,” the biblical figure most strongly associated with evil, the Creature subconsciously yearns to ask Victor for an explanation as to why he is abandoned at birth. The Creature goes further, comparing Victor to Satan’s “fellow-devils,” desiring only for Victor to “admire and encourage” him. Shelley’s provocative allusions works well in her story. As her abandoned Creature searches for an identity, he finds himself unlike any living humans he encounters. Turning to ancient wisdom next, the Creature cannot find a biblical figure he identifies with either.
This lack of identity causes conflict within the Creature, due to his belief that all people have connections with other, thus having some form of self. Consequently, this conflict fosters self-hatred within the Creature, as well as denying him the chance at a successful future. Victor’s continuous neglect of his Creature is cruel. By denying his child a father, he also denies him any chance at a successful future. The Creature’s negative self-esteem is further showcased when he calls himself “a monster so hideous that even you [turn] away from me in disgust” (Shelley 91).
Alluding to the archetype of the self-centered, absentee parent, Shelley places emphasis on “even,” implying that a parent must love his child unconditionally, regardless of the child’s appearance or intellect. Victor completely disregards this, cruelly abandoning his child, thus giving him too much independence, and hindering his future success. Rilke and Shelley depict very different creators in their respective pieces, however, they both agree that a creator must balance independence and dependence in order to create opportunities for his child’s future.
Ultimately, Rilke and Shelley use contrasting diction, syntax, and figurative language to establish a singular point –– an authoritative parent must be present in a child’s life should he have a chance at a successful future. While Rilke creates a parent for the purpose of demonstrating the benefits of authoritative parenting, Shelley’s parent is a warning to society of the danger passive parenting poses to the future of a child. Children with absent parents grow up lacking in communication skills and self-esteem, while children who live with a present parent develop these skills, reaching their fullest potential.
Shelley and Rilke’s message still resonates with a twenty-first century audience. In The Biggest Loser, a television show that focuses on helping overweight adults lose weight and live healthier lives, many participants in the show are unable to maintain their goal weight after the show has ended. Without the supervision of personal trainers and a fixed exercise schedule, competitors struggle to stay healthy, many regaining much of the weight they lost.
Just as Shelley and Rilke argue in their writing, it is imperative for the participants in the show to have an authoritative parental figure as a constant presence in their lives. The show is only the beginning of their weight loss journey, comparable to a child’s first years of life, and when participants return home, they lose the influence their trainer had, similar to the way in which a passive parent abandons a child.. Unlike the passive parent, the authoritative parent teaches his child critical life lessons that provide that child with curiosity, self-confidence, and ultimately, a successful future.