The Frame Structure Of Frankenstein
The following essay is concerned with the frame structure in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and ist functions as it is suggested by Beth Newman’s “Narratives of seduction and the seduction of narratives”. To start with, the novel Frankenstein is a symmetrically built frame narrative with a story at its center. This is not always the case with frame structured novels, as there are examples without a proper center (e. g. Heart of Darkness). The elaborate system of frames indicates that this center reveals some kind of a mystery. However, it would be wrong to asume that the center alone contains the meaning of the novel.
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On the contrary, the meaning of the novel is brought about by the relation between the different stories at the center and the frames around it. One of the main suggestions of the article is the functioning of the inner oral narratives as forms of seduction, to be more specific, seductions into a promise. In other words, they try to persuade their listener to promise the satisfaction of a desire that could not be satisfied directly. The two main examples for this are the Monster’s as well as Frankenstein’s story, but the themes of seductive narration and promises can be found also elsewhere in the novel.
The Monster’s desire is to be loved by someone. When he realises that not only the DeLaceys but every human being will reject him because of his uglyness, he tells Frankenstein his story in order to persuade him to create a female being of his kind for his companion. At the end of Chapter 8 of Volume II (page 97 of our edition) the monster says: “We may not part until you have promised to comply with my requisition. I am alone, and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species, and have the same defects.
This being you must create. ” Frankensteins’s desire, on the other hand, is to kill his creature. Realising that he will probably not be able to achieve his aim himself, he relates his story to Captain Walton in order to make him promise to finish his plans of killing the Monster. Frankenstein says in the middle of Chapter 7 in Volume III (p. 145): “Yet, when I am dead, if he should appear; if the ministers of vengeance should conduct him to you, swear that he shall not live. ” The pattern of stories trying to seduce the listener reoccurs in the novel on a smaller scale.
An obvious example of this is the Monster’s attempt to raise old Mr. DeLacey’s pity by telling him a false story about his origin. Another less obvious example is the way he arranges Justine’s execution. By killing William and putting the miniature the boy had in Justines pocket he makes up the ,story” of Justine murdering William in order to get the picture. As mentioned before, the seduction of the stories of the Monster and Frankenstein aim at binding the listener to a promise. The theme of promising is also reflected in two contrasting episodes of the novel, the one about the Russian master-at-arms and the other about Safie’s father, the first episode’s promise being kept, the latter one’s being broken.
Another occurence of the theme is the promise to return home, which the sailers want Captain Walton to make. Having discussed the narrators intention, we have yet to clarify why their narratives are so seductive. The main reason for both, the Monster’s and Frankenstein’s, persuasive power are their voices. Frankenstein describes the Monster as follows: “He is eloquent and persuasive; and once his words had even power over my heart [… ]” (Vol. III, chapter VII, p. 145). But also Frankenstein’s voice is described as having an extreme persuasive and hypnotic power.
He spoke with a voice so modulated to the different feelings expressed in his speech [… ] that can you wonder that these men were moved. ” (Vol. III, chapter VII, p. 150). The fact that Justine who speaks in a variable voice (Vol. I, chapter VII, p. 53) is not convincing enough to defend herself in court stresses the importance that is subscribed to voice. It seems strange that, neither of these powerful voices is conveyed in the novel by means of tone, diction or sentence structure.
On the contrary, each of three stories in Frankenstein is written in almost the same highly formal language. Beth Newman gives two reasons for this. First, Frankenstein and other early 19th century novels, in contrast to later realist works, do not characterize human beings as individuals but rather as figures that represent abstract and general qualities. Thus, also the narrators of these novels are not highly individualized speakers, as known especially from modern works, but rather lifeless, almost anonymous voices, that are much less important than the stories they tell.
Therefore, Frankenstein and many other 19th century frame narratives contradict most approaches of narrative theory that claim that no story exists apart from a shaping human intelligence. The second reason for the lack of stylistic means to convey the narrators persuasiveness is probably more important and has to do with the frame structure of the novel. Frankenstein offers a reversal of an older novel structure, in which a written document is at the center of a novel surrounded by an oral narrative.
In Frankenstein the Monster’s and Frankenstein’s originally oral reports are not only framed by Captain Walton’s written story, but also transformed into written language. This technique is used to exclude Captain Waltons’s sister and the reader from the horror of the narratives, building a barrier to the seductive power of the spoken narratives that does not work any more in the medium of written language. Thus the domestic tranquility of Walton’s sister and her family is saved and not destroyed like the one of Frankenstein’s family in the center of the novel.