Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Defining a hero.

            When we think of the word “hero,” several images spring to mind. These images have been burned into our minds by popular culture over the course of our lives. They are the faces of Superman and Hercules among countless others. They are strong, noble, brave and courageous. By definition, a hero is  a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” One certainly does not think of Frankenstein’s monster upon hearing this. In contrast, villain is defined as “A wicked or evil person, a dramatic character who is typically at odds with the hero.” While the monster does not fit the mold of the hero, he is also definitely not the villain.
            One large flaw in that definition is that if the monster were the villain, Victor Frankenstein would be the hero. Victor is in my opinion the largest coward in the novel. He worked on his creation for years, only to succeed and immediately run away from it. He automatically assumes his creation is evil because of its appearance. He says, “Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.” (Chapter 5) Then, instead of dealing with his problem, he ignored it for months. This also goes back to the basic moral of the story; that man should not attempt to play God. Victor jumped headfirst into his project, and became obsessed. He was not going to stop until he succeeded. However, he was not in any way prepared to deal with the consequences. Victor Frankenstein sets the monster up to be the perfect tragic hero. He created something that was fast, strong, extremely smart, yet aesthetically grotesque…and did nothing with it. The monster was like a large, ugly child left to figure out the world for himself. In this sense, he is simply set up for failure. The monster says, “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay, to mould me Man, did I solicit thee, 
From darkness to promote me?” When the monster quotes Paradise Lost, he is giving commentary on his tragic situation. He is acknowledging Victor’s abandonment, and basically asking, “Why”? He does not understand why Victor “molded him from clay,” giving him the grotesque appearance that made him so unappealing to everyone. Perhaps with Victor’s guidance, he could have somehow fit into society, but left alone he did not have a chance. The monster was also not “born” evil, but was resentful towards Victor’s abandonment and the negative reaction given to him by society. In this sense, it is not the monster who is the villain, but Victor.
 To us, the readers, the monster is undeniably the tragic hero. To Victor, the monster is the villain. The monster did not come to life and start blindly murdering people. There were several events leading up to the murders, all of which, had Victor responded to differently, may have drastically changed the outcome of the ending. The first event that led to the monster’s resentment and rage towards Victor was the initial abandonment. This resulted in the monster having to learn the hard way that he was ugly and people would treat him badly because of this. The monster was not evil, but confused. Confusion is an emotion that often leads to blind rage. Not being able to understand something is maddening, and the monster reacted in the only way he knew how. For the readers, it is difficult to sympathize with Victor, who creates his own fate. On the other hand, it is hard not to sympathize with the monster. He lives in a cave for months, feeling miserable and lonely. Meanwhile, the whole time, he watches a loving family’s interaction, which only heightens this sense of utter loneliness. In this time period, we also get a glimpse of pure goodness in the monster’s heart, proving again that he is not inherently evil. When the monster learns that the family he has been watching is living in poverty, he feels a deep sense of guilt for stealing their food, and thus making their situation worse. He tries to help the family by collecting firewood by night and leaving it outside of their back door. Certainly these are not qualities of someone who is evil.
When a crime is committed everyone is left asking, “Why?” Many times, there is no reason. The murderer is a sociopath serial killer, like Ted Bundy or Jeffery Dahmer who killed simply because they liked killing. In other cases, the murderer is mentally insane, and really has no idea what they are doing. And still, other times, there is a reason. Take for example, a situation where a student comes to school one day and kills twenty people with a gun. This is seemingly random and is usually labeled as mindless violence…but the background story cannot be ignored. Assume it is discovered that the kid had been teased and bullied for the past fifteen years of his life, driving him to this act of “mindless violence.” More times than not, there is a reason, and the monster had an undeniable reason. Murder is never excusable, but it is sometimes understandable. The hurt inside of the monster turned to anger, and he wanted to make Victor feel the same pain that he felt everyday. That is why he chose to kill those closest to Victor, and not Victor himself. In Victor’s mind, the monster is a villain. He is the person who took away the people he loved. However, Victor is painfully aware that ultimately, there is no one to blame but himself.
The monster would not be considered a classic hero, through his violent actions. Instead, he can be seen as a hero by those reading because he is so relatable to the human condition. He is a hero because he provides a source of catharsis. Who hasn’t had days where they feel shunned and neglected as a result of society’s opinion? Everyone is dealt a hand of cards in life that we do not choose. How we respond is up to us. Bullying in school is not an uncommon occurrence. Millions of children are bullied growing up, and move past it to become successful, happy adults. What separates them from the select few who go to school with a gun, pull the trigger, and spend life in prison? As sick as it is, there are people who regard the two boys from Columbine High School as heroes. It is because they did something about their situation instead of just passively accepting it. This is exactly what the monster did. Using this example, I think the monster’s situation is much more understandable and relatable. High school ends, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. For the monster, he is dealt his hand of cards for life. He is set up for failure. There is no changing his situation, and society will never be accepting of him. In his eyes, this is completely Victor’s fault. Realizing this, he cannot passively accept it, but has to take action. For this reason, I truly see him has a hero punishing the villain as he feels is appropriate. I believe Victor’s punishment was fitting to the crime. People should not attempt to play God, because it is never going to end well. We are mere humans, and should leave certain decisions to whatever higher power we may believe in…and whomever that may be, we have to accept that it is out of our control, and should stay that way. 


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  2. This is an excellent blog post, and serves as a great explanation for why you believe the monster appears to the reader as a tragic hero. I enjoyed the description of how both the readers and Victor view the monster in different ways. Victor definitely views the monster as an evil being who demonstrates only villainous acts. However, the audience feels sympathy for the monster, mostly because of how relatable and human-like the monster seems. Shelley does a great job in describing the monster as feeling emotions that we have all felt at one time or another. In addition, I thought the way that you related our view on the monster to real-life people such as Ted Bundy or the Columbine killers was brilliant.

    If you plan to revise this blog, I believe there are a few issues that can be added in or expanded on to further your argument. You focus mainly on the good qualities that the monster possesses, but little attention is paid to the horrible acts he commits. Despite these otherwise horrific acts, much of the audience still views him as a hero. Why is it that the audience chooses to look past these awful deeds and see the goodness that exists in this character? In addition, maybe you could describe how the monster felt as he performed these murders. Undoubtedly, rage and hatred lead him to commit these crimes, but he felt sympathy for his victims as he took their lives. What does this say about the monster’s role as a tragic hero? Is this an important factor in how the audience views him? Another possible topic for discussion is that of alternative actions. What would have happened if Victor or the monster changed their actions? For example, what if Victor did not abandon his creation? What if he would have killed the monster earlier in the story? What if the monster decided only to kill Victor? If these questions are examined, how would these alternatives change the way the audience views the characters?

    One final note, I believe that the death the monster promises he will suffer could add greatly to your argument. Suicide is not something that we come to expect from a villain, but rather something that may be indicative of a tragic hero. The vision of the monster burning himself alive is perhaps one of the key elements in the audience’s view of him. Additionally, why does Shelley choose to have the monster take over the narrative at the end of the novel? The monster’s words in the end are very impactful and filled with meaning. Does this help to secure the audience’s judgment of his character?

  3. In the first two paragraphs, you mostly make an articulate argument that V. needs to be understood as a villain. This does make me wonder if, at least, you view the monster as being in some way (even if a limited or ambiguous one) the hero.

    And, in fact, you argue exactly that. One problem is that, after giving a conventional definition of what a hero is at the beginning, you move much later into discussing the monster as tragic hero. This is an excellent approach, but you don't *structure* it well - the idea that he is a tragic hero, and how we distinguish "hero" and "villain" from tragic hero should, ideally, have all been presented in the introduction, with the rest being dedicated to making the argument.

    You might have done more to contextualize the "tragic hero" within, for instance, Greek tragedy, or Shakespearean tragedy - comparing the monster to, say, Oedipus or Othello would do a lot for your argument.

    I thought the discussion of Columbine, even if it makes you *and* your readers uncomfortable, has great potential. I also think approaching "the tragic hero" through suicide is great - but again, is something that could have been more effective if it was foregrounded, and if the essay was structured around it at least to an extent.

    Short version: I love the ideas, and most of the individual readings are good, but the structure is a mess, and bringing in a more articulate understanding of what you mean be tragic hero could enable you to figure out the best directions in which this essay can (should) grow.