Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Shelley's Theory of Secrecy


“I trembled excessively; I could not endure to think of, and far less to allude to, the occurrences of the preceding night.  I walked with a quick pace, and we soon arrived at my college.  I then reflected, and the thought made me shiver, that the creature whom I had left in my apartment might still be there, alive, and walking about. I dreaded to behold this monster; but I feared more that Henry should see him” (Shelley, pg. 57).
In the preceding passage, I believe that Shelley is dealing with the theory of secrecy and its consequences.  Victor is terrified by the thought of his monster, and is even more frightened by the thought that Henry may discover his secret.  Victor’s number one concern seems to be keeping the creation of his monster a secret; Victor is so concerned, he won’t even confide in his best friend.  Secrecy plays a major role in Frankenstein, as it becomes a central characteristic of Victor.
One of the first instances in which the theory of secrecy comes into play, occurs when Victor first begins his project of creating his monster.  He spends countless hours alone working on his project, not telling anyone of his actions.  He becomes so involved in the secrecy of his project that he fails to stay in contact with his family.  In the effort to keep his work a secret, Victor becomes a recluse.  One conclusion about Shelley’s theory of secrecy that can be drawn from this example is that secrecy can often isolate a person from others.  In order to keep a secret as big as Victor’s, it is very likely that one would have to isolate themselves from others in the same way Victor did.
After his monster comes to life, Victor runs away for the night and wants nothing to do with the creature.  He is terrified by his creation; he can’t stand the thought of it.  When his friend Henry arrives, Victor refuses to tell him of the monster he created.  Keeping this secret is so important to Victor that he refuses to tell his close friend.  This secret drives Victor to illness, and Henry is left to care for him.  This instance shows that keeping a secret as big a Victor’s, may cause a person to become ill, or drive themselves crazy.  What if Victor had confided in his friend about the secret?  Henry would have likely consoled his friend, and Victor may not have become ill.  Perhaps this shows Shelley’s belief that confiding in someone close is better than keeping something so terrible to yourself.
Victor fully believes that the monster is responsible for the death of his brother, William. However, Victor is so determined to keep his secret that he refuses to speak up.  The consequence of this inaction is that Justine is executed for William’s murder.  Even though Victor knew Justine was innocent, he still could not bring himself to reveal his secret.  This really shows how much Victor wanted no one to know of the monster.  I believe that Shelley may be trying to illustrate that keeping a secret as immense as Victor’s, may have unforeseen consequences that make secrecy no longer worthwhile.
As the reader digests Victor’s narrative, it is important to evaluate the impact that secrecy still has on him.  Victor has likely still told no one his story before Robert.  It is likely that Victor is very pleased to have this chance to get his secrets off his chest.  In telling his narrative, Victor is finally able to release all of his pent up feelings to someone.  This may act as a form of therapy for Victor.  His secret has destroyed his life in so many ways; it may likely be a blessing for Victor to finally confess it to someone who is now close to him.
In conclusion, Shelley’s theory of secrecy plays a central role in Frankenstein.  Victor’s secret has greatly altered his life for the worse.  He seems to be greatly dissatisfied with life; he almost seems like he is ready to die.  Secrecy shapes the character that Victor has become.   This theory of secrecy may be applied to our own lives; we can learn through the downfall of Victor’s character.  Many adverse effects are likely to come about if one keeps a secret that is a huge as Victor’s.  It would likely be better for someone’s peace of mind to confide in someone who is close, than keep a dark secret hidden inside themselves forever.

Citations:
Shelley, Marry. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publication, Inc. 2009.

2 comments:

  1. I really like the theory that you thought of here, and feel it is one that you can do a lot with. Your thoughts are solid, and your reasoning is also well described through situations in the story. You have a ton of room to expand.

    For example, you have plenty of evidence that Victor is keeping a secret and how it affects his personage, but little evidence as given as to why he is so afraid to tell. Should you venture into this topic you have plenty of space to divulge that the secrets may even be an act of self-absorption. Here you could discuss the links that this could have with thinkers of the Romantic time period that Frankenstein was written. Also, this gives you leeway to speak of the self-centered acts of leaving Clerval to tend to Victor with no explanation, and even more appalling; abandoning Justine to death for fear of judgment. Victor was certain that the monster killed his brother and he knew of its location. Frankenstein states, “My tale was not one to announce publicly; its astounding horror would be looked upon as madness by the vulgar.”(Page(s): 67, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley). He is more concerned with being labeled ‘mad’ than the death of a friend as close to him as family. Yes, he feels remorse, but not enough to keep a sweet girl from unjustified death. Beyond the shame and remorse Victor is feeling his reasoning is deeper set in reasons of pride.

    You have given the emotion and physical reactions of Victor due to the secrets he is keeping but could venture further into how this affects those who surround him. So far, Clerval has given up time from his education to tend to Victor without explanation, William is dead, and Justine has been put to an unjust death because of Victor’s self-absorbed pride.

    Also for expansion, you could link Frankenstein’s search to go beyond the limits of nature’s secrets to those he must keep to himself. Victor has discovered the secrets of life, and now that he knows them must keep them all private. Maybe this is nature’s way of evening out the loose ends? You can discuss the possibility that because these are secrets he was never supposed to know, this is why he is incapable of sharing.

    Finally, on a much smaller scale I’d like to discuss the aspects of condensing what you already have. There are a few instances within your paper where thoughts are reiterated that could be cut out, and the word ‘secret’ could be replaced with other words to keep from sounding redundant.

    Other than those small additions, this paper is well thought out. I hope that this is enough information to go off of, and should you have any questions or need for me to elaborate more feel free to contact me.

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  2. I'm almost tempted to just let Katelyn's comments stand on their own here. I am in agreement that the exploration of secrecy is interesting and worthy (although I'm not convinced that there is a "theory" really here - more on that in a moment). Her suggestion that this is connected with Romanticism more widely hits a mark, although I'll elaborate slightly. Frankenstein owes a debt to Romantic poetry, but also to Gothic fiction (which in turn influence many romantic poets): the role of secrecy in Gothic novels broadly speaking is just as obsessive and pervasive as it is in this novel.

    But more importantly, I want you to think about the fact that you say very little about *why* Victor is so secretive. This (now moving away from Katelyn's comments a little) is why I don't really think there's much of a theory here at all.

    You do a nice job of illustrating the role of secrecy within Victor's life, and its impact upon him. But what about its origins or motivations? You are describing a theme of secrecy in an interesting way - but to really have a theory of it, we'd need to understand what is driving Victor toward such a profound, isolating secrecy. That's where the true theoretical material is likely to be.

    That your theory isn't terribly theoretical is illustrated by the end: basically you present the argument that we can learn from the fact that Victor is destroyed by secrecy (or is he really destroyed by creating a monster) - but this is dangerously close to obvious without getting into the origins and motivations as well as the consequences of secrecy.

    It's a good focus, and K. does a great job of illustrating its strengths and its areas for expansion. My major criticism is that you basically confuse "theme" with "theory"; you describe a theme or concern without ever really explaining what the theory is. In other words, does Shelley have an argument or idea about secrecy which goes beyond "keeping secrets is bad/dangerous?"

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