To follow up on the previous post, here is a piece of senior writing from the mid-year exam. The first half of the two-hour exam assessed skills in analyzing poetry. The second half presented this question:
Whereas the epic poem, Beowulf, draws distinct lines between its monsters and the protagonist, Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, blurs these lines. Do you agree?
If so, what is the most important effect of this blurring on an understanding of the term “monster”?
If not, what important aspect of the term “monster” operates equally in both the poem and the novel?
And here, slightly edited, is one of the more elegant responses I read. I am more than happy to share it.
An archetypical monster is a malicious creature that terrorize[s] without remorse, but Mary Shelley takes a different approach and allows the reader to sympathize with the “monster” in Frankenstein. Mary Shelley’s “monster” is conflicted because wants he [he wants to] feel love, but his constant rejection turns his plea for love into a sense of loathing. “I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind” (108). He gives up hope that humans can be kind creatures. He only reciprocates the monstrous behaviors that humans have shown him because he has not been taught any differently. Although the “monster” is ugly and seemingly vicious, there is a kindness in his heart that archetypical monsters do not possess. “I could have torn him limb from limb…but my heart sunk within me as with bitter sickness, and I refrained” (103). Shelley creates a sense of compassion for the “monster” because he chooses not to fight back when the cottagers attack him. The “monster” is the victim in this scene and the cottagers can be called monsters themselves for attacking a creature with good intentions. After facing constant rejection and terrorizing Victor Frankenstein, the “ monster” is remorseful. “I look on the hands which executed the deed; I think on the heart in which the imagination of it was conceived, and long for the moment…when it will haunt my thoughts, no more” (178). He is haunted by the memory of his actions and longs for a time when he does not have to feel the agony of his actions anymore. Mary Shelley blurs the lines and creating a monster that does not align with archetypical monsters. The reader is able to identify with the “monster’s” internal struggle to fit in with society rather than fear his “monstrous” qualities.