Analysis of Chapters 3-5 of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as related to structuralist Claude Levi Strauss
Mary Shelley’s classic tale of man’s struggle with science and
creation is highly relatable to the ideas studied and interpreted by Claude
Levi Strauss. Myths and their purpose in societies, whether through their power
to persuade, or their power to influence the actions and beliefs of man, are
a key component to understanding the character of Frankenstein.
Frankenstein is a man from a happy family, two loving parents, and a love for his adopted cousin Elizabeth that fueled his desires for marriage and family. From his early childhood, his interests involved the study of science and nature.
“It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things of the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in the highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.” (Shelley)
Levi Strauss discussed the role of myth in language in his essay The Structural Study of Myth. The myth relatable to Frankenstein’s character is that of man and creator. Religion throughout time has intrigued studies of literature and science, and is the underlying theme to Shelley’s work. The Creator is all present and powerful, capable of controlling his creations and they in turn give their undying devotion and service. Through Frankenstein’s early studies of natural science, and his then later studies of anatomy, chemistry, and electricity, the knowledge that he was capable of becoming a Creator became too intoxicating to turn his back on.
“No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.” (Shelley)
When animation is achieved, and the monster comes to life, Frankenstein is repulsed and horrified. Based on preconceived notions of good and evil, and the importance of physical beauty, he abandons his desire to be the Creator. The responsibility is too great and all encompassing. The myth of the greatness of power and the adoration of one’s creations didn’t include for Frankenstein the dark side of such an undertaking. According to myth, one’s Creator is to love and protect them unconditionally, and to guide them through the world they were unknowingly thrust into.
While blinded by ambition, and misinterpretation of the knowledge he was armed with, Frankenstein thought in terms of grandeur. He created the monster as an eight-foot tall being with long black hair and extreme strength in his arms and legs. This in fact demonstrates Levi-Strauss’s idea of myth. It is a part of culture and language and is personally interpreted by each individual. The creation of the monster had to occur in the most ostentatious manner possible to relate the intoxicating nature of the myth held in his head from the time of his youth. Throughout this experience, Frankenstein acknowledges the extreme change in his sentiments towards the monster, but feels no sympathy or connection to that which overtook his life and emotions for two years. “Mingled with this horror, I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long as space were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete!” (Shelley)
These three chapters, and the beginning of Frankenstein’s journey through his own arrogant and irresponsible acts, represent a view of the dark side of mythology. Man’s tendency to personalize and over exaggerate that that excites him has historically lead to disastrous events. This story is a brilliant example of the range and power of our imagination as related to myth in its many interpretations.
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