Few texts have pervaded the cultural consciousness to take on the afterlife of a haunting myth, as with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). To a twenty-first century reader, the image of ‘Frankenstein,’ often wrongly identified as the creature rather than creator, has become conflated with that of Boris Karloff, an actor in a 1931 filmic representation, which, in a true expression of creative license, was a non-speaking role. However, readers of the text will remember the creature as both intellectual and articulate in voicing his account of life through to the projection of his death.
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This paper seeks to explore the significance of the creature’s voice, arguing that it adds a philosophical and moral dimension to the novel that would have otherwise been absent. The narrative structure of Frankenstein involves imbedded stories, where tales appear nested within other tales. Even the very epistolary nature of the text itself is fraught with tension, as the final pages reveal the letter-writing to align itself more closely with journal entries, with the poetic ending to the text neglecting either a form of signing off to the reader or a self-reflexive ending common to diary entries. This makes us question whether Walton’s sister, Margaret, was indeed the intended reader of the entire narrative, which notably and often conceals the letter-writing format to allow the action of the narrative to take precedence. The narrative structure thus problematises any interpretation of language as straightforward and individually assigned and distinct. A study of Frankenstein as a gothic novel would introduce readings of cultural binaries, where the juxtaposition of normal and human with monstrous and inhuman would suggest that the creature’s voice was intended to sharpen these distinctions. However, as Joyce Carol Oates argues, ‘everyone in Frankenstein sounds alike’ (1983: 549). All events are relayed retrospectively; conversations have often been mediated by knowledge of more recent events, and have been filtered, in the creature’s case, through an expanding consciousness. Voices echo one another, in a blurred and indistinct fashion. This is largely because the epistolary format means that the only voice we hear is actually Walton’s own, and even this has been mediated for a selected female readership. The monster’s voice is largely heard through his petition to the one who seeks his ruin, and even the reliability of Walton’s tale is mediated and arguably jeopardised by his earnest desire for friendship and his wish that Victor would fulfil that role. Noticeably, the voice of the creature appears identical in both Walton’s account of Victor’s story and of Walton’s narration of his own encounter with the creature.
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