Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May Book Club: Frankenstein's Monster; aka Elliot Rodger

This year I’ve been doing banned and challenged books for my book club.  And I had intended that Catch-22 be my post for May.  I had started reading Frankenstein shortly after I finished Catch-22, which was to then be my June post.  But in the midst of reading Frankenstein, the horrific shooting perpetrated by Elliot Rodger occurred in California.  Suddenly, certain phrases and quotes from Frankenstein made far more sense to write about it now.  Catch-22 will have to wait until next month.

For those who are unaware of the story of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, it can be summed up as this: a young scientist decides to dabble in some questionable sciences, he creates a man from varying body parts of those already deceased, he brings the man to life, the man learns what it means to be alive but hates being lonely, he tries to blackmail Frankenstein (who is the doctor, btw, not the monster) into creating a female counterpart, Frankenstein submits and then changes his mind, the monster seeks revenge, and then Frankenstein seeks revenge.

While the story has far more emotional intricacies, especially when the monster is telling his point of view, it is a very revenge driven story for the most part.  Movie adaptations of the book tend to minimize the intelligence of the creature, and put far more violent anger in the common people towards him.  The book has very few characters and relies mainly on the relationship between Frankenstein and his creation.

What pray tell does this have to do with the shooting?  Allow me to elaborate.

“I am alone, and miserable; man will not associate with me but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me.” pg. 126

“You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.  This alone you can do; and I demand it of you as a right which you must not refuse to concede.” pg. 127

“I demand a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself; the gratification is small, but it is all that I can receive , and it shall content me.  It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.  Our lives will not be happy, but they will be harmless, and free from the misery I now feel.” pg. 128

What these three quotes demonstrate is that the creature, suffering in loneliness, demands Frankenstein make a companion for him.  What is unsaid, though in the story, is that the creature will exhibit revenge upon Frankenstein if he doesn’t comply.  The creature says that is his right to have a companion.  What he doesn’t think about is the female creature.  She has no say in being created.  He hates his existence but doesn’t want to be alone, so he demands a companion even though he doesn’t consider her feelings.  

Sound familiar?

I haven’t viewed Elliot Rodger’s video, because I have the feeling it would not only make me ill but it would also make me despair at the state of humanity.  What Elliot failed to take into account is the feelings of women.  We have them, surprise surprise.  Men have several rights.  There is a bill that explains some of them.  But in no way are vaginas a man’s right.  The same way that penis is not a woman’s right.  You have no right to someone else’s body.  The only physical rights you have is for your own body.

Outside of the book comparison, there’s a few things I want to talk about.  First, article that I have been seeing talking about the event describe Elliot in one of two ways.  He’s either labeled a misogynist.  Or he’s labeled as mentally ill.  He is both.  Most misogynists don’t run out and kill people.  The same way most mentally ill people don’t go on shooting sprees.  Elliot Rodger was a misogynist suffering with a psychosis, and this is what caused him to choose to kill people.  The fact that his family spoke to people about being worried about him indicates that people weren’t entirely in the dark about the situation.

Second, the backlash of the #YesAllWomen hashtag is exactly why the hashtag exists.   Plenty of men are lashing out against this as an attack on men.  We are not saying all men are assholes.  What we are saying is that all women have experienced some form of harassment at the hands of males.  From rape or sexual assault or sexual harassment, or even the phrase “stop being such a girl” or “man up.”  Women experience this, and men do too.  Our point is that it has to stop.  Otherwise, acts of violence such as this will continue.

Lastly, we need to spend just as much time educating girls about awareness as we do boys.  That is not the case right now.  Right now, girls are being taught that what they wear matters and not to walk alone at night.  When really, men need to be taught to respect women and what consent really is.  Something that keeps coming  to mind is a quote Tina Fey says in Mean Girls, “You've got to stop calling each other bitches and whores, that just makes it ok for men to do it.”  While I think men should respect women anyway, I’m certain it doesn’t help that we treat each other that way.

The whole point of the entire thing is that we need to communicate.  We need to talk about gender equality.  We need to talk about mental illness.  We need to talk about what we teach our children.  We need to talk.  About all of it.  There were two articles I saw online about the Elliot Rodgers situation that I appreciated.  The first was posted on the Belle Jar and written by a female.  The second was posted on Slate and written by Phil Plait.

Here are other quotes from Frankenstein that I like:

“I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man.” pg. 4

“Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction.” pg. 31

“The blood flowed freely in my veins, but a weight of despair and remorse pressed on my heart, which nothing could remove.” pg. 77

“We rest; a dream has power to poison sleep.” pg. 84

“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, [...]” pg. 86

“a devouring blackness overcast the approaching sunshine.” pg. 135

“I had unchained an enemy among them, whose joy it was to shed their blood, and to revel in their groans.” pg. 166

“Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me?” pg. 200

The reason the book received criticism comes from two angles: secular and nonsecular.  More religious people found the book abhorrent because it details acts against God, meaning no one should have the power of that kind of creation except the almighty.  Less religious readers found it to be implying that taking technology too far might allow the technology to turn on mankind.  The indecent scientific experiment is against the will of God.  Sounds about right.  Overall, I enjoy the story but sometimes get tripped up by Shelley’s style.  I also feel that film adaptations could easily miss out on the emotional depth of the monster and his relationship with his creator.