Frankenstein:Horror Archetype

March 14, 2007 at 2:17 am | Posted in horror, monsters | Leave a comment

frankenstein-lightning.gifSaricks, Joyce G. (2001). The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction.Chicago: ALA. 

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (1818). Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus. NY: Random House (Knopf, 1992).    

 Horror fiction differs from other genres in that it does not have a defining plot or exhibit unique themes and conventions. Instead, horror’s purpose is to create a visceral, emotional response of fear in the reader. Subgenres vary in the pace and intensity of the horror story’s emotional rollercoaster ride.   victor.jpgvictor1.jpg

At one end of the goosebump continuum lie spooky but restrained horror classics such as Turn of the Screw or Frankenstein; at the other extreme lie  gory borderline pornographic novels such as “splatterpunk” :

Abstract fear    Terror and revulsion —- Graphic Excess 

 (Frankenstein)          (Carrie)                 (Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

Saricks (2001) proposes some intuitive guidelines for identifying horror fiction (p. 107)

  • Produces emotions of fear and foreboding in the reader
  • Dark menacing mood conveyed by setting, violence, sex, strong language
  • Usually includes supernatural elements, such as monsters
  • Endings are ambiguous or unresolved, suggesting the “horror lives on”
  • Fast-paced, action oriented plot with unexpected twists
  • Protagonists may be psychologically scarred, and the antagonists are evil 

Frankenstein spans horror and speculative fiction genres, since it explores the consequences of attaining forbidden knowledge: of challenging accepted science/technology to make the “unknown known” (Diabello lecture). Within horror plot structures, Frankenstein illustrates the over-reacher plot” : 

  1.  Preparation–Victor Frankenstein devotes years of secret solitary research to discover how to breathe life into cobbled together parts from human corpses;
  2. Experiment–After Victor creates a sentient superhuman monster, his scientific pride dissolves into shock and horror at the grotesque being he wrought;
  3. Boomerang– Frankenstein rejects the creature by running away, refusing responsibility for nurturing his monster. In response, the monster’s naturally open, inquisitive nature is twisted by human cruelty until the monster is driven by anger and a desire for vengeance upon his heartless creator;
  4. Confrontation–When the monster first confronts Frankenstein, he attacks only with words, leaving his master physically unscathed. After the monster’s pleas are scorned, it tries negotiation and threats to spur the scientist to sympathetic action. As the novel proceeds, the confrontations between creator and creation spiral to extremes of rage and vengeance. The “mortal conflict” culminates as Frankenstein chase the demonic monster across the Arctic until the human is on the brink of death;
  5. Resolution/Ambiguity– Frankenstein dies a broken soul since he is unable to kill the monster. After revelling in the scientist’s death, the monster is overcome with remorse and disgust, but denies that it is evil. The monster maintains that its creator is responsible for all the death and destruction resulting from his meglomaniacial drive to create life. In a single final paragraph, the monster jumps out of the boat, with an implication of suicide. However, in classic horror fashion, there is some ambiguity whether the monster is truly gone forever. 
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