Saturday, November 7, 2015

Coursera: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World (Part 2)

So, I was in Saga last week, but still managed to get the essay out! The blogging... not so much. But for the last two weeks, we read Dracula by Bram Stoker and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Unlike the previous two books, this was actually my first time reading these classics.

Week 3: Dracula

My essay

The Transylvanian Castle as a Twisted Garden of Eden and What it Implies

"You may go anywhere you wish in the castle, except where the doors are locked, where of course you will not wish to go." Does this ring a bell? It did to me. I was reminded of Genesis 2:16, where God instructs Adam and Eve that "you are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil". In the book, the quote is followed by a reference to the count's "knowledge". And like Adam and Eve, when Jonathan gains knowledge, his idyllic life is no more, and he, Mina and their friends are thrown into a world of suffering.

While the comparison of the Count's castle to a twisted Garden of Eden seems obvious to me, how would the original readers have seen it?

I believe so.

Christianity was a large part of Victorian English life, with the Church of England as the dominant Church. Bram Stoker himself was a member of the Church of Ireland. In addition, non-conformist Churches and challenges to Christianity had arisen. I believe that most readers, even non-religious ones, would have been exposed to various Bible stories and sermons from young, and hence would have made the connection immediately.

If the castle is a twisted Garden of Eden, then it's possible to read Dracula through the lens of the Christian Literary Theory. The story can be seen as showing the Fallen World, ruled by Satan, the Prince of the Air (Remember his powers of flight?). Bravely battling him, with symbols of Christianity, are our heroes. While Mina is not strictly a Christ-figure, she comes close with her selflessness, in taking on Dracula's 'sin' and using it to help the others, and finally being redeemed. In the end, evil is defeated and good triumphs.

What I learnt: Apparently, I am introducing too many things in one essay. Got to remember to focus only on one thing, in depth. Also, I need to make my writing more academic.

Grade: 4

Week 4: Frankenstein

My essay

"Abhorred Monster": The use of framing in the narrative to influence the reader

Throughout the novel Frankenstein, the reader is led to see the being created by Victor Frankenstein as some sort of monster. But, if an objective look is taken, this "daemon" and "abhorred monster" becomes something of a pitiful creature - created good, but committing evil deeds due to its rejection from society. It is not, at its core, an evil being.

Why then, and how, is the reader manipulated into believing the worst of Frankenstein's creation?

In the beginning of the novel, the reader is introduced to Frankenstein as a "noble" and sympathetic character. His character is elevated, and used to devalue the character of the monster. Because Frankenstein is so good, this monster that he has created and despises must therefore be bad. In this way, Captain Walton's opening primes the reader to think the worst of the monster.

The second half of the narrative is dominated by Frankenstein, and the monster first speaks only in Chapter 10. If the monster's speech is read in isolation, he is a sympathetic character, but the interjections of "fiend" and "wretched devil" prevent the reader from developing too much sympathy for it. While it is given a few chapters, the overwhelming dominance of Frankenstein's view prevents the reader from developing real sympathy for his creation.

During Captain Walton's closing narrative, he comes close feeling sympathy through the "expressions of [...] misery" from the monster. However, like the reader, he has been too influenced by Frankenstein, and seeing things through his eyes, has his indignation "rekindled". Any genuine emotion the monster may have is ignored.

In conclusion, Captain Walton plays the role of the reader, and his reactions influence and prime the reader to think the worst of Frankenstein's creation. This, coupled with the dominance of Frankenstein's narrative, turns a misunderstood being into a monster that has entered the cultural consciousness.

My grade: 4

As always, I'm interested in knowing if I made any mistakes in my analysis, or if there's anything that I could improve on.

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