Frankenstein Comes to Virginia Tech in Danbury, Connecticut

We read works of art--literature--to mediate the world around us. Authors bring their vision to the muck of life and hand back to us an ordered universe full of stars.

Those texts that help us as communities of believers to mediate the divine are sacred texts. However, where life itself is a sacred gift of the divine, all texts become sacred. It's hard to miss the Truth of God in a good book.

So it goes with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, that 19th-century Gothic romance about science and ego run riot. Victor Frankenstein creates life that becomes a rational being from dead body parts, but it is a being he cannot love because it is a monstrosity. He abandons the creature, and the creature must fend for himself. He yearns for companionship, compassion, and communication. Despite his best efforts, though, he is denied these by the people around him. He becomes angry, vengeful, and violent. This rational being becomes the agent of death, killing Victor's loved ones, driving Victor to death, and then casting himself to the elements in the act of suicide.

The text raises the questions of responsibility: the creator's, the creature's, the community's. It raises the question of ego, the drive to be important no matter the cost to oneself or others. It meditates on that tragic flaw of short-sightedness. Thus, in Victor's ego-driven desire to defeat death, he creates death and discovers in himself the aspects of the creature he deplores. Likewise, the creature mirrors his creator's ugliness.

It's a short leap this week from Bavaria to Virginia. The students in my literature classes discussed Frankenstein's creature alongside Cho Seung-Hui. I asked them to write their thoughts in essays today. They drew from class discussions, notes, the book, and news stories to express themselves.

Looking at these essays tonight, I see the importance of clear, logical, thought-through writing. Their prose is clean and compassionate and oh so wise. I admire these people.

A friend pointed out to me the other day that Cho was an English major. What did I think of that? I think what my students think: that transformation is a choice, one that is available in a loving community. You decide for yourself what you will hear in this hard world--the voice of the Divine in the beautiful or the din of that endless rant in your head. My students pointed out that we all experience cruelty and alienation and even jealousy, but those experiences don't logically end in mass murder and suicide. Cho was a sick young man, an exception among so many exceptional people.

What's the world coming to? Hear it from a few smart kids at a small state school in Western Connecticut:

Both Frankenstein and the recent VA Tech killings ask the questions, "What makes people turn out the way they do?" "What is it about American society that may be pushing people or mistreating people until they snap?" The influence of groups and society needs to be looked at and made to be more nurturing, kind, or whatever may help prevent murder. Society should not excuse criminals from the consequences of the choices they make, however....Both stories, one fictional and one non-fictional, show the harm that society can do to individuals and individuals can do to others and society....

Feelings of jealousy and deprivation cause both Cho and the creature to stalk those they are jealous of, and this increases their frustration as they realize what they are missing. Cho and the creature watch others from afar as they attempt to live vicariously through them. This could help to momentarily distract them from their own miserable lives. However, when they both realize that they do not have the intimacy in their lives, they are frustrated....People often define themselves by their intimate relationships with family, friends, and especially romantic partners. Without connections, Cho and the creature are left to question who they are and how they fit into the world....

This yearning for learning lends itself to the yearning for creation and power. Victor wanted power over human life. In only assume that Cho was a gifted writer, if very gruesome. It's possible he was as much into learning as Victor was. However, this hunger for learning might have lent itself to the power and control over destruction, the opposite of Frankenstein's dream....

Both Cho and the monster are murderers. They each wanted their own ideal society. The monster wanted to be accepted by society, feel love, and have a companion. It is unclear what Cho wanted. However, we can assume he wanted to be like the people he hated....

As a student and a somewhat functional member of society, there must come a point when one comes to terms with the way the world is. Cho spent 23 years in society. Wasn't that enough time to formulate some sort of sane world view?...

There have been times in my life I have felt bitterness, but the all-consuming feeling of revenge is one that I can only guess at....I believe that revenge is a product of an obsessive focus on the self. In cases of mental illness such as Cho and Victor [Frankenstein], it may be impossible to change such self-indulgent thinking, but such thinking can be altered and never given a chance to initiate itself in a loving, connected family. A family that values the individuality of each human and nurtures the humanity will send to society and the world loving and happy individuals....

Comments

  1. How fortunate you are to be surrounded by thinking, feeling young people who express themselves so well.

    "Authors bring their vision to the muck of life and hand back to us an ordered universe full of stars."

    How lucky they are to have a teacher and a friend like you.

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  2. Anonymous8:18 AM

    It must have been an incredible week in college classes around the country. I wonder how many professors gave their students a chance to really discuss and express their views. Perhaps not many; perhaps only English professors.

    Whatever the case, it's clear these students appreciated the as outlet, as expressed in their writing. Might you share more?

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