Frankenstein: Walton and the Human ProstheticPosted by on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 at 11:37 pm
While many of us probably have different variations on the work of Frankenstein, I became very interested in the cover of my Longman Cultural Edition, which I realized in class is the second edition, and promptly purchased the kindle first edition. However, the cover featured the painting The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli. The painting depicts a woman, sleeping sprawled across her bed, with a demon sitting on her chest with a ghostly horse peering through her bed curtains. This eerie scene is commonly stated to be a possible influence on the death of Elizabeth at the hands of the creature in Frankenstein. While interesting, I am more focused on the modern interpretation of the painting as depicting sleep paralysis – a form of nightmare in which the victim is awake, but immobile. This concept of paralysis, at least in my opinion, is continually represented throughout Frankenstein as a whole, but most notably referenced through the desire for human emotion, going as far as building prosthetics of communication in the form of living and nonliving creations.
The work seems to be obsessed with the concept of communication, and the desire to sympathize with another human being. Walton seems to exemplify this in his second letter, by stating:
“But I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy…I shall commit my thoughts to paper, it is true; but that is a poor medium for the communication of feeling. I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me…” (8)
By stating that he isn’t able to “satisfy” “the absence of the object”, Walton seems to be stating that he is missing a part of himself by the lack of communication and connection. He goes on throughout his other letters to describe how miserable he has become at the absence of simply a friend. In this way, it can be read that the absence of human contact is debilitating for Walton – not necessarily painful, but a form of depressing stasis or paralysis. This is interesting, however, because Walton is saying these things in the form of written letters, an example of communication, to his sister. Walton confronts this contradiction, however, by stating, “I shall commit my thoughts to paper, it is true; but that is a poor medium for the communication of feeling”, which would lead the reader to believe that Walton doesn’t necessarily view writing as an incredibly viable form of emotional connectivity. However, upon first meeting professor Frankenstein, Walton’s immediate response, rather than simply listening to the man, is to write down his story, seemingly verbatim. In this way, I would argue that, because Walton’s first response is to write a story, it is a reflection of Walton’s desire for human contact. Because Walton fills his “absence of the object” through this piece of writing, the writing is a reflection of, as well as the cure for, the desire for human contact. If the reader infers that the work of Frankenstein is Walton’s personal cure for an “absence”, the work becomes an emotional prosthetic for Walden’s personal missing, or “absent”, piece of himself. So I am therefore interested – in a work dedicated and obsessed with the concept of creation and prosthetic, what does it mean that the work itself, Walton’s writing, is a form of emotional prosthetic in itself?