What Was I The Question Again


What Was I? The Question Again Recurred, To Be Answered Only With Groans ” (Frankenstein). Compare Essay, Research Paper

In both _Frankenstein_ and _Villette_ there is a discernible ??element of the search for identity, which contributes to the plot ??and character development in both novels. The search seems to ??take the form of journeys, representing the road to final ??revelations within the novels, and is the means by which the ??creation of identity is achieved. The search in both novels ??takes various different forms, but is usually the examining ??questioning influence, which could be seen as the cry of ” What ??am I ” included in the essay title. ? _ “_”_ __The element of identity within the novels is the meaning ??given to characters through the defining influences, such as ??society, gender roles, love and relationships. If we are to see ??identity in the context of its dictionary definition then it ??means the: ” quality of being a specified person or thing. “_1_? Therefore the comparison of the search for identity must ??necessarily involve the journey of the novels characters to ??individuality and definition. ? _ “_”_ __One must first establish the reason for the importance of ??identity and why the search for it within the novels is so ??prominent. The nature of identity is important to look at, as in _ <eth>7?3 _?S?what it actually means to identify, or even what it means not to ??identify. The latter point is particularly important in both ??_Frankenstein_ and _Villette_. The main characters of both novels ??seem to be the ones in search of their identities, Lucy Snowe and ??the creature are not really given an identity at the beginning of ??the books. ? _ “_”_ __Lucy Snowe begins the novel as a strange narrator for the ??reader and although they trace her developing identity through ??the rest of the novel, no background information is provided by ??Bronte for the reader. As Burkhart discusses in his book on ??Bronte: ” Lucy wishes to watch, not to live, but she is going to ??be forced into living, forced into losses. “_2_ This lack of ??identity is equally true of the creature in _Frankenstein_ except ??that identity is denied by his creator Frankenstein, as opposed ??to the author.? _ “_”_ __This idea of lack of identity questions whether identity is ??an inbuilt quality or whether it has to be created. This seems ??to be a particular preoccupation of Shelley’s in _Frankenstein_. ??Throughout the novel the creature tries in various ways to become ??a part of the community, most of his attempts to create an ??identity go horribly wrong, and it is at these moments that the ??importance of past experience is emphasised as a key to identity. ??This concept of memory is discussed in Jane Carlisle’s article ??” The Face in the Mirror: _Villette_ and the Convention of ??Autobiography. ” In this article she expounds that personal ??history is a key aspect in the creation of identity, and that : ? ” memory is the source and proof of personal identity. “_3_?_ <eth>7?3 _ S? _ “_”_ __If then we accept the theory that seems to be reflected in ??both novels that identity is a creation not something that one is ??born with, the next stage must be to look at defining influences. ??One of these influences that is particularly prevalent in both ??novels is that of society or community. Bronte and Shelley ??examine the influences of solitude and community, and have an ??equal amount of the two as an influential factor in the search ??for identity.? _ “_”_ __In _Frankenstein_ Shelley seems to suggest that society plays ??a key role in defining identity, but also includes elements of ??solitude, mainly in relation though to the creature who is ??constantly searching for identity. Perhaps therefore Shelley is ??suggesting that society is an essential part of the search for ??identity, as the creatures exclusion from society makes him a ??miserable wretch. He recognises in chapter seven that even Satan ??had companionship whereas he is ” solitary and abhorred. “_4_? _ “_”_ __In _Villette_ Bronte attaches equal importance to the role of ??society, the actual title of the novel is the name of a ??community, and the whole novel revolves around the female ??community of Madame Beck’s school. Lucy seems to slowly create ??an identity for herself through her work at the school and ??through the people she meets there. Much emphasis is put upon ??work as a defining influence especially through the character of ??Madame Beck. ? _ “_”_ __Her preoccupation with work though sometimes earns a ??masculine role in the school which is an obvious confusion of ??identities. As Newton says in her book _ Women, Power and _ <eth>7?3 _?S?Subversion._: ” it is the source of a vital autonomy – the power ??to define the self. “_5_ Madame Beck does often take on a ??masculine role through this preoccupation with her work. There ??are times within the novel when she is compared to a man for her ??insistence on efficiency and hard work, as Newton also comments : ??” try as she will, Bronte cannot approve a woman who is ??successful at making self interest the centre of her existence.”_6_? _ “_”_ __One of the key aspects of the work in _Villette_ is the idea ??of education. This education can be interpreted in various ways, ??the primary role of education in the book is in its application ??to the school of Madame Beck’s and its function as a defining ??influence on the young pupils. The whole book though can be seen ??as an education in terms of Lucy’s education through the events ??that happen to her while at the school.? _ “_”_ __A particular concern in _Villette_ though is with the use of ??language, the foreign language acts as a barrier to Lucy as at ??the beginning of the novel the reader is aware of the complete ??strangeness of the town, and its people through her not being ??able to communicate to them as she doesn’t even speak their ??language. This problem is emphasised on her arrival in Villette ??as she says : ” I could say nothing whatever; not possessing a ??word of _speaking_ French, and it was French, and French only, the ??whole world seemed now gabbing around me.”_7_ This is a common ??theme recurring throughout the book, her inability to interact ??with the people around her impairs her search for identity, and ??singles her out placing her in her own solitary position.? _ “_”_ __This reliance on language as a feature of identity also ?_ <eth>7?3 _?Soccurs in _Frankenstein_, the creature has to learn the language, ??and the function of that language, of the society that he finds ??himself thrust upon, Mark Jancovich in his book _Horror._ argues ??that: ” for the creature, language is of central importance; he ??recognises it as a means of social interaction. “_8_ Like Lucy ??Snowe he is also a stranger to this particular society and has to ??learn to adapt to fit in. ? _ “_”_ __The creature’s understanding of society is also greatly ??enhanced by his growing knowledge of it’s art and culture. In ??chapter seven the creature discusses the importance of the books ??he has recently discovered, and so emphasises the importance of a ??personal interpretation of literature in terms of his own ??identity. As he reads he says: ” I applied much to my own ??feelings and condition. I found myself similar, yet at the same ??time strangely unlike to the beings concerning whom I read. “_9_? As Jancovich suggests: ” The creature relates all these works to ??his own situation, and he uses knowledge to define his own ??identity.” _10_? _ “_”_ __The use of gender as a way of finding an identity is also ??evident throughout both novels. This is particularly apparent in ??_Frankenstein_ as the whole novel, despite being written by a ??female author, concerns itself with the masculine character, and ??the traditional male sphere of science. The women in_ ??Frankenstein_ occupy the domestic sphere of motherhood, love and ??marriage. The identity created through gender though in this ??novel is perhaps a carefully written critique of the dominance ??and egotistical characteristic of men. The blame for the ??disaster of the damaging creation seems firmly laid upon _ <eth>7?3 _?S?Frankenstein’s male arrogance, as his wish to pursue his ??scientific theory causes the problems for the rest of society. ??This arrogance interestingly culminates in the death of the main ??female character, Elizabeth.? _ “_”_ __The polarisation of the gender identities is slightly more ??ambiguous in _Villette_, many of the women in the novel have a ??greater mobility in terms of their gender definitions. The ??character of Lucy snowe for example has a somewhat mutable ??definition, she can be seen as typically feminine in terms of her ??occupation of a teacher, but at the same time goes abroad alone ??to earn money to support herself, and by doing so usurps the ??place of a male provider. She is also seen as quite a matronly ??figure by Ginevra Fanshawe while at the same time she can be seen ??by M. Paul as an object of desire. This changeable character is ??best illustrated in chapter fourteen where her role in M.Paul’s ??drama sees Lucy dressed half in male and half in female clothing.? _ “_”_ __This ambiguity not only applies to Lucy, but also to the ??character of Madame Beck she quite often takes on a male ??identity, whether it is that of the controlling male influence ??over the school, or simply her attitude, and her countenance. ??This is shown in chapter eight where Lucy says of Madame Beck:? ” At that instant she did not wear a woman’s aspect, but rather a ??mans. Power of a certain kind strongly limned itself in all her ??traits. “_11_? _ “_”_ __This confusion of identity often leads to a crisis point in ??the novels where the lack of identity or confusion leads to a ??series of events and an impending crisis. It is at these points ?_ <eth>7?3 _?S? in the novels where some of the most significant events happen.? ? _ “_”_ __In _Villette_ the crisis of identity comes with Lucy’s ??breakdown, and the following events. it is interesting to note ??that her crisis comes when she is left alone during the vacation, ??with only the cretin for company. This may suggest that Bronte ??feels that identity is formed through others, and that she ??doesn’t favour the view that identity is inbuilt but comes from ??outside influences like society and relationships. When Lucy ??finds herself in the Bretton apartment in chapter sixteen the ??first thing that she notices is the familiarity of the place ? signifying the importance of memory and history as the key to ??identity.? _ “_”_ __The crisis point in _Frankenstein_ comes after the rejection ??of the creature by the De Lacey family at the end of chapter ??seven. The rage felt by the creature causes the murder of ??William Frankenstein. The creature always feels alone and on the ??edge of society, he is missing: ” the various relationships which ??bind one human being to another in mutual bonds.”_12_ He is ??constantly pushed on from one situation only gaining knowledge of ??what he is without, not actually gaining the completeness he ??seeks.? _ “_”_ __This constant moving on through both novels provides the ??drive of the plot, and contributes to the development of the ??novels as a whole, but it also represents the element of the ??search in the novels. Both of the writers include a lot of ??travelling in their novels whether it is on a physical, or more _ <eth>7?3 _?S?metaphorical level. The three characters of Frankenstein, Walton, ??and the creature in _Frankenstein_, are physically searching for ??things; while Walton is searching for the North Pole, ??Frankenstein and the creature are searching for each other. That ??isn’t though the only things they are looking for, they can also ??be said to be searching for identity. While Walton is seeking ??identity through the achievement of his mission to the North ??Pole; the creature is seeking the identity denied to him by his ??creator, while Frankenstein himself could be said to be looking ??for his final peace, by destroying the creature, and then ??gaining back his lost identity.? _ “_”_ __ In _Villette_ the search for Lucy seems to be over in that ??she finally finds her own identity at the school set up for her ??by M. Paul, and she also finds happiness in her relationship with ??Paul. Although there is a suggestion in the ambiguous ending to ??the novel that M. Paul doesn’t return from his journey the reader? is allowed to feel that Lucy could survive now without him. Her ??identity is complete in many ways even without him as is written ??at the end of the last chapter: ” The secret of my success did ??not lie so much in myself……as in a new state of ??circumstances, a wonderfully changed life, a relieved heart.”_13_? _ “_”_ __The question of ” What was I? ” is a common cry throughout ??both novels, and each novel also embodies the attempts to clarify ??this position through a search for identity. Bronte and Shelley ??seem to have in various ways explored a common human tendency to ??examine the self, and to try to find an answer to the recurring ??question of human identity. It is significant that neither ?_ <eth>7?3 _?S? writer has totally answered this question of identity and that to ??some extent the search for identity is in many ways incomplete.? _ “_”_ __Both of the novels embody what Robert Heilman terms the ” ??New Gothic “_14_ which seemed to be emerging at the time, which ??was similar to the works of Hawthorne and Poe, in their concern ??with the exploration of the psyche, and the human condition. ??Heilman suggests that there was a: ” shift from stock ??explanations and responses, to the inner human reality: fiction ??is slowly discovering the depths known to drama for ? centuries. “_15_? _ “_”_ __The comparison of the search for identities does reflect ??this idea of the ” New Gothic ” through some common areas that ??both writers find particularly pertinent. The journey of the ??characters takes them through various situations which contribute ??to their final definition at the end of the novel. The ??suggestion seems to be that it is a human trait to wish to ??identify with others; whether that means society as a whole, ??through things such as language, art or literature; or with ??particular people, through relationships. ? ? _ bb!_============================================? APPROX WORD COUNT: 2500.? ? ? ? ? _ <eth>7?3 _?S ? _ ü ü !__? _ ü ü !____REFERENCES.__?? 1. _Oxford English Dictionary._ (Oxford: Oxford University Press,? 1990), p. 585.? 2. C. Burkhart, _Charlotte Bronte: A Psychosexual Study of her_? _Novels._ (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1973), p. 103? 3. J. Carlisle, ” The face in the Mirror: _Villette_ and the ? Conventions of Autobiography. ” in _English Literary History._? (Vol. 45, No. 2, pp.262-289, 1979), p. 264.? 4. M. Shelley, _Frankenstein._ (London: Penguin, [1818] 1992),? p. 127.? 5. J. Newton, _Women, Power and Subversion._ (Georgia: University ? of Georgia Press, 1981), p. 88.? 6. J. Newton. (1981), p. 103.? 7. C. Bronte, _Villette._ (Herts: Wordsworth Editions, [1853] ? 1993), p. 66.? 8. M. Jancovich, _Horror._ (London: Batsford Ltd, 1992), p. 32.? 9. M. Shelley, ( [1818] 1992), p. 125.? 10. M. Jancovich, (1992), p. 32.? 11. C. Bronte, ( [1853[ 1993), p. 83.? 12. M. Shelley, ( [1818] 1992), p. 117.? 13. C. Bronte, ( [1853] 1993), p. 511.? 14. R. Heilman, ” Charlotte Bronte’s _New Gothic._ ” in, I Watt? (Ed.), _The Victorian Novel: Modern Essays in Criticism._ ? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971)? 15. R. Heilman, (1971), p. 179.?

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