Friday, December 4, 2015

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Stephen Crane’s The Monster, and Society Today

In English 372 we read Stephen Crane’s The Monster shortly after reading Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. I enjoyed reading these both because I find that the two made for a very interesting comparison. Both of these stories are about the creation of a monster, but while Mary Shelly’s creates a monster from pieces of the diseased without the creations will, Stephen Crane’s “monster” is a man who was mutilated while saving a young boy from a fire.
            The “monstrous” characters in both novels are in many ways flat characters and seemingly serve as tools to expose truths about the other characters and about the society in which they live. In Mary Shelly’s novel we see that while Dr. Frankenstein creation shows more human emotion than Dr. Frankenstein or any of the other characters. Similarly, we see in Stephen Crane’s The Monster that the “monster” is the man with the most moral integrity.
            The differences in the novels may change the way that a reader looks at each of the monster. However, I think that it is hard to tell which of the monsters would evoke more sympathy from a reader. For me it is very difficult to place one of them above another. My thoughts are that in Shelly’s story the monster was created against his will and had no say in his creation so he was the victim of abandonment, but also in Stephen Crane’s story the man consciously decided to save the boy from a fire (a conscious and noble sacrifice) which resulted in his social ostracization so he was a victim of moral injustice. For me, I feel sympathy for both monsters because they are both undeservingly condemned to isolation and prevented from gaining the one thing each truly wants which is social acceptance.
            While there are no people today made entirely made of other peoples’ remains, there are many people who have been physically scared by fire. Burn victims today claim to have fears of being socially isolated from their scares such as the man was socially isolated in Stephen Crane’s The Monster. Many have said that they fear being stared at, and that they fear the way their appearance effects their friendships and intimate relationships (Fauerbach).
            Of course it is easy to focus upon burn victims today, it is of course more relevant to the authors intents to focus upon the society in which we live in today and its opinion of appearance and vanity. I believe that Mary Shelly and Stephen Crane must have both hoped for a future in which society would treat its members based off of their personality rather than their appearance. Unfortunately, we live today in a society in which burn vicims feel isolated, and in a less direct connection we also see today that our society openly judges people upon the way that they look. This can be seen in strength of the beauty industry.
            The beauty industry is worth over 60 billion dollars in the United States, and that value continues to grow today (Revenue). I do believe that every person has the right to feel beautiful, but I also believe that if Shelly and Crane would agree that beauty should be judged based on internal and not external characteristics.

Fauerbach, James, and Shawn Mason. "Psychological Distress after Burn Injury." Psychological Distress After Burn Injury. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. <>.

"Revenue of the Cosmetic Industry in the United States from 2002 to 2016." Statista. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2015. <>.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Morality of "The Picture of Dorian Gray"

Today in class we discussed some very interesting central themes in The Picture of Dorian Gray buy Oscar Wilde. Among them was the topic of morality, the question of whether or not the book was moral or immoral in itself, and whether or not the book had a message to the reader about morality. As Oscar Wilde himself said, a book is neither moral nor immoral. I'm not sure that is true. I wouldn't call The Picture of Dorian Gray an immoral book, as it does not condone the actions of Dorian or give him a happy ending.

As Riley and I discussed in our presentation today, the book reads somewhat like a fairy tale in that it contains metaphors and magic. The painting is a metaphor for and a physical manifestation of Dorian's soul. It transforms based on Dorian's deeds and started doing so because of a wish that Dorian made early in the book. The story shows that our deeds cumulatively represent who we are--we are what we do. It also sends the message that outward appearance does not equal inward reality, and that doing the right thing for the wrong reason is akin to doing the wrong thing anyway. I think that the book sends a strong moral message that one's actions not only impact others, but leave permanent marks on one's soul.

I found it interesting that the story's premise was so similar to that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll has Hyde, a second self, to absorb all the evil that Jekyll would otherwise commit. The difference is that Dorian is committing the evil, and the painting is absorbing the effects. The idea of detaching oneself from the evil that one has committed is an interesting and prevalent theme in literature. The guilt of the crimes, while it does not show on his face, torments Dorian until he snaps. I think that the story is saying that guilt can poison a person and that the best way out of that is to simply not commit heinous acts.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock

The story of Sherlock Holmes was first published in 1887, but the story continues to resurface throughout history and did again in today’s culture. BBC created a TV series called “Sherlock” that was released in 2010. After its release it became an immediate success. During an interview of the cast (linked below), it is revealed that during its third season it is the most popular show on television, it is watched by people all around the world including 20 million people in China. In summary the “brilliantly dark” show has become a cultural phenomenon. The co creator of the show Stephen Loffet said that it was very surprising that the series gained popularity. He said, “Series don’t do this. It’s a common myth that series grow. Hit series start high and drift down, so it’s extraordinary that Sherlock is drifting up.”

This show, with Sherlock being the main character, leads me to assume that today’s culture favors the Byronic hero. The Byronic hero continues to show up in some of today’s most popular television shows such as the arrow, batman, kick ass, and more. The question that this raises for me is: why has this story line in particular become so widely hero so preferred in today culture?  

The classic Byronic hero is arrogant, lives in a state of relative isolation or is a wanderer, broods over misdeeds, is charismatic, self-destructive, and is generally a misunderstood outcast from society. Lady Caroline Lamb uses the phrase “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” to describe Lord Byron, who was a Byronic hero of his own time.

My own personal opinion is that this “new” obsession with Sherlock is due a revived obsession with Byronic hero’s, but rather it just shows that people like Sherlock more than other Byronic heroes. Of course, credit must also be given to the writers and the actors of the show, but people seem to love mystery. Not only does Sherlock’s character provide a sense of mystery, but his profession of detective provides even more of a sense of mystery. This obsession with mystery may be driven by society’s obsession with problem solving and logical deduction.

The revival of Sherlock Holmes suggests to me that the reason this story line in particular become so widely hero so preferred in today culture has to do with their appreciation of dark humor and great writing and acting and the scientific mindset of today’s society.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Pudd'nhead Wilson"

For this blog post, I want to comment on the discussion we had in class today about Pudd'nhead Wilson and the many topics that Twain brings up within the book, as I find them all very interesting. I will only focus on one or two, however, since there were so many and I only have so much energy.

A large overarching theme in this novel is "Nature vs. Nurture." Roxy's real son is raised a gentleman and turns out to be pretty rotten, which isn't the case for her adopted son, who is raised with the humility and subordination of a slave. I think that Twain is commenting on Nature vs. Nurture here in a way that doesn't really put him on either side of the debate definitively. Tom's bad temperament could be his spoiled upbringing, or his "one drop" of ethnic blood. Chambers' strength and good temperament could either be attributed to his humble slave upbringing or to his inherent whiteness. From the way I and many other readers perceive it, the boys' upbringing heavily influenced their personalities, but as someone brought up in class, the twins have been together for their whole life and have differing personalities. Twain is commenting on Nature vs. Nurture in a way that does not put him on either side of the fence definitively.

The "One Drop" rule is also fascinating in its logic (or lack there of). The idea that one drop of African blood can make a person undeniably black while many, many drops of white blood do not automatically classify a person as white is silly. It doesn't surprise me, however, that that is the way in which society viewed it at the time, because we still hold onto that idea today. One example is the way in which our president is viewed by the public. He is just as white as he is black, if not more, but no one refers to him as white, sees him as white, or describes him as half black or half white. Biracial and multiracial children and adults often have difficulties "fitting in" for this very reason. Chambers is unable to fit into the white, wealthy crowd because of his cultural differences and the dialect that he speaks, and once Tom finds out his true identity, he is unable to see himself as completely white after that. They are both stuck in an awkward cultural and social limbo that many people of multiple ethnicities find themselves in today.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Portrayal of Native Americans in the 1800s

Many types of literature and propaganda surrounding the topic of Native American culture from the 1800's is very disturbing and filed with blatant racism, and like our last post about orientalist, this propaganda serves as another example of othering and western domination.

Much of the art and literature produced on the 1800s with the subject of Native Americans portrayed the native people as savage or as animals rather than people. This idea can be seen in The Death of Jane McCrea (1804) posted below. This painting depicts two muscular Native American Men in the process or murdering a white woman. The men appear to be in complete control of the woman, and the woman is depicted as helpless. The woman in the picture has the expression of helplessness and fear and one of her breasts has fallen out of her dress to further the idea of helplessness. On the other hand the men in the painting have very wide eyes and furrowed brows showing anger or a lack of compassion and serve to further emphasize ideas of uncivilized behavior on the parts of the men.

Similar to this piece of art, there was a specific genre of literature dedicated to the “cruelty” and “horror” that was Native American culture. These novels were called Apache novels such as Apache Ransom and Apache Hostage. These kind of narratives generally followed the plot of having a white (civilized) person stolen out of their society by Native Americans. The Native Americans in these novels are often portrayed as eating raw food and lacking emotion.

While the majority of Native American literature in the 1800s debased and negatively portrayed Native Americans, some people did attempt to use literature as a way to bring social justice to the plight of Native Americans.  Unfortunately, this literature was not very popular nor was it considered to be very controversial. An example of this literature is Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor. The novel was clearly a critique of the way that the US dealt with the colonization of the US land and their treatment of Native Americans and highlights the atrocities of colonization. However, some theorize that because people in this time period were so used to viewing Native Americans as less than human, the book did not even read as a controversial issue because the readers weren’t able to relate to the Native American story at all.

In order to get the attention of readers at the time Helen Hunt Jackson ended up writing a novel called Romona in 1855 using many of the same details used in A Century of Dishonor, but formatted it as a romance novel, which were much more popular.

I would argue (probably mostly unopposed) that this anti native propaganda served to allow for easier western domination. I wish that we could be a society that aligns more closely to Helen Hunt Jackson in taking a stand agains social injustices. It is extremely unfortunate that the people of the time were unable to see past the artificial idea that Native people were less civilized than US citizens, and to connect these ideas to today's society, I would also argue that in many ways we as a society still uphold many of these stereotypes. One example is that I heard a person just yesterday say that Asian people can't help but drive poorly, and only earlier today I was told that it's okay that I didn't understand something because I was a woman. While these issues may be occurring on a much smaller scale than the oppression of Native American cultures, I believe that it is still very important that we self reflect and hold one another accountable to avoid othering people who belong to cultures that do not reflect our own ideas.


Cotton, Lacy N. "American Indian Stereotypes in Early Western Literature and the Lasting Influence on American Culture." Baylor Beardocs. Baylor University, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.