The Purpose of a Setting

What is the purpose of a setting in literature? Why do authors strategically think about where their story takes place? The setting in any form of literature can help set the mood or tone, place a story in context of the surroundings, provide foreshadowing, or add a sense of irony.

One of the main differences we discussed in class between Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dave Morris’s Frankenstein is the setting in each story. As previously noted, Morris writes the story of Victor’s early experiments in Paris rather than in Ingolstadt. Unlike Ingolstadt, Paris during the French Revolution is of familiar territory, which allows the readers to make certain inferences that were absent in Shelley’s published version. Evidently, Morris chooses the setting of his Frankenstein to take place during the French Revolution for a reason.

As most of us have learned throughout our 20 years of education, the French Revolution was a period of social and political uprising that ultimately transformed French society. Traditional ideas, such as hierarchy, monarchy, and religious authority, were soon overthrown by Enlightenment principles, such as, equality, citizenship, democracy and science. For this reason, it is almost ironic that Morris chooses to create his story in revolutionary France. In both versions of Frankenstein, the monster’s initial goal after his ‘birth’ is to be accepted by those around him. Similarly to the people in revolutionary France, the monster’s only desire is to feel equal among its inhabitants, rather than being treated and viewed like an outsider. It is as if the monster is a member of the common people, fighting for equality and citizenship, against the aristocracy (or in the monster’s case, all people), that believe otherwise. It is ironic that the monster, a creature we imagine to be visually hideous and outside of the human species, appears in the novel to fight for the very same principles that sparked the French Revolution. Therefore, not only does Morris’s change of setting provide irony to his story, but it also gives the readers a frame of reference in which to relate the story.

The French Revolution influenced the progress of science by encouraging scientific research. Traditional science was founded upon tradition, faith, and religion. The Enlightenment period marked the cultural movement of intellect, replacing Plato and Aristotle with reasoning and mechanical laws. In both versions of Frankenstein, Victor’s creation of the monster was something no human was capable of at the time. Victor, going beyond tradition and conducting scientific research (the process of creating the monster), is what led him to his discovery of giving inanimate objects life. The progression of science, for example Victor’s creation of the monster, was another principle that sparked the French Revolution. Overall, I believe Morris’s decision to change the setting of Shelley’s Frankenstein was beneficial because it emphasizes different aspects of the characters’ decisions and actions.

Dive Into Your Imagination

Albert Einstein once said, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”  In other words, one needs to step outside knowledge in order to explore and encompass the world beyond its boundaries.  In Mark Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Walton steps outside his comfort of knowledge to explore “a part of the world never before visited…a land never before imprinted by the foot of man” (Shelley 6).  When one embarks on a journey to an unknown place, the mind no longer dwells inside the boundaries of one’s knowledge, but rather, one reaches into their imagination.  This idea is evident in Frankenstein as Walton’s desire to surpass previous human explorations and discover the unknown opens his mind to his imagination.

Frankenstein opens with four letters, each written by an Englishman Robert Walton to his beloved sister Margaret describing his journey as he departs from Russia to the North Pole.  Before Walton even begins his journey, he lets his mind wonder past the limits of his knowledge, imagining the pole to be “the seat of frost and desolation…the region of beauty and delight… [where] the sun is visible” (Shelley 5).  Even before Walton enters this unknown world, he opens his mind to imagination, describing the scenery of what he envisions the North Pole to appear like.   Furthermore, “this expedition has been the favorite dream of [his] early years” (Shelley 7).  Shelley gives the readers insight that Walton has been imagining this voyage to the North Pole since he was a little boy. Despite his excitement to “fix his intellectual eye” (Shelley 7), Robert feels this “trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful” (Shelley 15) of what he might encounter in these unexplored regions.  This is the result of Robert’s imagination picturing different scenarios of what might occur on his expedition.

In the fourth letter, the stranger tells Walton, “You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been” (Shelley 28).   This quote leads me to ask, is it our imagination that gives us this desire to seek for knowledge?  At what point does our imagination hurt us, or better yet, disappoint us?

Transcendence of Race

In Tuesday’s class, we spent a majority of the time discussing race, one of the main themes in Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia. In Ophelia Speaks: Resurrecting Still Lives, Annette Debo asserts that there is an ironic contrast between Ophelia’s initial yearning to be acknowledged as white and her customers obsession with her black traits. I believe that this contrast is a result of Ophelia’s acceptance of race, initially running away from it to later acknowledging and favoring the benefits of race.

At the beginning of Bellocq’s Ophelia, the readers acknowledge Ophelia’s desire to be viewed as a white woman by society rather than black. In Ophelia’s letter Letter Home, she tells the audience that she has left home to find a job in New Orleans. However, Ophelia never explicitly explains to the readers the reason for her leaving. I believe that Ophelia leaves her home to escape the unnamed “white man”, probably identified as Ophelia’s father, who “leaned over [her], pinching/ the tiny buds of [her] new breasts/ sneering” (February 1911, Trethewey 18). In other words, Ophelia was escaping her ‘white’ father and running away from sexual assault. In addition, Ophelia is taught as a child to “curtsy and be still/ so that {she} might please a white man, [her] father” (March 1911, Trethewey 20). Debo states Ophelia’s father “is clearly a man of a higher social class” (Debo) because of the color of his skin and because of Ophelia’s proper manners. When Ophelia travels to New Orleans to improve her employment options “she decided to pass for white, but constantly fears that she will be found out despite her skin” (Debo). In other words, Ophelia believes that the only opportunity for employment will be to conceal her color. This is another example of Ophelia running away from race, by physically “dressing each day/ in [her] best, hand covered with the lace gloves” as she “walk[s] these street/ a white woman” (Letter Home, Trethewey 7).

At the beginning of Bellocq’s Ophelia, it appears that Ophelia hides from race running away from the sexual abuse of her white father and physically disguising herself as a white woman in New Orleans. However, as Debo recognizes, there is this ironic contrast between Ophelia’s “worry that her African blood will be identified” to her “customers obsession with finding markers of her African heritage in her” as a sex worker (Debo). Ophelia’s white customers “look for evidence-telltale/half-moons in our fingernails/ a bluish tint beneath the skin” (August 1911, Trethewey 26) that identify Ophelia as black and, as a result, receive a larger paycheck. Furthermore, when Ophelia arrives at the brothel, the Countess at the auction calls her “African Violet for the promise/of that wild continent hidden beneath/ my white skin” (Letter From Storyville, Trethewey 13). In the brothel, though being a prostitute is not the ideal situation, Ophelia comes to realize the advantages of her race. As a result of her race, Ophelia is able to make enough of an earning to move west, where she can be who she wants. The readers acknowledge Ophelia’s acceptance of the self “March 1912 Postcard, en route westward”, where the imagery of springtime represent re-birth and re-newel.

Obsession With White

Drawing inspiration from the portraits taken by E.J. Belloq, Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia is the imagined life of one of these young prostitutes living in New Orleans in 1912. In the collection, Trethewey pictures Ophelia as interracial woman, one who autonomously chose to embark on the life of a prostitute as a means for survival. Throughout the collection, there is a constant appearance of the word “white.” The repetition of the word “white” dramatizes Ophelia’s yearning to be viewed by society as a “white” woman and ultimately gain the social class status assigned to Caucasians. I agree that by the context in which “white” is incorporated throughout the collection adequately represents Ophelia’s obsession to be physically viewed not only as white, but also apart of the white class.

In the poem Letter Home, Ophelia speaks about her life four weeks after leaving home and trying to “secure some modest position” (Trethewey 7) in the world. Ophelia goes on to say, “I walk these streets a white woman” (Trethewey 7). In other words, Ophelia pretends to be white because she believes it to be her only chance to secure a job outside of the brothels. Her “hands covered with the lace gloves” (Trethewey 7) and “dress[es] each day in [her] best” give off the impression to the employers that she is of white class. In addition, in the poem March 1911, Ophelia begins the poem by explaining in her letter why she is suited to be a prostitute. Ophelia remarks that because “her mother taught [her] to curtsy and be still so that [she] might please a white man, my father” (Trethewey 20), she can be successful in prostitution. This social behavior alludes to the idea that Ophelia’s mother raised her to represent the white class during the time that white women were perceived as both polite and etiquette. Ophelia explains in her letter that she takes “arsenic-tablets [she] swallowed to keep [her] fair, bleached white as stone” (Trethewey 20). In other words, Ophelia subjects herself to swallowing pills in order to make her appear visibly whiter so that she is more desired by the customers. Ophelia’s obsession is further proven when she writes about the “secret” of “black women with white skin” (Trethewey 26). In August 1911, she writes “the visitors from the North make a great fuss…just by looking, our secret. The vilest among them say, I can always smell a nigger” (Trethewey 26). In this instance, Ophelia refers to her white-black skin as a ‘secret’ to the visitors. In other words, Ophelia is afraid of the non-regular customers to discover that she is black because of her obsession with being perceived as white.

Is Ophelia’s obsession with being a white women and a part of the white class understandable? Living in 1912, there were a multitude of racial outbursts across America. Is it possible that Ophelia’s attempt to appear more white is another mechanism for survival similar to prostitution?

Passive Vs. Active: The Role of the Narrator

In our previous class, we discussed the connection between the two-part structure of Herman Melville’s The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids. Some stated that the role of the narrators connected the two stories while others stated that the connection between the two was the bachelor’s lavish life being at the expense of the women’s hardships. In her article,’The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Made’: A Dialogue about Experience, Understanding, and Truth, literary critic Karen Weyler believes that “the narrator is key to understanding this puzzling work”. Weyler expands that the connection of the two stories is through the narrator’s “movement from passivity and observation to direct engagement with life”. I agree with Weyler that through the experiences of the narrator in each story, the readers can view the two-part structure as a one complete story.

The narrator himself becomes the link between these two Melville stories. The narrator in The Paradise of Bachelors is simply a passive, inactive observer who reflects upon the lavish life of the bachelors surrounding him. The narrator is not a lawyer like the bachelors; however, he is a silent guest. The readers see that the narrator does not engage in conversation, but rather self-reflects and self-analyzes those around him. However, in the Tartarus of Maids, though the narrator is still observing, he engages in active conversation with those surrounding him. For example, the narrator asks Cupid, “You make only blank paper; no printing of any sort, I suppose? All blank paper, don’t you?” (Melville 1272). In addition, he further engages in conversation by asking Cupid, “What makes those girls so sheet-white, my lad” (Melville 1274). As the readers can see, the narrator becomes actively engaged through questions into understanding the awful status of these maids.

Weyler believes that it is the narrator’s active engagement with his experience at the paper mill that allows him to understand the paradise of the privileged bachelors. It is common for people to say there can be no rich without the poor, no heaven without hell, no happiness without suffering. In agreement with Weyler, I believe the narrator’s exclamation, “Oh! Paradise of Bachelors! And oh! Tartarus of Maids!” (Melville 1279) suggests to the readers that the he now understands the ‘larger truth’ that no heaven can exist without hell. In other words, the narrator’s movement from passive to active engagement juxtaposes the difference between the two groups of people, allowing for the discovery of a ‘larger truth’, which ultimately connects this two-part structure into one complete story.

Industrialism: Does is create or destroy life?

Some people in today’s world identify Wall-Street as “the model” for American capitalism. Others recognize Wall Street as a conglomerate of financial mercenaries. A parallel can be drawn between Wall Street and Industrialism. People believe Wall Street to be a world of wealthy bystanders that don’t acknowledge the human life suffering outside of it. In The Tartarus of Maids, Herman Melville portrays a world conquered by machinery; a world where human life become slaves to industrialism. He describes machinery as “that [which] vaunted slave of humanity-here stood menially served by human beings, who served mutely and cringingly as the slave serves the Sultan” (Melville 1271). In other words, he states that human life is subjugated by machinery such as slaves are oppressed by owners. Melville incorporates the metaphorical ideas of life and death to paint the consequences of industrialism on humanity. Melville believes that while industrialism has given birth to a new form of economic power and wealth, it has simultaneously destroyed the very lives that keep the industrial machinery running. I agree with Melville that the new technology powering machinery becomes an instrument that creates and destroys life at once.

Melville draws a parallel between the machinery of industrialism and the bodily functions of women. When the narrator travels to the paper-mill, he notices a river running through Devil’s Dungeon called the Blood River because of its “brick colored stream” (Melville 1266). Melville’s description of the valley resembles a woman’s menstrual cycle. In addition, when Cupid guides the narrator to the ‘great-machine’, he detects this “strange, blood-like, abdominal heat” (Melville 1274) in the room that makes it difficult to breathe. These words attest to the parallel between the industrial machinery and human reproduction. This alludes to the fact that industrialism gives life to the few men that are well employed and wealthy, such as the narrator. However, Melville goes on to imply that the industry completely strips the reproductive responsibility of women, leading them to a life similar to death.

As the story concludes, the narrator asks the factory owner, “Why is it, Sir, that in most factories female operatives of whatever age, are indiscriminately called girls, never women?” (Melville 1278). The factory owner replies because they are generally unmarried. The factories “will not have married women…[because] we want none but steady workers” (Melville 1278). In other words, they are unable to become women because of their enslavement to industry and therefore, must forever be “girls” or as the factory owner describes them, “maids” (Melville 1278). The industry has stripped these girls of marriage and motherhood. This idea is further emphasized when the narrator compared the worker’s potential to John Locke’s comparison that, “the human mind at birth to a sheet of paper” (Melville 1276). Melville implies that these childless women now serve the reproductive interests of the paper mill. The parallel between the human mind and the paper suggests that industrialism has taken away the beauty of being a woman and as a result, these women become lifeless.

Connection between desperation and vulnerability

When we are children, our parents constantly remind us to be appreciative for the things we have because there are those less fortunate that are incapable of receiving the essentials needed to live. When we are adults, we often ask ourselves, ‘to what degree would we go too if we lost it all.’ It is difficult to fathom what it means to be ‘desperate’. In Life in the Iron Mills, Davis portrays the life of backbreaking, ‘desperate’ workers who experience the meaning of poverty. Davis establishes this slimy and stagnant setting absent of “green foliage of apple trees” (Davis 2764). This depressing setting and the social misfortunes associated with it establish the movement away from an agrarian economy toward an industrial-based economy and the deadening lifestyle it inflicts upon its workers. I believe through both deprivation and desperation, one develops a strong sense of vulnerability as a result of the hardships experienced.

Life in the Iron Mills encompasses the impoverished existence of Hugh and Deborah, a mill-worker and his cousin. Concealing her unreciprocated love for Hugh, Deb, a “deformed, almost a hunchback” (Davis 2766), delivers to him every night a supper of bread, salt pork, and ale. She looks to love to motivate her to live through her “pale life” (Davis 2766). In addition to Deb’s deformed body yearning for food, her soul hungers for love and spiritual support. The denial of love and feeling of hunger leaves Deb to have a “face more ghastly, her lips bluer, her eyes more water” (Davis 2766). As the readers see, the result of deprivation from love and food ultimately portrays her to be extremely vulnerable.

In addition to Davis portraying Deb as a vulnerable character, she also draws a connection between the physical labor of the iron mills and the depletion of the workers masculinity. The iron mills has caused Hugh to lose his energy and strength that he ultimately becomes vulnerable: “He had already lost the strength and instinct vigor or a man, his muscles were thin, her nerves weak, his fake (a meek, woman’s face) haggard, yellow with consumption.” (Davis 2769). Adjectives such as ‘thin’ and ‘weak’ are the same adjectives that described Deb earlier on in the short story, drawing a parallel between the two characters and their vulnerability. Characterized as a girl-man, Hugh was often referred to by the others as “Molly Wolfe” (Davis 2769), once again shining light on Hugh’s weakness. As the readers can see, Davis highlights how one develops a strong sense of vulnerability as a consequence of the hardships experienced.

Redefining masculinity

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the term masculine is defined as “characterized by or possessing qualities traditionally attributed to men, such as aggressiveness”. In Thomas Foster’s, Meat Puppets or Robopaths? Cyberpunk and The Question of Embodiment, he proclaims that “Neuromancer defines the opportunities that postmodern culture provides for those of us who are interested in redefining the construction of masculinity,…” (Foster 225). I completely agree with Foster’s statement that the term ‘masculine’ is redefined in the novel. After reading Neuromancer, I concluded that Case was nothing of a masculine man, but was rather a man in the shadows of a strong , determined and powerful female, Molly.

Throughout Neuromancer, Molly often appears as the ‘masculine’ character both on a physical and mental level. On a physical level, Molly’s retractable, double-edged, four centimeter scalpel blades implants in her hands and optical implants that appear as mirrors (Gibson 24) resembles an image of weapons, an object that we often associate with men. For example, hunting is often portrayed as a man’s hobby because men are more attracted to the use of guns or bow-and-arrows. Being in possession of these types of weapons allow men to not only feel more dominant, but also to feel power. However, in Neuromancer, Case’s bodily modifications only allow him to have access to cyberspace. While being accessible to cyberspace can mentally be a weapon, it is not an attribute that appears to be physically threatening such as those Molly comprises of.

Using the technology of simstim, Case has the experience of virtually inhabiting Molly’s body. When Case ‘flips’ and possesses Molly’s body, he witnesses the world through Molly’s eyes, shares her sensations, but is incapable of communicating with her. When Case is disembodied in cyberspace, he has complete control of his thoughts and body. However, when Case jolts into Molly’s flesh “for a few frightened seconds he fought helplessly to control her body. Then he willed himself into passivity, became the passenger behind her eyes” (Gibson 56). In our world today, it is perceived that men often take upon the role of the ‘controller’ or ‘driver’ in situations because these are the common ‘traditional’ masculine qualities one is supposed to employ as a man. However, in Neuromancer, Case is physically unable to acquire this role as a ‘driver’ but rather must view the world as a backseat passenger. As Foster stated in his chapter, I believe that Gibson is ultimately redefining the characteristics in which a traditional man are supposed to acquire. Maybe Gibson believes that in the future, the terms in which we define ‘masculine’ men will be altered as a result of more dominant and powerful females present in society.

Love Vs. Success

Love. As a child, we never dwell on the meaning of love, rather it is just assumed. As a teenager, we often resist the idea of love, to prove that we are independent of others. It is often portrayed that only as an adult do we let ourselves love, because we accept life is easier when we have others to help us keep going.

In the beginning of Neuromancer, Gibson reflects Case’s instantaneous love for Linda Lee as if “she’d been singled out for him, one face out of the dozens” (Gibson 8). Despite what appeared to be a “love-struck” Case early on in the novel, Case exhibits no lasting negative impact after witnessing the murder of Linda Lee. In the real world, one often enters into a mourning period to grieve over the death of a loved one. The mourning period allows an individual to fathom their loss in order to progress in life. However, Case never surrenders himself to feeling grief because he is “ ‘Numb…he’d been numb a long time, years” (Gibson 152).

At a time where the majority of people experience darkness, Case is determined to successfully complete his mission. Case “shouts, voice high with hysteria…I gotta get the enzyme, name of the enzyme, the enzyme, man…” (Gibson 198). It is at this point in the novel that Gibson reveals an emotional Case. “ ‘Wintermute,’ Case screamed, ‘don’t do this to me!’ Tears broke from his lashes, rebounding off the faceplate in wobbling crystal droplets (Gibson 198). The first time Case expresses sadness is not when he loses a loved one, as some might expect, but when he panics about unsuccessfully retrieving the enzyme.

Why does Gibson create a character that does not experience emotion during a time of death but rather does so when the basis of his success is in danger? I think Gibson is enlightening his audience about the consequences of this futuristic world. In a world consumed by technology and manipulation, people’s morals and motivations are skewed. Gibson indicates that despite the moment in time where we feel people would hurt the most, every man is simply out for his own success. In other words, Gibson implies that in this futuristic world, the desire for complete success often inhibits one’s human emotions.