Humans or Monsters?

Throughout the novel, Mary Shelley constantly implies the monstrosity of human nature. Although the “creature” represents the typical stereotype of a monster, Shelley plays on certain comparisons to Frankenstein in order to illustrate the fine line between humanity and monstrosity.

Firstly, Frankenstein creates an evil monster out of selfishness because he wants to obtain notoriety and fame. He claims, “no father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve [my creation’s]” (Shelley 80).  Frankenstein’s lack of concern for repercussions and thirst for fame can categorize him as a monster. Frankenstein puts his desires and concerns above that of all others, a typically inhumane characteristic of mankind.

Secondly, Frankenstein abandons his creation purely based on physical judgments. The second he sees the creature he gave life to, he is revolted by his hideous appearance and terrifying demeanor. Frankenstein merely judges this creature based on his appearance and doesn’t give him a chance for a normal life. Similarly, all humans that the creature encounters treat him the same way. Because of this inhumane treatment, a monster is born. In this light, humans can be viewed as monstrous creatures because of their superficiality and reckless attitude towards others.

Lastly, towards the end of the novel, Frankenstein himself becomes a striking image of the monster he created. He becomes obsessed with evil and revenge, and consumed by hatred. Frankenstein refers to himself as a “miserable wretch” (Shelley 165). Shelley now uses the same words to describe Frankenstein, as she had previously used for the monster reflecting the fact that the two are become increasingly more alike. Just like the monster he created, Frankenstein eventually became alienated and even abhorred himself.  The many similarities between Frankenstein and his creation show the fine line between humanity and monstrosity.

Moral Repercussions of Technology

The story of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley tells the typical story of the dangers of technology. In a world of rapid scientific advancement, it is hard not to get caught up in the whirlwind of new and interesting discoveries. However, sometimes technological advancements are taken too far and become a detriment to society.

Although Frankenstein is a fictional story, its moral structure greatly mirrors that of many real life struggles. The protagonist Frankenstein is fascinated by science and dedicates his entire livelihood to “infusing life into an inanimate body” (Shelley 83). This is a novel technology that brings great excitement and purpose to Frankenstein’s life. However, it isn’t until after the creation of this “monster” that Frankenstein realizes the moral repercussions of his invention. Frankenstein shared, “now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelley 84). Along the same lines, he exclaims that this invention “became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived” (Shelley 84). He had created a demon, and there was no turning back. Frankenstein’s zest for innovation and evolution backfired, and his cutting-edge invention came back to bite him in the butt. Frankenstein’s terrible sickness and the murder of his brother both provide evidence of the fact that Frankenstein’s invention of this creature was morally wrong.

Even in 1818, Shelley was able to foresee the dangers of scientific technology. Today, advancements such as cloning and designer babies bring up identical struggles. Although these inventions are captivating and potentially beneficial, they have many moral detriments as well. The story of Frankenstein is symbolic of the universal moral struggle that scientists face when approaching a technological advancement.

Lights, Camera, Action

In Annette Debo’s literary analysis of Bellocq’s Ophelia, she asserts that it is Ophelia’s “job to become an actor in [the costumer’s] desires.” This notion not only applies to Ophelia in her sex work, but it also applies to her as a subject of photography and in every day life.

Ophelia constantly has to act for the men that pay for her services, morphing to please a costumer’s desires. In the poem Vignette, Trethewey draws a parallel between Ophelia’s profession as a sex worker and that of a circus performer. She states, “Picture her face now as she realizes/that it must have been harder every year,/that the contortionist too, must have ached/ each night in his tent” (Trethewey 47). Ophelia is constantly putting on a show. She contorts into someone she isn’t in order to please her customer, similar to how an entertainer must please a crowd. Concealing her true identity becomes tiresome and degrading, causing Ophelia to come out of her shell at the end of the novel.

In addition to the acting she performs in prostitution, Ophelia must act in order to satisfy Bellocq’s photographical demands. She constantly feels uncomfortable in front of the camera, but puts on a show to make Bellocq believe she is “right for the camera” (Trethewey 42). However, through access to her personal diary, the reader knows that to Ophelia, “all of it [is] contrived” (Trethewey 41). Ophelia is constantly forced to become someone she is not in order to survive in the world. For a majority of the novel, Ophelia is stuck inside the frame of what others would like her to be.

Lastly, even on the streets Ophelia is constantly changing herself in order to gain the acceptance of others. In a letter home, Ophelia writes, “Do I deceive/ anyone? Were they to see my hands, brown/ as your dear face, they’d know I’m not quite/ what I pretend to be” (Trethewey 7). Ophelia feels that she must change her physical appearance in order to be accepted in the world. She is constantly trying to gain the approval of those around her and feels like she is always being looked at.

Debo suggests that Ophelia is always acting in her pursuit to please sex workers, however, I believe acting is a centralized aspect of Ophelia’s life. Whether it is trying to impress a customer, posing for a photo, or simply walking down the street, Ophelia is never content in her own skin. She is always acting to meet the expectations of others, and loses part of herself in this process.

Social Criticism Through Humor

Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” displays his distaste for the dire consequences of industrialization in a comical and light-hearted manner. Through the eyes of a pitiful factory worker, Chaplin introduces the viewer to a world where technology dominates human existence. Although Chaplin relays this message using humor, through all the laughter the viewer does not lose sight of the dehumanizing effect of factories.

We are first introduced to the dehumanizing effect of factories in the comical introduction of the film in which the protagonist is repeatedly tightening screws in an assembly line. The assembly line moves so fast and is so monotonous that the protagonist struggles to keep up with his work. Although this creates a humorous effect for viewers, the task effectively transforms the factory worker into a robot. The image of the factory worker as a robot is epitomized when the protagonist stops tightening screws, yet automatically continues to make the appropriate hand gestures. Beyond creating another humorous effect, this scene shows that the factory workers have been “programmed” to perform their tasks. Their work doesn’t require humane thought, only the most efficient production of menial tasks.

Chaplin further illustrates his disgust for the factory systems in another entertaining scene in which a feeding machine is being tested. This feeding machine is intended to increase productivity by freeing the hands during workers’ lunch breaks so they can continue to perform their menial tasks. Although this scene inspires laughter among the crowd, it clearly shows the dehumanizing effects of industrialization. Efficient production has become so important that factory owners can’t even afford to grant their workers a lunch break. Instead, workers are fed like robots. Furthermore, the protagonist is dehumanized when the feeding machine malfunctions and the food is spilled all over him. The factory owner has no concern for the discomfort this causes to the factory worker; he is diminished to a test subject, similar to an animal in a scientific experiment. However, the factory owner cares more about the impracticality and the inefficiency of the feeding machine. This scene demonstrates Chaplin’s distaste for the values and standards of factories.

Through the creation of multiple scenes, Chaplin creates a social criticism of industrialization while keeping the viewers laughing and entertained. This playful twist on a deep and disturbing topic grasps the attention of viewers and successfully communicates a message close to his heart.

Widening of Social Gaps

Herman Melville’s The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids highlights the differences between the social classes. Specifically, this work describes how technology has facilitated a severe widening in the gap between the rich and the poor. Melville demonstrates how industrialization serves to increase the fortune of the wealthy and worsen the squalor of the poor. There is a clearly two categories of men in this industrial society; those that have conquered it and those who have fallen prisoner to it.

In the first section The Paradise of Bachelors, we are introduced to a relaxed and eloquent atmosphere in which the affair is described as the “absorption of good living, good drinking, good feeling, and good talk” (Melville 1264). These men have come out on top of technological advances and as a result live a luxurious life. This wealth allows them to concern themselves with trivial matters such as drinking and decorations. Their control over industrialization has only served to make the bachelors wealthier, therefore widening the social gap.

On the other hand, the next section of Melville’s anecdote is described in stark contrast to the first. In The Tartarus of Maids we are shown an extremely different environment with “blank looking girls, with blank, white folders in their blank hands, all blankly folding blank paper” (Melville 1270). The repetition of the word “blank” in this passage emphasizes how the lives of the maids are monotonous and only concentrated around work and making a living. Unlike the bachelors, these maids have no time for trivial concerns. They have come out on the lower side of technology, and therefore are essentially slaves of technology. Technology is their only way to make a living, and as a result they are subservient to it. Industrialization worsened the conditions of the poor, and made them more subservient members of society.

The structure of Melville’s text also follows the notion that technology widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Although this is fairly obvious to us at the time, this was a new idea at the time that Melville wrote The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids. The two separate sections of the text are symbolic of the two separate sections of society that have been even further widened by industrialization.

Technology: Friend or Foe?

It is common in our society to think of technology as a device that is beneficial to humans. Whether it be a computer or a vehicle, humans appreciate these appliances because they make tasks easier or quicker to accomplish. Although this is a valid perspective, people often fail to realize the deleterious affects that technology can have on humanity. In Rebecca Harding Davis’ “Life in the Iron Mills,” she sheds light on this sobering truth by allowing us to see the life of a factory worker through her eyes.

The monotonous and cumbersome lives of Deb and Hugh are perfect examples of how technology can have a negative effect on humans. The demanding factory jobs wore them down until they had, “besotted faces bent to the ground, sharpened here and there by pain or cunning; skin and muscle and flesh begrimed with smoke and ashes…” (Harding Davis 2764). The grim and ugly images not only show the hardships that Deb and Hugh endured, but also the terrible conditions that they lived and worked under. In addition to being physically worn down, they were also mentally and morally broken. Workers in the factory had their hopes and dreams shattered, and the two protagonists were desperate enough to steal in order to escape factory life.

Working in the factory dehumanized Deb and Hugh, similar to the dehumanization that took place during slavery or racial cleansings. In response to observing the wretched conditions of the factory, one of the wealthy overseers commented, “I wash my hands of all social problems, — slavery, caste, white, or black” (Harding Davis 2774). The comparison of factory work to slavery shows just how terrible and degrading Deb and Hugh’s lives are. They were both physically and mentally devalued, constantly working like robots in the horrid conditions of the factory.

Although technology does have its beneficial purposes, well off citizens often choose to ignore its harsh consequences because it does not concern them. A story like Harding Davis’ is important to read because it causes readers to think more deeply into the ramifications of technology.

Humanity vs. Machine

According to “Cyberpunk: Return of the Repressed Body,” cyberpunk has continually been identified as a “genre best known for its rejection of embodiment and embrace of an existence in cyberspace.” Based on Gibson’s revolutionary novel Neuromancer, I believe this statement to be only partially true when applied to the protagonist Case.

A cyberspace cowboy, Case is definitely fixated on escaping the limitations of his body and entering an alternate reality. The time Case spends in Night City, mentally paralyzed by his restrictive surgery is described as monotone and torturous. Case longs to be engaged in Cyberspace where he can escape the unfulfilling life he has been left with. He desperately scavenges doctors in Night City, looking for a cure to the mycotoxin he was implanted with.  A parallel for Case’s dependency on Cyberspace is his dependence on drugs. Case is constantly looking to alter his state of mind and escape from reality. At the conclusion of the novel, Case spends a majority of his money on a new liver so he can reap the benefits of drugs. Additionally, Case pushes through his mission to break the Tessier-Ashpool ice simply because he is devoted to having the toxin sacs implanted in him by Winermute removed. Whether through Cyberspace or the use of drugs, it is evident that Case is desperate to escape from his body.

However, Case strays from the path of conventional cyberpunk towards the end of the novel when he rejects the offer to permanently live in an alternate reality. Case “refuses the virtual world, denying that it’s real.” This can be found to be slightly alarming, considering the emphasis Case has placed on escaping reality throughout the entire novel. However, I believe that Gibson includes this in the novel not only to challenge the conventional idea of cyberpunk, but also to show Case’s character development throughout the novel. Although at the end of the novel we are told that Case is still operating in Cyberspace, it is implied that he has become more comfortable in the real world. Gibson challenges the common ideologies of cyberpunk and causes the reader to contemplate the struggle between humanity and machines.

Molly: Dominant or Submissive?

In last week’s discussion, Rebecca pointed out that Gibson deliberately created Molly to represent a future society in which women are equivalent to men. Although I agreed with the argument Rebecca made, I believe this statement to be only partially true. After encountering the new developments in the recent chapters of Neuromancer, I believe that Gibson created Molly’s character as an intricate mix of dominant and subordinate characteristics.

Throughout the recent chapters, Molly is still portrayed as a strong woman in many ways.  Through the action of simstim, it is apparent that Molly controls the relationship between herself and Case. Case can listen to Molly and feel all of her experiences, but this relationship is only one-dimensional. The exchange that goes on between the two is fully controlled by Molly; Case has no way of responding. These roles are exemplified when Molly decides to share intimate details of her past romance with Case through simstim. She herself up emotionally, yet Case does not have the opportunity to react or reciprocate. The depth of their relationship is fully controlled by Molly.

Another Case in which Molly establishes her dominance is when she continues down a detour, disregarding Wintermute’s orders to turn around. This defiance shows that she holds little regard for authority and is completely confident in her ability to make the right decision. Although this decision leads her to danger, the fact that she followed her intuition displays Molly as a confident and independent character.

On the other hand, Gibson also includes many scenes that portray Molly as submissive to other characters in the recent chapters. Molly appears to have some insecurity that surface when she views the mutilated prostitute while she is with Ashpool. Her insecurity stems from her past as a prostitute, and the constant mention of these events in her past indicates that she cannot move past these setbacks.

In addition, Molly is shown as a subordinate character through the injury of her leg. Because of this injury, Molly ends up in a situation where she is completely dominated by Riviera and 3Jane. Her confidence wavers when she admits that she doesn’t expect to make it out of the mission alive.

Molly’s weaknesses are included in the novel to show that she is not superhuman. Although she is portrayed as a dominant female, Gibson must give her some weaknesses in order to ensure that she is still viewed as a human. However, the mixture of dominant and submissive traits makes it difficult for the reader to form a conclusion about the larger purpose of Molly’s character.

Neuromancer Post 1

A common theme throughout the first five chapters of Neuromancer by William Gibson is the melding of humanity and technology. The protagonist, Case epitomizes this theme with respect to his dependence on Cyberspace. Case only feels humane when he is ransacking through databases and hacking into classified fields of information. After Case’s procedure that disables him from entering Cyberspace his life is described as mundane and worthless. Case has spent his life tangled up in computer systems, and when this privilege is taken away from him he feels incomplete, indicating that in today’s society one cannot feel humane without the assistance of technology. To further validate this claim, the hotel rooms in Chiba are referred to as “coffins.” I believe this name stems from the fact that those living without technology in Chiba no longer lead invigorating lives, they are simply performing monotonous routines and waiting to die. Gibson is trying to inform his readers that not only are humans dependent on technology, but also that humanity and technology are deeply intertwined.

Another prominent theme I noted was the prevalence of human attributes. Even in a world controlled by technology, Molly and Case are able to form an honest and trustworthy relationship. The use of the flipflop switch aids the close relationship between the two partners in crime. Case’s ability to feel Molly’s experiences in Cyberspaces causes him to form a strong bond to her. In the text, Case stated that he has never felt a stronger sense of fear than when he was experiencing it through Molly’s perspective.

From the first five chapters I’ve gathered that the relationship between humanity and technology is a complicated one. On one hand the two entities tend to be complementary; one cannot be successful without the other. However, on the other hand they seem to be destructive to one another. This text is perplexing and triggers contemplation about the role that technology has in our society.