The Use of the Isolated Character: Solitude in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner and Frankenstein
Ever since Adam and Eve were evicted from paradise, countless stories have been written that include characters removed from society that have little or no contact with others. From Robinson Crusoe to more modern stories like the film Cast Away, characters have been ship wrecked, plane wrecked, stranded, exiled, and disowned, all because isolation makes a good story. In The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Frankenstein, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, both The Ancient Mariner and Victor Frankenstein are the cause of death for those around them and have to live with the consequences of their actions in solitude as punishment for their sins.
The Mariner and Frankenstein both lose their respective “crews;” all members of The Mariner’s crew except for The Mariner himself die for briefly condoning the shooting of the albatross; and Frankenstein loses his friends and family to the Monster, making the short rest of his life lonely and isolated. Frankenstein, like The Mariner, is directly responsible for his isolation and misfortune. His creation not only took him almost two years of working alone to finish, the Monster also began picking off his family and friends when Frankenstein denied him his company and abandoned him immediately after his creation (Shelley, 37). “The Monster’s lack of a proper name and the terms which are applied to him (i.e., wretch, devil, fiend) affect his identity formation; the Monster becomes the very things he is being called” (Granelli, 3). Frankenstein is not only responsible for creating a giant scary monster; he also calls him names and makes him feel unwanted. “The Monster is an abandoned child driven to evil when, despite his best efforts to become part of it, he is alienated from the world around him” (Granelli, 3).
The desire for a mate is among the Monster’s most disturbing qualities, along with the fact that he is eight feet tall and constructed from the bodies of dead people. A monster with human traits makes for a scary story, and the only thing more terrifying than a monster that looks like a person is a monster that looks like a giant person and thinks like one too. Both Frankenstein and the Monster have a thirst for knowledge, begin with good intentions, and are separated from society; and as Frankenstein loses his loved ones to the Monster, he becomes even more like him; lonely and miserable.
The Mariner and Frankenstein have similar characteristics as well as similar downfalls. Neither person recognized that they were doing a bad thing at the time they were doing it. Only in hindsight does The Mariner realize that murdering an albatross with a crossbow is a terrible sin, and only after completing the Monster does Frankenstein realize that he has, in fact, created a monster. Both characters begin with good standing and make one fatal mistake that follows them to their deaths. The Mariner is accepted and respected by his crew until he shoots the albatross, when he is reprimanded and made to wear the albatross around his neck like a cross (Longman, 638). Although completely ignorant and self-absorbed, Frankenstein is seen as a decent member of society by his family and friends, until he creates the Monster that kills his family and friends and leads him to a cold and lonely death. Even Frankenstein’s Monster only “adopts the identity of Milton’s Satan” (Granelli, 2) when he is repeatedly rejected for his appearance.
They are often super hero origin stories, but there are modern stories with characters that have the “loner” role forced upon them like a curse similar to The Mariner and Frankenstein. In the fourth season of The Walking Dead, Bob Stookey is introduced as a character that had to watch every member of both of his former groups die before meeting up with the group of the main character. Unlike The Ancient Mariner and Frankenstein, Stookey was not, as far as we know, responsible for their deaths; however, his “crew” is lost and he feels both cursed and guilty.
Both The Mariner and Frankenstein feel so guilty for their actions that they long for death to bring forgetfulness and relief. “An orphan’s curse would drag to Hell a spirit from oh high; but oh! more horrible than that is the curse in a dead man’s eye! Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse, and yet I could not die” (Longman, 641). In this passage the Mariner recalls that he was forced to live through the deaths of each member of his crew, who cursed him with their eyes while he could only watch and was not allowed to die. Similarly, Frankenstein becomes so miserable after the Monster kills his friend Henry Clerval that he too longs for death. “Why did I not die? More miserable than man ever was before, why did I not sink into forgetfulness and rest?” (Shelley, 139)
The primary difference between The Mariner and Frankenstein is that The Mariner ends up seeing the beauty in even the ugliest of creatures, the slimy sea monsters. “O happy living things! no tongue their beauty might declare: a spring of love gusht from my heart, and I blessed them unaware! Sure my kind saint took pity on me, and I blessed them unaware” (Longman, 641). Although he remains cursed to tell his tale to those who need to hear it, he learns from his mistake and his life is spared. Frankenstein never learns from his mistakes and becomes obsessed with destroying the Monster, which results in his death.
The Ancient Mariner and Victor Frankenstein are alike in that they both lack foresight and feel guilty for their actions to the point where they long for death, but most importantly are alike in the way that they are both cursed to be without their respective groups because of their mistakes. The Mariner is forced to travel the world alone to share his story the rest of his days (Longman, 648), Frankenstein dies of guilt and grief at the death of his loved ones (Shelley, 174), and even the Monster decides the loneliness and rejection is too much and poetically burns himself alive (Shelley, 179).
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume 2A, fifth ed. Boston: Longman 2003. 634-649. Print.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. “Frankenstein.” New York: Pearson Education, 2007. Print.
Granelli, Stacey Lyn. “Devilish Deviance: The Monster’s Fall In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Proquest. 1998: 1-60. Web. 8 Dec. 2014.
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