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Societal Monsters in Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”

Perhaps, the fear is one the most widely spread vices of society, as it provokes the intense and negative emotions. The fear and horror is usually generated when people face the Ugly as a social and aesthetic opposition to the Beautiful. Provoked by social prejudices and vices, social fears are revealed and criticized in literature. A special consideration requires different interpretations of social fear in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, Chinua Achebe’s literary masterpiece Things Fall Apart, and William Golding’s Lord of the Files. All these works render this category through different philosophical concepts, such as the fear of the unknown, the fear of the ugly, and the fear of communication and contact.

Shelley’s Frankenstein’s image of social fear is rendered through the creation of the social monster embodying all the fears of the society through ugliness. In the novel, the Ugly remains the main obstacle for entering a usual social order. The author manages to show that social fear and distrust doom Victor to eternal loneliness and alienation. People’s reluctance to accept the Ugly to the society is guided by the fear to distort the ideal social system dictating the different cultural, psychological, and even physical norm. Therefore, Frankenstein is a material personification of the vices and evil accumulated in one human creature. Finally, the psychological and stylistic approaches chosen by Shelley explain the fear as a disrupt feeling subjected to social norms (Shelley 265).

Talking about Frankenstein as the product of vices of society, those societal prejudices are created by the fear and reluctance to accept that this abhorrent creature embodies their negative character traits and hidden motives. This means that this monster also “serves to displace the antagonisms and horrors evidenced within society outside society itself” (Morton 91). At this point, Frankenstein can be presented as an outright confrontation between the devil and the man as those who are prepared to attack the monster becomes the whole of society. As a proof, the monster depicted by Shelley is the unknown creature having no name and, therefore, Victor’s creation denies individuality and personal goals; it is fully subjected to its Creator. This is why the Creature can be completely identified with an overwhelming feeling of fear, which is hard to control within a society.

Apparently, Shelly created a metaphor horror, as the entire story referred as to Gothic horror (Roberts and Roberts 96). But this material representation of the birth-myth is closely interwoven with the ideological and philosophical representation of fear of ugliness and fear of the unknown. At that time, this literal image of terror was the most popular one as it defined all the vices and prejudices existed in Gothic society. The fear of the unknown and the rejection of the strange at psychological and social levels can be also resorted to the concept of “noble savage” (Gilliard 51). People are always estranged by unusual, weird and inacceptable, something that is not welcomed in society. The fact that the Creature had a yellow skin and strange appearance alienated Gothic society cultivating purity, modesty, and traditionalism. Gilliard calls this fear as xenophobia, the fear of the foreign (51).

In the novel Lord of the Files, the author analyzes the phenomenon of social fear of the unknown and of loosing control. The protagonist builds his life in society that does not recognize weakness and encourages those who devote their life to hard work and self-determination. The hero is always under the pressure of the unknown so that he should encounter unexpected situation demanding courage and confidence. Golding identifies a gap between the nature and society as if demonstrating the level of social deviation from the veritable values. In that regard, the fear is the result of people’s distorted perception of their origin and humanness in particular (Golding 12). It is also the representation of moral and political deviation from natural and favorable social systems where there is a fight between the reason and emotion.

Due to the fact that the novel Lord of the Files depicts the events of the second World War, the time of desperation and continuous and severe struggle, it, therefore, reveals two opposites existed in society: transgression and law-obedience. At this point, society reveals its fear of punishment and inability to control the situation. The above shows that society is between two edges. On the one hand, the author depicts a rule-governed and law-obedient society with moral principles. On the other hand, democratic utopia is disrupted by the ‘downside’ members of the mob overwhelmed with fantasies of perversion and transgression (Diken and Lausten 39). Referring to this situation with boys, Ralph fears to loose the privilege of being the leader. He should fight with the existed societal monsters and resist the temptation to surpass the frames of permissible. In contrast, ‘Piggy’ personifies a metaphorical image of chaos that destroys rules and order; he is a metaphorical monster whom Ralph should fight with.

The established confrontations in society and Ralph’s aspiration to set a firm balance between peaceful democracy and fascist violence and totalitarian regime can give rise to uncontrollable disruption and even death. On the other hand, Jack fears to be subjected to reason and order that contradict the natural laws and origin of humanness. In this way, Ralph strives to mortify any displays of irrationality, which are also typical of human. As a result, this two-polar struggle is justified on both parts having their societal monsters: extreme reason and absolute chaos.

As the novel also represents the concept “war against all”, it also proves the ideas that all people are evil in nature and, therefore, it is natural to reveal the dark sides of character. By this, the author intends to improve the theory that all the so-called “monsters” are encaged in each person thus serving as the reason for violence and perversion. In this respect, Stafford characterizes the concluding part of the novel as follows:

There was a beast on the island, but it was internal, not concrete, and the more they became caught up on the killing the imaginary external monster, the more the beast within each one of them was able to flourish (39).

The Achebe’s interpretation of social fear in Things fall apart is revealed through the reluctance and horror of the main hero Okonkwo to communicate with people of an ideal society with highly established cultural and moral norms. Achebe tries to distort the image of ideal social institutions that does not give any opportunity for even a minor mistake. The uncompromised society based on the exaggerated concept of fairness and justice makes the main hero and his family live in the constant fear of failure and weakness. As the result, this fear deprives Okonkwo of the ability to think logically thus subjecting his behavior to hidden instincts. This novel is, therefore, the brightest example of how society may create social monsters (Achebe 8).

Viewing the novel historically, it also represents the disruption and downfall of the African society. Like in Lords of the File, the author depicts a world in which was, sufferings and violence are presents but are balanced by a sense of ritual and tradition (Ray, 526). The main hero of the story can also define this contradiction between the evil and the good and an eternal fight between these two rivals. Hence, Things all apart allegorize the absolute fear and “monster” of society – evil in its all displays. Okonkwo, therefore, fears of himself, the fear lest he should become like his cruel father.

Another societal monster that was being carefully brought up in Okonkwo’s world is the fear of revealing his weaknesses. His major tragedy lies in the fact that the protagonist was raised in a community that is more concerned with faith in the individual trait of manliness and bravery (Whittacker and Msiska 80). Those traditions and social prejudices trigger Okonkwo’s desire to conform to these requirements and to satisfy social norms. As a result, the hero is in the constant fear to reveal his emotions, as, according to the norms of African community, it is the sign of weakness:

Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength (Achebe 20).

As can be seen from the above the manifestation of masculinity and the fear of weakness are closely correlated with each other. Hence if strength and power are associated with males, then feelings and emotions are the privileges of females, which is the major problems depicted in the novel. Society does not give men any possibility to reveal their natural emotions, which are misinterpreted as vices and shortcomings of male character. Rejection of emotion is, therefore, associated with “female” emotion; this is why it is inacceptable for a man to possess such qualities.

A thorough consideration of the novel leads to a conclusion that even an ideal society with ideal norms is not perfect, as it rejects the existence of other aesthetic and philosophical concepts. In particular, the novels demonstrate false images of the social order that exclude human categories of the ugly, the weak, and the unknown and affiliate them to the negative ones. Moreover, the reluctance of society to accept a veritable human nature considerably corrupts the original functions and significance of philosophical categories.

Still, the consideration of societal monsters in these three novels reveals the fact that all vices appear as the result of a two-polar confrontation. Hence, in Shelley’s Frankenstein, the reader can observe the confrontation between well-known concepts and stereotypes and alien displays framed within one object, which is a combination of all fears cultivated in a disrupted society. In Lords of the Files, the author represents a traditional confrontation between order and chaos; the result is fear of loosing control, fear of being punished and accused. Finally, the third novel, Things fall apart, is the opposition of emotion over the reason generating the fear of weakness.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things fall apart. Great Britain: Heinemann, 1996.

Diken, Bulent, and Lausten, Casten Bagge. Sociology through the projector. US: Taylor & Francis, 2007.

Gilliard, Garry. Empowering Readers: Ten Approach to Narrative. Australia: Wakefield Press, 2004.

Golding, William. Lord of the Files. South Africa: Pearson South Africa, 2005.

Morton, Timothy. A Routledge literary sourcebook on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Ray, Ed Monit K. The Atlantic Companion to Literature in English. US: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 2007.

Roberts, Marie Murvey, and Roberts, Mary. Gothic immortals: the fiction of the brotherhood of the rosy cross. US: Taylor & Francis, 1990.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. India: Pearson Education India, 1979.

Stafford, Nikki. Finding the Lost: The Unofficial Guide. Canada: ECW Press, 2006.

Whittaker, David, and Msiska, Mpalive-Hangson. Chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart. US: Taylor & Francis, 2007.


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