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Frankenstein Text

  Vol. II, Chapter Two

  Vol. II, Chapter Eight


Works Cited

Frankenstein Rational

“fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible … But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, are attached grossly to material things, like health and money, and the houses we live in” (Woolf 636).

At the beginning of this semester in addition to taking classes, I was seeking an internship at a law firm. One potential employer required a legal writing sample requesting I summarize Clark v Arizona, 548 U.S. 735 (2006). In that case, there were two issues before the Supreme Court: (1) Does Arizona’s narrowed definition of insanity, which allows evidence of cognitive capacity only to tell if defendant knew the act was right or wrong, violate due process? (2) Does due process prohibit Arizona from narrowing its insanity test, or from excluding evidence of mental illness and incapacity due to mental illness, to rebut evidence of the requisite criminal intent known as mens rea? Before discussing what the Court’s decision in that case, mens rea will be defined as those not in the legal field may be unfamiliar with the term.

There are two parts to a crime. One is the actus reus, literally the ‘guilty act’ it is the objective, external element, of the crime; the other is mens rea, or literally “guilty mind,” which refers to the criminal intent element of a crime. It is mental desire and will to act in a particular way (Hill). “Intent is a crucial element in determining if certain acts were criminal,” occasionally a judge or jury may find that ‘there was no criminal intent” so a “lack of intent may reduce a charge of manslaughter to a finding of reckless homicide or other lesser crime” (Hill).

Without going into the Court’s rational in Clark v Arizona, they upheld the lower courts ruling saying: (1) Arizona’s definition of insanity which allows evidence of cognitive capacity only to tell if defendant knew an act charged as a crime was right or wrong does not violate due process; (2) Arizona’s narrowing of the insanity test that excludes evidence of mental illness and incapacity due to mental illness, to rebut evidence of the requisite criminal intent known as mens rea does not violate due process. By now, one must be asking, “what does any of this have to do with Frankenstein?”

Briefing the case made me wonder what if the Creature was on trial for murder today in the United States. What would the prosecution’s case look like? How would the Creature be defended? Would the defense argue there was no mens rea? Or would they raise an affirmative defense by arguing that the Creature, at the time of the crime, was afflicted with a mental disease or defect of such severity that he did not know the criminal act was wrong? While I eventually abandoned the idea of writing a mock trial, the criminal standard is useful for evaluating the Creature’s behavior. The Creature even reasoned with Victor asking him to determine if it were murder only after Victor heard his tale (Shelley 73-74). Additionally, the concept of mens rea is similar to agency, sometimes referred to as moral agency or authority.

Agency, is “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power” and “a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (MWOD)). Lynne Tirrell argues, “Moral agency is characterized by at least three features” (Tirrell 116). “First one must have the capacity to represent, that is, to take X as a θ” (Tirrell 116). Second, she writes, “one must have a sense of self, which involves the ability to distinguish oneself from others” (Tirrell 116). Finally, “one must be capable of making judgments marked by what we may call ‘authority’” (Tirrell 116). According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online Edition (OED), ‘author’ is the root of authority (see also Tirrell 117). One definition of author, according to the OED, is “The person who originates or gives existence to anything:  An inventor, constructor, or founder” and another is “One who sets forth written statements; the composer or writer of a treatise or book” (OED).

From what we are told about the Creature’s words and deeds, the Creature had the three characteristics of moral agency as laid out by Lynne Tirrell. He had the ability to represent. This is shown in Creature’s demand that a female be created for him one with as hideous as he was. He thought having a companion would quell his rage. The creature also demonstrates a sense of self, and he is able to distinguish himself from others. He distinguishes himself from humans (Shelley 81). He is certainly able to articulate his case to Victor at one point even saying to Victor that he could be V “…the author of your own speedy ruin,” your referring to Victor (Shelley 74).

Ultimately, I concluded the Creature had an existential crisis that filled him such rage. Being emotionally immature, he acted upon that rage in committing murder. While sympathetic to his lack of love, companionship, or acceptance of his creator, he still demonstrates moral agency and is therefore would be guilty of murder in a court of law. While an existential crisis may be difficult, it is not excuse for murder. The creature was rational, in his own words; he told Victor how he learned the ways of man work in creature’s words to point out that he knew what he was doing was not morally right. He did not care about right or wrong, he wanted to inflict pain; he wanted Victor to feel as alone and abandoned as he did.

Another thing that I found myself focusing on was the various philosophies within the two book by Mary Shelley that we read. In Frankenstein, her mother’s, Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas can be seen especially with the De Lacey family and Safie. There is a page in this project for Mary Wollstonecraft that goes into more detail. Then, in The Last Man her father’s idea were incorporated, and then, one would surmise based on the outcome, rejected. Her father was William Godwin and a page in the project goes into more detail.

The organization of the site is not as straight forward as it may seem on the surface. Not all pages are listed in every menu but Home will always be an option on internal pages. Additionally, there are more than 50 links to outside websites that are not listed anywhere. Some are clearly marked, others more obscure. This was a deliberate choice meant to reflect the way my mind works. I tend to synthesis various ideas in my thinking. An example: take the word existential. That word made me think of Jean Paul Sartre. Then that takes me to his idea of True Identity and that leads me back to agency and mens rea. The hidden links go to sites whose ideas are similar to those I thought about when reading the book.

Have fun, please contact me with comments or questions but no span or other mass email.

Works Cited

Agency. “Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (MWOD)” 29 April 2008. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agency.

Authority. “Oxford Dictionary Online Edition (OED). 29 April 2008. http://dictionary.oed.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/cgi/entry/50015071?query_type=word&queryword=authority&first=1&max_to_show=10&sort_type=alpha&result_place=1&search_id=0q8t-QQYMJT-15738&hilite=50015071.

Davis, Cynthia A. “Self, Society, and Myth in Toni Morrison’s Fiction.” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 23, No. 3, (Summer, 1982), 323-342. Stable URL: http.www.jstor.org/stable/1208158.

Friedman, Maurice. To Deny our Nothingness: Contemporary Images of Man. New York: Dell, 1967, paperback.

Hill, Gerald and Katherine. The People’s Law Dictionary,Real Life Dictionary of the Law Online. Law.com Dictionary, Fine Communications. 12 February 2008. http://dictionary.law.com/default2.asp?selected=995&bold.

Melani, Lila. Brooklyn College English Department.  “Toni Morrison, ‘The Bluest Eye.”  Last updated 31 August 2004.  29 April 2008.  http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/morrison.html. 

Myers, Diana. Stanford University. “Feminist Perspectives on the Self,” Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Online). Last updated 7 January 2004. 29 April 2008. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-self/

Reck, Alexandria. Georgetown University, “Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony: An Exploration of Characters and Themes.” A hypertext paper. 29 April 2008. http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/bassr/218/projects/reck/alr.htm.

Ruiz, Bianca. Georgetown University, “Retelling America.” A hypertext paper. 29 April 2008. http:/www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/bassr/218/projects/ruiz/blancafina.htm.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Penguin Books, 1986, paperback.

___________. Storyteller, New York: Arcade Publishing, 1981, paperback.

Tirrell, Lynne. “Storytelling and Moral Agency.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 48, No 2 (Spring 1990): 115-126. Stable URL: http.www.jstor.org/stable/430901.

Unknown Author. University of Pittsburgh Archive (Website). “Do Animals Help Resolve Existential Questions?” Abstract, University of Pittsburgh. 29 April 2008.


Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own in The Feminist Papers: From Adams to Beauvoir. Ed. Alice S. Rossi. New York: Bantam Books, 1988, 627-652.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Susan J. Wolfson. Second. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Online 1818 edition text from http://www.english.upenn.edu/Projects/knarf/1818v1/ftitle.html