April 6

Frankenstein and the Jellyfish

Parenting is an often discussed topic in relation to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, particularly Victor’s lack of parenting towards his creation, but what about how Victor was parented? Alfonse and Caroline Frankenstein’s parenting style has much to do with Victor’s behaviour and ultimately can serve as a warning for readers to beware of bad parenting!

Victor’s account of his excellent upbringing and childhood often goes unquestioned. We willingly take his word that it was all sunshine and roses, but we shouldn’t. To any child unconditional love and having everything your heart desires is awesome, so of course Victor would claim he had an excellent youth. The problem is Victor is not looking at his childhood from the proper perspective because he is overtly biased. I assert that his upbringing is the root of the problem. Victor is a spoiled brat and it’s because of his parents.

Parenting experts have written volumes on the effectiveness or lack thereof of various parenting styles. Most would agree that an Authoritative style (Coloroso’s back bone parent) is the standard by which we all should live. They also go to great lengths to describe the other styles that sit at opposite ends of the parenting spectrum – Authoritarian and Permissive. Barabara Coloroso, in her book, kids are worth it! calls the Authoritarian parent the brick wall, while the Permissive parent is dubbed the jellyfish. Shimi Kang, MD and prominent psychiatrist, also calls Permissive parents jellyfish, but prefers to refer to Authoritarian parents as tigers and Authoritative parents as dolphins. Regardless of the various terms, Caroline and Alfonse Frankenstein exhibit jellyfish traits in their upbringing of Victor and this is where the problems begin.

The problem with being a jellyfish parent is that it more often than not creates spoiled brats who have a hard time accepting rules and being patient due to the lack of rules and over-indulgent nature of jellyfish parents. Subsequently, children also have trouble making good decisions, they don’t accept authority well and have difficulty working with others because they expect to get their own way all the time. They may even have angry outbursts when they don’t get their own way. In relationships, they often struggle, being unable to give and take, expecting their partner to jump at their every whim similar to what their parents did. Shimi Kang, M.D., a psychiatrist and the author of The Dolphin Way stresses that parental permissiveness leads to overindulgence which in turn creates a child with poor impulse control.

Victor describes his parents as very loving – even doting, which could be considered overindulgent. His father, Alfonse, was presented as a man who devoted himself to his wife and children to the extreme: “There was a sense of justice in my father’s upright mind, which rendered it necessary that he should approve highly and love strongly” (Shelley 41). Both Alfonse and Caroline “[drew] inexhaustible stores of affection from a very mine of love to bestow them upon [Victor]…[he] was their plaything and their idol” (Shelley 42). The Frankensteins even go so far as to provide Victor his very own living doll – Elizabeth Lavenza, given to him as his present. Aside from the feminist implications that could be drawn from that scenario, it also paints a picture of the absolute indulgence given to Victor as a child, which he later admits completely:

No human could have passed a happier childhood than myself. May parents possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence. We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed.  (Shelley 45)

Victor himself gives us a clear description of the over-indulgent nature of his parents, a typical trait of the permissive jellyfish parenting style.

Jellyfish parents typically do not give enough instruction, provide unclear expectations and goals, while also allowing too much autonomy too early. Victor concedes that “to a great degree [he was] self-taught with regard to [his] favourite studies [because] [his] father was not scientific, and [he] was left to struggle with a child’s blindness” (Shelley 47). Victor was definitely given free reign at an early age in regards to his own education with little guidance from the adults in his life. This autonomy and lack of guidance resulted in Victor’s poor judgement and decision making skills. He never learned to temper his fantasies with a good dose of reality, instead spending his time searching for “the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life” (Shelley 47). When his father finally spoke up commenting negatively on Victor’s choice in reading Cornelius Agrippa, Victor became insolent, purposely throwing himself headlong into further study of the defunct natural philosophers. He has a moment of clarity into the powers of parenting when he exclaims,

If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me, that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded,…I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside…It is even possible, that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin. (Shelley 46)

Thus, Victor’s parents, by giving him every opportunity and allowing him the power and freedom to learn as he desired, gave him little guidance or explanation in how to use those opportunities resulting in his inability to consider consequences and take responsibility.

Victor’s descriptions of his childhood, while not only providing evidence of the over-indulgent, lackadaisical nature of his parents, also gives us insight into the outcome of their jellyfish parenting style. Even at an early age, signs were beginning to show. Victor admits “My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement” – definitely reminiscent of the angry outbursts typical of the over-indulged child who lacks impulse control and resorts to temper tantrums (Shelley 45). Furthermore, there is little question that he has difficulty with taking responsibility. He not only ignores his own family for expansive amounts of time, he abandons the creature – shunning his responsibility to it – and runs away to avoid taking responsibility. He avoids owning up to the creation of the monster – even at the price of Justine’s life further compounding his lack of responsibility. Overall, Victor behaves like the spoiled child that he is and has never grown out of.

Victor is solely responsible for the disastrous events and untimely deaths of his loved ones at the hands of the creature, but ultimately it is his upbringing that precipitated his downfall.

Coloroso, Barbara. Kids Are Worth It: Raising Resilient, Responsible, Compassionate Kids. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2001. Print.

Kang, Shimi K. The dolphin way: a guide to raising healthy, happy, and motivated kids. New York: Penguin, 2015. Print.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Johanna M. Smith. Frankenstein: complete, authoritative text with biographical, historical, and cultural contexts, critical history, and essays from contemporary critical perspectives. Second ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. Print.

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October 20

Understanding begins here

“Real understanding takes root when learners merge their thinking with the content by connecting, inferring, questioning, determining importance, synthesizing and reacting to information. Understanding begins here.”

Comprehension and Collaboration, 2009 by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels

Thinking deeply about what we do and read in class is an important task to ensure that you are understanding. Not only is it a task, it’s a skill! Learn to question what you think about what you read and view. Consider what connections are activated, what you wonder about, and what you visualize.

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October 19

What would Mrs. Saville say?

Our initial introduction to Frankenstein has always intrigued me, particularly Mrs. Saville. I’ve often wondered what Mrs. Saville’s responses to her beloved brother’s letters would have been like. Would she be rapt with excitement? Concern? Horror? Walton gives us hints as to what he thinks his sister feels, but is he a good judge? He is, after all, a bit presumptuous and rash and very self-centered, so I for one, do not completely trust his assertions. He does admit one thing I do take as gospel, though – that Mrs. Saville had “evil forebodings” regarding his enterprise (Shelley 28). This may not be a stretch in anyone’s imagination, but it does tell us a great deal. It was my first inclination that Mrs. Saville is much older than Robert Walton, for example, which was later confirmed to me when he praised her for her “gentle and feminine fosterage” making her sound more motherly than sisterly (32). Furthermore, the fact that he relays explanations about his early childhood makes me think she was grown and out of the family home, probably already married, otherwise why would he need to tell her about his childhood dreams? He definitely tries to calm her, like you would a worried mother, at every turn by claiming his carefulness and good judgement over and over again: “I will be calm, persevering, and prudent” become his mantra (34). His loving feelings for her are obvious, but I also get a sense of him owing her when he says that he “again [testifies his] gratitude for all [her] love and kindness” (30).   It is also important to note that Walton feels his sister has been “refined by books and [retired] from the world” which has made her “somewhat fastidious” (39). Walton’s estimation of his sister conjure up the typical feelings of young, inexperienced people in regards to their elders – that they are a bit picky and difficult to please. In all, Mrs. Saville allows us to look at Walton through the eyes of someone who cares deeply about his welfare, and who knows him well enough to definitely worry, but be far enough removed (he is a grown man) that she can no longer chastise him for his behaviour and mad adventures. Mrs. Saville, while never being present, successfully grounds us and makes us an active participant in wishing for Walton’s success and safety and that allows us all the better to feel her excitement, concern , and even horror.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Johanna M. Smith. Frankenstein: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. Print.
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October 18

Frankenstein Blog Guidelines

Modern reading theory emphasizes that the reader is a “meaning maker,” not an empty vessel to be filled with meaning by a teacher.

Your blog is a place for you to explore what meaning the book has for you.  You need to reflect on your reading.  Write a blog of your thoughts.  DO NOT summarize the plot.  Provide context and make sure there is a personal reflection.

There is a myriad of things you can write about:

  • make connections to outside texts in support of your reading of Frankenstein
  • explore characterization and relationships
  • examine the various types of heroes
  • analyse the language
  • identify and explore the doppelgangers in the book
  • comment on the Romantic and/or Gothic elements

Or further, consider asking yourself:

  • What does this book mean in terms of my family and friends? Why should people my age be concerned with the issues presented in this book?
  • What does this book mean in terms of my community? Country? How do the ideas in this book affect both my community or country? What relevance does it play in relation to our national well-being?
  • What does this book mean about the human condition? What can I learn about humanity from reading this text? What are the universal truths it contains?
  • What is the most valuable idea in this book?
  • Choose a theme evident in the book and search for evidence of this theme, or layers of this theme, in today’s world.

Ultimately, make connections and explore them in your blog.

Read the blogs of your peers. Follow the Student Guideline for Commenting and respond to the blogs your peers write and encourage discussion.

Success Criteria — Standards for this task
Content and Creativity – 40 %

Postings provide moderate insight, understanding and reflective thought about the topic.

Postings present a specific viewpoint that is substantiated by supporting examples and links to websites or documents, but not all links enhance the information presented.

Postings are generally well written with some attempts made to stimulate dialogue and commentary.

Voice – 20 %

Postings are written in a style that is generally appropriate for the intended audience and an attempt is made to use a consistent voice.

Postings reflect a bit of the author’s personality through word choices that attempt to bring the topic to life.

Text Layout, Use of Graphics & Multimedia — 20%

Formatting helps make the post easy to read

Selects and inserts graphics and multimedia that are mostly high quality and enhance and clarify the content.

Acknowledges most image and multimedia sources with captions or annotations.

Quality of Writing and Proofreading — 10 %

Writing has 1-2 grammatical errors.

Transitions clearly show how ideas are connected, but there is little variety.

Language is considerably engaging and fluent.

Most sentences are well-constructed with varied structure.

Citations – 10 %

Most information sources are cited accurately

Proper citation used for most images

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