December 31, 2009

Frankenstein's monster = Eskimo

Inuit Diasporas:  Frankenstein and the Inuit in England

By Karen PiperSummary:

The essay presents an examination of the historical context of Mary Shelley's novel "Frankenstein," and its depiction of the social fears of the Inuit Native Americans in English society. The author suggests that the monster of the story is a manifestation of the English cultural fear and fascination of the primitive man, and explores many aspects of this portrayal through the historical interactions between British society and the Indians of the North Pole.
From the article's body, Piper notes Shelley's interest in Arctic exploration:Mary Shelley, an avid reader of the Quarterly Review between 1816 and 1820, followed speculations surrounding these journeys in preparation for writing Frankenstein. Frankenstein, in fact, could be said to capitalize on the suspense and widely popular appeal of these journeys. Perhaps not coincidentally, the release of her novel appeared to be timed to coincide with the advent of these infamous expeditions to the North. Besides being captivated by the expeditions themselves, the English public had long been fascinated by Greenlandic Inuits and Eskimos. I would argue that, in Frankenstein, the creature himself came to represent these inhabitants of the North, as well as the threat of their arrival in England if increased communication were to occur.How Piper concludes that the monster represents Eskimos, who aren't present in the book:The first description of the creature in Frankenstein comes from Walton, who claims that he saw something that looked like 'a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island' while his ship as trapped in the ice.' The creature was heading north on a sledge, at the time, demonstrating his superior preparation and ability to navigate through the ice. His physical appearance is described in detail later in the novel: 'His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips' (Shelley, 58). This description is hauntingly similar to the way that explorers described the Inuit Diasporas inhabitants of Greenland in Pinkerton's Collection.Piper explains the significance of the missing Eskimos:In May Be Some Time: Ice in the English Imagination, the Arctic historian Francis Spufford wrote: 'The European perception of polar travel as an activity wholly separate--in mood and technique, aims and expertise--from the Inuit experience of inhabiting the Arctic, also indicates that the spectacle of the Inuit, living their domestic lives in a place Europeans considered heroic for reaching, aroused a degree of tension'." If the Inuit is necessary for survival in Arctic, he/she must also be erased from the narrative in order for it to remain 'heroic'--it is precisely the domesticity of the indigenous inhabitant that must be eliminated in order to preserve that polarization between the domestic 'tranquility' of the European home and the dangerous realm heroically confronted by the Arctic explorer.Another posting notes how the monster himself relates to Natives:

Native America & Speculative Fiction:  Interview with Amy H. SturgisIn Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), perhaps the leading contender for being the first modern work of science fiction, Frankenstein’s creature is out in the wild, living on his own and educating himself by eavesdropping on a family living out in the woods. When he hears about the plight of the American Indians, Shelley emphasizes that Frankenstein’s shunned, isolated, and mistreated creature—surely miserable in his own right—weeps for them.Based on the descriptions in Frankenstein, makeup artist DerrickT created a model of what he thinks the monster would've looked like. Others noted its resemblance to an Indian:In time for Columbus Day, I find he has a bit of a decomposed "Indian" appearance as well as the intended true-to-Shelley Frankenstein's monster.

Immediately connection with an Indian too!

Comment:  For more on the subject, see:

Review of The Terror
Charles Dickens on "Esquimaux"
The "Other" and The Terror
The doomed Franklin expedition

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