Analysis of The Mortal Immortal: Questions and Answers for Discussion

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Nov 13th, 2019

Horror, romance, death and the supernatural are the most important elements of the Gothic literature. The main characters are usually maniacal, villainous, extremely idealized and dangerously flawed.

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) was a significant landmark for the works of famous British novelist and short story writer, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Her works prove that she truly lived a literary existence. Although Mary Shelley uses these Gothic elements in her work, her novels and short stories explore many thought-provoking themes such as the self concerning society.

Of equal significance was a personal weakness, isolation, emotional and internal upheavals caused by supernatural forces. During the 1820s and ’30s, Shelly wrote 21 short stories, many containing supernatural elements. The settings and topics of these stories, their times and places were far removed from early 19th century England. One can view her work as containing early science fiction elements.

Among this collection of short stories about life and the supernatural, was “The Mortal Immortal”. The full text of the story was published in 1833 in The Keepsake for 1834, a literary annual. A tale is told in flashback, and the story is narrated by a 323-year-old man called Winzy – the Mortal Immortal. Questions and answers about the main character of the story are truly numerous. What is the cause of his immortality? He was the former assistant to Cornelius Agrippa, a famous German physician, writer, theologian, and alchemist.

In trying to overcome obsessive love, he drinks one of Agrippa’s potions thinking it will cure him or be a love antidote. Instead, it is an immortal potion which one cannot reverse. He marries his true love – Bertha. He experiences pain and despair as he must watch her and those he loves age eventually and die.

The story begins by the protagonist praising July 16, 1833, as his 323rd anniversary. He states “This is a memorable anniversary for me; on it, I complete my three hundred and twenty-third year! (Shelley). The above quote shows that the praise and happiness dissolve, and the protagonist’s internal battle comes to the surface. Instead of enjoying the benefits of everlasting life, his life has only been filled with despair and many unanswered questions.

“Am I, then, immortal? That is a question which I have asked myself, by day and night, for now, three hundred and three years, and yet cannot answer it… Forever! Can it be? To live forever! I have heard of enchantments, in which the victims were plunged into a deep sleep, to wake, after a hundred years, as fresh as ever: I have heard of the Seven Sleepers—thus to be immortal would not be so burdensome: but, oh! The weight of never-ending time—the tedious passage of the still-succeeding hours! How happy was the fabled Nourjahad!—But to my task.” (Shelley)

What is the tragedy of immortality? It is time. Time can be viewed perhaps as the frequent antagonist to all humankind. In this particular case, time has a mortal and immortal devastating purpose. For the protagonist, immortality/ everlasting life and time has become an enemy. For Bertha and others, mortality (susceptibility to death) and lack of time is the adversary.

“Whereas the latter fears death and ageing, the Mortal Immortal yearns for death – it ends his misery. Death! Mysterious, ill-visaged friend of weak humanity! Why alone of all mortals have you cast me from your sheltering fold? Oh, for the peace of the grave! The deep silence of the iron-bound tomb! That thought would cease to work in my brain, and my heartbeat no more with emotions varied only by new forms of sadness! (Shelley).”

Mary W.Shelley uses time as a significant element in “The Mortal Immortal.” The theme of time and its dualistic and pluralistic nature is fully explored in the story. Can time indeed be the healer of all wounds? In the case of the Mortal Immortal, the answer is no. The Mortal Immortal is physically alive, but his soul and spirit are dead because of the perpetual despair he experiences.

This essay aimed to analyze “The Mortal Immortal” by M.Shelley. The main theme of the story the motif of immortality. Is immortality something that can be truly experienced and enjoyed? What is the meaning and symbolism of it? In summary, “The Mortal Immortal” illustrates or seems to suggest that the joy of everlasting life or immortality can only truly be enjoyed when everyone can have the same experience and ageing as well as death is finally defeated.

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