Assessment of Death in George Orwell’s, a Hanging, Vs. Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein
Lessons in Mortality
Nature is a continuous life cycle. The cycles of life and death usually coincide peacefully. The existence of man has made the natural life cycle out of sync. In the two stories of A Hanging by George Orwell and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, hideous acts against nature are committed. Frankenstein recreates life and A Hanging is about murder, both crimes against nature. Using the literary elements theme and imagery, Orwell and Shelley show that man has yet to learn a vital lesson in mortality.
In George Orwell’s A Hanging, the prisoner is described as just another man. The crime the man had committed had not been specified but it was apparent the hanging of the man was the crime focused within the story. The narrator saw that “the man was not dying” (Orwell). To hang him when his life was still at a prime was the “unspeakable wrongness” (Orwell) of the crime against nature. With the prisoner dead, the narrator viewed his absence was “one mind less, one world less” (Orwell). What Orwell meant from this line is now the group of guards is now missing one less person. There is no other given reason why the prisoner would be considered any less of a man than the men leading him to his death.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein shows that the crime committed against nature is recreating life. Victor Frankenstein desecrated dead bodies to recreate another being. He collected bones and dug up graves. The horror pictured is what gives the readers the heightened sense of curiosity that Victor was feeling as he “dabbled among…the grave…tortured the living animal” (Shelley, 33). The real horror lies in Victors’ dream to recreate life as he can easily look past degrading past lives.
The imagery in A Hanging shows that nature itself was not pleased with the execution to come. The story starts off with setting the mood with a “sodden morning of the rains” (Orwell). The rainy day insinuates nature is upset with the execution. It sets a mood that is just as dark as the theme of death as the only light in the story is a “sickly light” (Orwell). In comparison to this story, there is also similar imagery in Frankenstein. The morning after the monster was created, the morning was “dismal and wet” (Shelley, 36). There is a similar mood in both the stories after or before something against nature had occurred. It is nature’s way of showing its own disturbance.
The theme of regret is apparent in both stories and show that man has not learned any vital lessons. Victor Frankenstein immediately showed regret for what he had done soon after his creation became alive. He had realized what he had done against nature as well since he “had conceived a violent antipathy even to the name of natural philosophy” (Shelley, 43). At first, before life, Victor had considered the monster beautiful, lustrous, and having pearly white teeth. These are standards of beauty as a social norm, in the living world. He is looking at a creation from different parts of mutilated deceased bodies and tortured animals. Only when the monster had been brought to life is when Victor realized how monstrous it was. He came to a realization of how ungodly he was when “the beauty of the dream had vanished…breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelley, 35).Victor had a goal to celebrate his so-called resourceful idea only to flee from his own innovation. Frankenstein was not able “to endure the aspect of the being [he] had created” (Shelley, 35).
The only person that is full of remorse in A Hanging would be the narrator. Although he is not the one who can control the fate of the prisoner in regards to his execution, but he does realize the aesthetics of life. He had not realized that his job is to “destroy a healthy, conscious man” (Orwell). It was when the prisoner humanly side stepped a puddle is when he gained recognition as an actual person. The narrator feels regret in this because the man was not dying as “All of the organs of his body were still working” (Orwell). Orwell’s word choice reflects the narrator’s feelings of guilt or remorse by using terms such as sickly, condemned, and bare.
To conclude, man has not learned any vital lessons in mortality. There is no compassion shown towards neither the monster in Frankenstein nor the prisoner in A Hanging. The creation of the monster was one of gothic beauty and the killing of the prisoner was that of sheer brutality. Man has learned nothing from the creation and continues to overlook the aesthetics of life. The literary elements of imagery and theme, Orwell and Shelley show that man is stubborn and unappreciative.
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