Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Value of a Re-Read: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

In preparation for this year's AP English Literature and Composition class, I assigned the novel Frankenstein for their summer read.  Despite knowing the wealth of information and analysis waiting in this famous novel, I've never been a real fan.  So why assign it, right?  Well, my first reading of the novel had more to do with ME than actually not liking the novel.

Here's my deal.  The first time I read Frankenstein was actually not long after graduating from grad school, just over four years ago.  At the time, I was coming out of a four year relationship that I didn't want to see end, but knew was necessary.  In short, I was bitter, sad, and angry.  So there I was reading Frankenstein, about this monster who keeps getting rejected by any human being he came in contact with, including his creator.  Not only that, but his big resolution was to ask for Victor Frankenstein (his creator) to make him a mate so that he wouldn't be alone?!?  Bah!  Even now, when I put myself in the mindset I was in at the time, I know exactly why I hated that stupid monster and the novel altogether.  The monster was justified in feeling kicked around and derided by everyone he knew, but thinking that a girl monster as a companion would just solve everything made me annoyed to no end!  Yes, I 100% read myself into the story.  Yes, I saw myself as that monster, as continually kicked around by life.  The difference was that I saw the reality of needing to suck it up and move on!  Poor monster.  I was guilty of reading myself into the text way too much.

Let's fast forward four years.  My own heart has had a chance to heal and be thankful for the conclusion of a relationship that wasn't meant to be.  I went back and re-read Frankenstein so that I'd be ready to discuss the themes and plot lines in the story with my students.  This time around, I found myself more sensitive to the monster's anguish and much more frustrated with Victor for being so self absorbed and narcissistic that he couldn't realize his role in all the bad that had happened.  With a little aesthetic distance on my part, the themes came out a bit stronger and I wasn't consumed by emotional conclusions I couldn't escape that first time around.

This led me to question other books that I might have read myself into or even misunderstood at a different time.  For instance, I know that I didn't get all the nuances of The Glass Menagerie when I first read it in high school. That didn't, however, eliminate me from seeing many different themes from the beginning.  I can't say that I would just not read a book or dissuade someone from reading a novel or play because they couldn't directly connect with it, because there is still a lot to get out of them.  Although, on the other hand, I would say that I've learned that you just might have to give novels you've had a strong reaction to a second chance.  In some cases an experience or two, or year or two, can change your entire perspective on a novel and its themes.

Now, where can we get the extra time we need so we can re-read?

What books have you read again and had a different response to the second time around?


  1. I remember feeling sad for the monster, and perhaps I was feeling that way because I was sort of experiencing a bit of abuse at that time. We can't help reading ourselves into books; it's why some people love a book and others hate it. However, I do know my reading tastes have differed with maturity, for the better I think.

  2. I read Pride and Prejudice (my first Austen) for the first time in 2010, and HATED it. Then I reread it a couple months ago, and LOVED it. Now Austen is one of my favorite writers. I've read Persuasion and am halfway through Sense & Sensibility.

    I'm a big believer in rereading. The problem the first time was definitely me, not the book.

    By the way, I love Frankenstein. :-)

  3. I had a different response to Little Women the second time I read it. As a young girl I connected with the girls in the story. Rereading it as an adult, I found myself connecting more to Marmee and her teachings.

  4. I also have different responses to book I reread. Usually I like them a lot more because I already know the characters! Sometimes, though, I notice all the holes in the plot.

    I just reread The Da Vinci Code and it seemed cheesier than I remembered it.

  5. One of these days I am going to read this book for the first time...

  6. Barbara--Wow, that would really shape your view of the text. I do agree that there is so much we learn over time that adds to our reading.

    Jillian--I'm SO glad you love the great Austen now! :)

    Jennifer--You know, I've never re-read that one. I'm not sure why that is, but I really should!

    Heidenkind--That's so true. I generally see a book so differently that second time around. Those second times so rarely happen though, right? I'll have to read DaVinci Code again. I read it in grad school, but I think I was desperately seeking an escape when that came out. :)

    Kailana--I feel that way about a million other books I haven't yet read!