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Heteroglossia and Shelly’s Frankenstein

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  1. Introduction
  2. The letters from minor characters of the novel
  3. The monster's tale
  4. Conclusion
  5. Bibliography

According to M. M. Bahktin, heteroglossia is the use of different novelistic modes of expression (authorial speech, narrators, inserted genres, speech of characters, dialogue, etc.) to express and represent the diversity of social speech types and a diversity of individual voices. Mary Shelly's 1818 publication of her famous novel, Frankenstein, utilizes many aspects of heteroglossia to tell the story of her ?modern Prometheus.? The novel begins with a narration of letters by R. Walton, on his exploration toward the North Pole, to his sister in England. After the discovery of Frankenstein by Walton and his crew, the narration turns to Victor Frankenstein's telling of his story to Walton. Midway through the book, when Frankenstein encounters his monster, the narrative voice changes to the Monster and the telling of his story.

[...] Letters have also served as one of the few things that act to testify history (i.e.: documents, diaries and journals, periodicals, etc.). By inserting letters into her novel, it adds a touch of personal realism to the story. People who read Shelly's novel would be familiar with letter writing as a means of maintaining personal contact over distances, it allowed them to better relate to Frankenstein, having been recipients of letters themselves. The letters also allow insight into Frankenstein's personal life and his relationships with his family and friends, things which, because of their distance from the setting of the first half of the novel, the reader would otherwise learn nothing about. [...]


[...] The family that Frankenstein's parents adopt Elizabeth from was poor, but Elizabeth's origins were of noble Italian blood, and not the peasants with whom she lived, she was as Frankenstein put it a different stock.? The family that the Monster befriends is poor but we learn that they too were once aristocrats. Elizabeth and the peasant family are the voice of the disenfranchised upper class. Dispersed throughout Frankenstein's narration are several letters from minor characters of the novel, letters from Elizabeth and Alphonse Frankenstein, Victor's father. [...]

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