The back cover of this states that this book changed an industry and challenged a medium, and I can believe it. This is a graphic novel written by someone who knows how to write graphic novels and drawn by someone who knows how to draw graphic novels. There is a near perfect amount and tone of dialogue in every panel, a stark attention to artistic detail that underlines and flawlessly supplements this dialogue, and, when it is needed, both parts that are only text and parts that are only pictures. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this despite my disinterest with some of the content (I wasn’t brainwashed by hero propaganda in my childhood, so the brutal realism felt more mundane than shocking), and above all, I love how the themes, characters, and situations are woven together into the grand narrative. It’s great—but it’s not perfect. If I had to state the two things about this novel that I didn’t like, it would be (1) the bolding and (2) the somewhat broken flow. Yes, I know that bolding key words is common practice in comics and such, but I find the practice annoying and unnecessary when the writing is good, which is the case here. As to the flow, the downside of this novel’s format of going through every major character’s backstory is that the sense of pacing simply flops. The middle part is where I started getting kind of bored (Manhattan = Boring), and until the jail break, I felt like the story was going nowhere. However, as I’ve said before, this novel manages to weave all of those backstories and themes together, leaving us with a satisfied, albeit anticlimactic ending. Actually, its anticlimactic nature was why it was satisfying.

Characters. This is, of course, a character-driven narrative, and had the characters sucked, this novel would have sucked—good thing they don’t. Every major actor (and some minor ones) in this play are put through this pattern of being fleshed out well, playing their part, and then leaving the stage before they overstay their welcome (except boring ol’ Manhattan). My favourite character is without a doubt Rorschach, but the true lynchpin of this narrative is without a doubt the Comedian. He is the dead central character of this novel who connects to all of the other major actors whether by history or theme and whose mark is featured on the cover and many, many times in the backgrounds of various panels. He is the one who introduces this story (notice that his part is played before his character is fleshed out), and he is the one who does, in fact, end it. Everything that he says, does, and thinks possesses a double meaning, and the *SPOILER* main “antagonist” Adrian would fall utterly flat as a character had the Comedian not been his reflection in the mirror. And in fact, the Comedian is the only link we have to the one “mystery” of this novel—Hooded Justice. This individual caught my attention early in the novel as his name was repeated just enough to make one feel suspicious (he was my candidate for main antagonist), and in addition to being the “beginning” of the costumed heroes and their philosophy, he also reflects the “end” of Adrian’s plan, Justice in the guise of a Monster. However, we have to ask ourselves whether or not Adrian really lives up to that title. Hooded Justice, possibly the one true hero of this novel, exits the stage long before the play even begins. Does that mark the unveiling and release of justice or its quiet and quickly-forgotten demise?  

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This is a novel with good themes. It has you consider the reality of isolation, the value of civilization, the fallacy involved in creating compelling literature, and, of course, the great mystery of the unknown, the dissolution of knowledge, and the ever-flowing substitute of imagination. Good themes—if only they weren’t presented so poorly.

Like many, I began this book expecting a tale mostly centered on the island with the new character offering a change of perspective, and I expected that her interactions with Crusoe would result in a change of Crusoe’s character (possibly Friday too) and their overall situation. What I got, however, was a character who was Crusoe in name only and a woman who effectively accomplished nothing in terms of anything. This is the first problem. People talk about Foe as a reimagining of Robinson Crusoe, but if Crusoe—the protagonist of the original story—gets such a different character, he isn’t Crusoe anymore; he’s just some random stranded guy with a random stranded servant who just so happens to not have a tongue and be named after a weekday. Imagine if I write a book about a young wizard with a scar on his forehead who everyone calls the “Chosen One” and portray him as a narcissistic serial killer with drug problems and then call the book “a reimagining of Harry Potter.” What would the reaction be (besides lawsuits)? I guarantee you that if Defoe was still alive, he would be suing.

That aside, I understand Coetzee’s intention in creating such flat, boring characters and an even more flat and boring plot. He or she is trying to give us the theme—that reality is flat, boring, and mostly consequential. I’m fine with that. However, there are ways of doing this without being so annoyingly blatant and seeping it in melodrama. The protagonist (forgot her name) cannot go three pages without questioning some fundamental human truth or looking at the sky and going on mundane allegories about the meaning of life. Yes, so much symbolism, so much apparent subtext, so much careful use of words—but it just isn’t interesting. Even worse, this book has no pacing at all. There’s one droning text dump about the island, one even more droning text dump about the time in the Foe’s house, a somewhat less droning text dump about the journey, and finally, a nice not-as-awful-as-the-rest text dump with the ending (excluding IV, which I have no comment on).

In the end, Foe both sabotages itself and perhaps proves itself. It’s a boring book about how the world is boring and how what could be interesting (i.e. Friday) will never be revealed no matter how much we try. Perhaps I haven’t read deeply enough. Perhaps I’m missing some very subtle undertones. Perhaps I need to read it again. Unfortunately, however, I will not read this book again. A rereading is something I only grant to novels that I’m interested in, and in no way, shape, or form has this book ever really interested me. 

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If This Is a Man

Reading the back cover of this book, I see among generally accurate praise the statement that “Survival in Auschwitz remains a lasting testament to the indestructibility of the human spirit”. I’ve clearly read a different book. 

In my eyes, If This Is a Man remains a lasting testament to the laughable frailness of the human spirit. It is an observation of an experiment—an experiment to see just how far and how quickly a “human” can go to not being human. And it was pretty quick. From the moment the inmates are thrust into the room that barely fits them, stripped naked, and shaved, they degenerate into “phantoms,” “hollow”. They start out as naïve gentlemen and, if they don’t die, transform into ruthless beasts. This is not just a state of nature as Hobbes would image it; it is a regulated state of nature. It is as if the Nazis threw the uncountable numbers of inmates into a huge yet cramped arena, gave them barely adequate provisions and inadequate necessities, and told them to fight to the death. In a sense, this is exactly what they did. Those who did not quickly adapt to the situation died, those who couldn’t discriminate between friends, enemies, and useful tools died, those who stubbornly held on to their “human” spirit died, and a lot of other people died for no particular reason. Only the adaptive, the clever, the ruthless, and, most of all, the lucky, survived. Levi portrays himself as the lucky. He shows many situations throughout the book in which he, in the face of absolute despair, manages to wiggle out due to situations which he had little to no control over (i.e. chance). He gets friends at just the right time, goes to the hospital at just the right time, and has a lot of other things happen at just the right time, the starkest of which is when he lives through a selection with the knowledge that his ticket was probably switched out with someone else’s, whom was then doomed to die because he…was out of luck.   

Near the end, we see one of those individuals who, going by that one line in the back cover, possessed an indestructible human spirit. This man was apparently connected to a group of inmates who were still human, a willful few that had somehow managed to actually sabotage a part of the camp. And what happened to this individual and his spirit? He was captured, hanged, and made a show out of as the crowd was forced to march by his corpse. If there was a hero—a Man—in this book, that would probably be him; but he was definitely not a survivor. 

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Borges, Cooked Cat, and Daisy Dolls

I’m writing this with a headache, so bear with me.

Borges is a very good writer. He knows how to do short stories, and I enjoyed almost every assigned reading within this book as well as some that weren’t assigned. The downfall to his very cohesive and structured style, however, is that it gets predictable quick; after reading two stories with aggressive rising actions and ironic climaxes, I wasn’t surprised to find about ten more stories with the same structure (Hakim, Circular Ruins, Forking Paths, Traitor and Hero, Two Kings, and Book of Sand are strong examples of this). Of course, not all of them are like that. Stories such as Babel and Utopia are more sublime in their execution and, in my opinion, more powerful as a result. In fact, those two are probably my favorite stories from this collection, although my opinion is probably biased since Babel reflects a philosophy I strongly adhere to and Utopia reminds me of a short story I wrote. Really, though, every story in this book seems to offer something interesting, and once I get the chance, I will read the whole thing.

I’ve just realized that the title of Cooked Cat is “Cooked Cat” and not “Crooked Cat,” which is what I’ve been reading until now. Ha.

Daisy Dolls is my favorite story this year. The writing quality is excellent and I was, for the first time in a long time, actually drawn to read more for pleasure than academic interest. Grammar, flow, and of course, plot—everything just clicked. I wasn’t crazily confused or driven mad at any point reading this, however, which is a shame as I rather enjoy healthy doses of insanity. The story reminds me of a mixture of several other stories and concepts I’ve experienced, and to be honest, it falls far short of what I’d classify as insane (ranks somewhere around The Yellow Wallpaper, I suppose). That aside, intensity isn’t what makes this story so great; it’s the undertone. Every part of the plot, from the protagonist’s collection of “scenes” to the shy man, create a unified atmosphere that just permeates through the digital pages. No character is meaningless, no setting empty of symbolism, no action without a grand thematic purpose. Maybe I’m lavishing more praise than this story actually deserves (must be the headache), but, all in all, it’s a damn good piece of literature.

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The Metamorphosis

People show their true selves not in ordinary, but extraordinary circumstances. We spend our lives studying the way we should think and the way we should act based on the context of our daily routines, and it is only when that routine is shattered that we can take a good look in mirror and tell exactly what kind of people we are. That is the case here. Gregor Samsa, a man whose daily routine consists of going to work and providing for his family, finds that he is suddenly unable to do so—and this doesn’t happen in an ordinary way. He isn’t fired, he doesn’t decide to quit, he isn’t caught in road rage, he doesn’t get food poisoning; of all things, he turns into a bug. He wakes up from a nightmare into a nightmare, and one so surreal that it takes a while for him to recognize his new reality. His daily routine his shattered, and with it, his hope for the future. He can no longer pay off his family’s debt, no longer court that woman he had a crush on, and most importantly to him, no longer be able to enroll his sister into music school. Now, he becomes utterly dependent on his family instead of the other way around. He spends his days amusing himself by crawling around his room—which begins to lose its furniture—and eats rotten food that he would before never have touched. Has he adapted? Has his extraordinary circumstance transformed into the ordinary? The story does not last long enough for us to know, as in the end, Gregor simply…dies. We are cut off from the climax that we wanted—regardless of what that climax might entail—and are instead given an anticlimax. The question remains, then: When Gregor Samsa looks into the mirror, what does he see?

Although Gregor’s story ends in an anticlimax, his family’s certainly doesn’t. We know exactly what the true form of his family is—it is, in every way, shape, and form, that of ordinary people. His family may not consist of saints, but neither do they consist of monsters. They were faced with the shocking nightmare of their son/brother and sole breadwinner turning into a cockroach, but instead of killing it outright, they kept it alive with the belief that it was still Gregor (was it?). They fed it and took care of it with great effort and despite the revulsion they felt at seeing it, and the sister in particular, recalling her love for her brother, worked the hardest of them all. They, too, adapted to their circumstance, in one way but not in another. They got their savings together, fired some servants to save money, and began taking jobs to make ends meet. Their daily lives of idleness transformed into daily lives of work, and in this relatively ironic fashion, they themselves transformed from human parasites into productive citizens. One part of their circumstances remained extraordinary, however; namely, that of the bug. They kept the bug, but they never got used to it—sister, mother, and father all remained repulsed, and it was only in the tolerance of their “good will” that they allowed it to remain. Just as time washes away pain, however, it washes away affection. The more they worked, the more their memory of Gregor faded, and eventually, they believed that they had “done enough”. They had put up with this extraordinary circumstance for long enough, and it was time to return to their daily lives. And they did. The bug died, the cleaning woman disposed of it, and they all simultaneously took a day off from work (a return to the old days of idleness) in order to discuss the future. They found out that their daily lives were actually going good. All of their jobs were steady, and the daughter was approaching the age for marriage—they were just thinking about ordinary things like ordinary people, and in their ordinary minds, Gregor was nothing more than a distant memory.

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The Waste Land

The good thing about being ahead in readings is that when confusion arises as to which text is supposed to read next week and which text after, you don’t care because you’ve already read both. Ha.

Anyway, I was rather surprised when I opened The Waste Land to find 20 pages of poem and 276 pages of other stuff that was not the poem. Was I a bit pissed at buying a book that I haven’t read nor intend to read a quarter of? Yes. Do I understand why they told us to buy this version? Yes. This poem is heavily layered with references to the point that you’d need a small library of books just to know where they all came from, and to those who like to go on wild goose chases (Eliot’s words, not mine) for deep inter-literary symbolism, this much is necessary. In my opinion, however, this is not necessary. What Eliot calls “incidental symbolism” is exactly that—incidental symbolism. You do not need to get the references in order to understand and interpret the poem. In fact, one might say that being too caught-up in the references will result in said references burying the point (and probably your sanity in the process). I have not read most of the texts that Eliot cites from; however, I have my own interpretation of the world Eliot has built in this poem. It is not disconnected. It is not nonsensical. It is a strongly coherent and masterfully woven allegory of human nature—whatever that nature may be. Honestly, I do not yet have a full grasp on the poem (having only read it about five times), but I know that a vision is there. Not a very reassuring vision, per say, but a vision nonetheless.

So…two hundred words to go. Okay. Originally, I was planning to just post a bunch of notes I wrote for this poem rather than a proper blog, but after looking them over and seeing how confusing they would be to anyone but me (because I wrote them, not because they’re particularly complex), I decided to save everyone the headache. Instead of that, then, I will give some tips on how to read this poem coherently without having to read a small library worth of texts beforehand:

  1. Focus on the imagery. Imagine you’re watching an experimental movie or something and enjoy the pretty pictures. Ignore all that symbolism and allusion jargon until you feel you’re ready for it.
  2. Take note of repeated words. There are a lot—a LOT—of key terms that show up throughout the poem, giving you hints as to where the connections are. My personal favourite is the transition from the repetition of “rat” to the use of “bat”; the word “wing” also shows up in-between, as if Eliot actually wants to make it easy for you.
  3. Keep lines 1-18 in mind as you read. I am a strong believer in making a poem’s first few lines reflect the overall theme, and I believe Eliot utilizes that technique here. The not necessarily linear changing of seasons is a very interesting thing to keep note of as you read.

Have fun~

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Civilization and Its Discontents

This essay surprised me. Although I credit Freud with the standardization of psychoanalysis and his essential role in the establishment of psychology as a science, I never really held that high of an opinion towards him until now due to his dubious methods of gathering data and obsessive fixations on even more dubious theories. This essay, however, is a departure from that semi-neurotic Freud that I admittedly only knew primarily through a psychology textbook. Now that I think about it, actually, this essay explains Freud’s theories far better than that textbook, which displayed them through a hazy filter of misunderstanding (intentional or not), and I am pleased to finally be given a proper definition of altruism. Anyway…

If there’s one thing that you want to take from Freud (maybe because you think everything else is BS), then take the pleasure principle. Take it, examine it, think about it, throw it at the person next to you, and try to imagine a situation in which this principle doesn’t apply (then tell me so I can either write a paper on it or tell you you’re wrong). If, like me, you cannot imagine a situation in which someone will do something that it is not to their benefit in any way, shape, form, or mental satisfaction, then welcome to the foundation of human behaviour—the human law. This particular concept is to me classified in the second tier of natural laws; a synthesis of the law of causation and the law of relativity. It takes the order of cause and effect (pure motion) and applies it relative to the acting container (humans, in this case). This law, although simple, has many implications. It is not only the basis for psychology and society in general, but it’s even an indirect proof of metaphysics. Not only is it the greatest drive possible, it is *arguably* the only drive possible. Why do I say arguably? Because of what Freud went on to propose exists beyond the pleasure principle, which completely caught me off-guard.

The death instinct. It’s definitely the most interesting theory in this essay, but at the same time, it’s the most fallible. Freud admits himself that the existence of a counter-drive to pleasure and Eros is an idea that he himself scorned at first, and yet, it’s latched onto his mind such that he can no longer banish the concept from his view of psychology and the world. Why? I have my own theory on why the death instinct exists (my idea is probably a lot different from Freud’s), but to understand it, I think great parallels can be drawn to Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. Freud’s death instinct should be contrasted to Nietzsche’s asceticism, and horror vaccui should be kept in mind whilst conducting this cross-analysis. In any case, this essay is an excellent supplement to other philosophical texts that we’ve read. We can see that the formation of the superego is the benchmark that shows the transition between Hobbes’ state of nature and society, and the origin of Eros can be used as a contrast to Rousseau’s take on history. All in all, this was a good read.

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D.J. and M.H.

Ah…duality; it gets me every time. Stevenson wrote this book on the basis that every human has two sides to them (Good and Evil), and it’s certainly an interesting contrast to texts from Freud, Nietzsche, Hobbes, and Rousseau (well, maybe not Rousseau). The syntax and vocabulary are okay, the pacing is horrendous, the main plot device ridiculous, and the climax is more of an anticlimax than anything. Maybe it’s because I had an idea of the plot beforehand, but I doubt that Stevenson was trying very hard to keep us from guessing the twist (the title makes it pretty obvious). So…with that said, how am I going to fill the rest of this blog? Hmm…


Society, as Freud, Hobbes, Rousseau, and probably Nietzsche says, is a restraint of natural freedoms. We allow ourselves to be constrained under laws and customs, depriving ourselves of much as a result. The two payoffs for this, however, are significant: in exchange for our freedom, we gain security and the ascetic ideal of morality. The first is a strong shelter that gives us the confidence to go about our lives in a way that would be impossible in an openly hostile environment, while the second is a source of pleasure and contentment that can only be achieved in a commonwealth. For Dr. Jekyll, however, these two benefits are not enough. He is a prominent man—strong, smart, wealthy—and has grown up in such a way that his fear of losing security has weakened. He takes pleasure in the ascetic ideal, but that pleasure is no longer enough. He needs something else, and yet, he also wants to keep what he already has. Sound selfish? It most certainly is—and he pays the price for that selfishness in the end. Putting that aside for now, though, what drives him to take such a suspicious drug? Couldn’t he just wear a trench coat or something and do his “bad” things under cover of darkness? No, he can’t…because then, he would lose his ascetic ideal. He would know that it is “him” doing the bad things, not the “other guy” who is undoubtedly also him but is not identified as him. He wants the best of both worlds without the consequences of either, and it is this denial of responsibility that ultimately leads to his downfall. Because Jekyll and Hyde are essentially the same person, it’s only natural that the boundary between them isn’t absolute (the boundary between Good and Evil is hardly absolute either). A reversal occurs in which Hyde becomes the undrugged form and Jekyll the drugged one, resulting in a fitting and cliché end to a moral tale. What’s interesting, however, is that there is an appearance of different personalities associated with the change in form. Is this true? Does the drug really create this “Hyde” persona, or does it, in fact, only facilitate a biological shift in its user? Is not “Hyde,” then, just a figment of the imagination? Does Jekyll have a split personality disorder? Who, in the end, was the one that committed suicide? 

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Genealogy of Morals

I had a lot to say about Neitzshce after reading these essays…three weeks ago. Three weeks can really do things to your memory; oh well.

My first impression of this guy was a rather bad one—he seemed to possess a strong need to constantly build up his own ego while looking down on others (i.e. the reader), and a great deal of his first essay was filled with so much pointless fluff that I found myself reading every second sentence to alleviate the drone going on in my head at stuff I’ve heard before and heard better. Granted, Neitzsche did have legitimate arguments (unlike, say…Rousseau) which he portrayed in an annoyingly roundabout way, and his ego building had peculiar undertones of irony that I half-believed and half-thought I was imagining. So ended his first essay; and so began his second.

His second was largely devoid of the fluff that infested the first—a pleasant surprise, but not enough to make me lower my guard. This felt like the meat of the essays while I was reading it, with themes very similar to Leviathan and actually better written in my opinion. Political science, political science, and more political science; the good stuff, I suppose, although it was similar to his first essay in that I’ve heard it all before. My general opinion of him was certainly improved upon finishing this essay—and so began his third. His…third.

Horror of a vacuum is a universal truth of humankind (in technical terms, everyone with self-awareness). This fear, of course, is paradoxical (and this is one of if not the only correct application of the word ‘paradox’), and can be reasoned out on an intellectual level (but never really goes away as a pure emotion). We would rather will nothingness than not will—this is the sentence that told me this essay was different than the rest. Very different. Asceticism, asceticism, asceticism. Despite not knowing what exactly that word meant for the entire essay (I googled it after), I found myself pulled along by Neitzsche and his suddenly concise, effective, and well-flowed writing. The two essays were revealed as simple foundations for this one, where he, after repeating things I’ve heard before again and again, finally pulled out something that I’ve never heard before. Asceticism, applied in the physical sense—self-torture. Asceticism, applied in the philosophical sense—self-fulfilment. The law of normality, working in conjunction with one of if not the most enduring form of the pleasure principle (Asceticism), produces the delusion of religion, guided by the ascetic priest—mass salvation. This is a view that I’ve never read before (maybe because I don’t read a lot), and I stand corrected on my original view of Nietzsche (well, maybe not completely). In my view, his third essay was not about morality; it was about, well…asceticism. The title “Genealogy of Morals” would have been better named “Genealogy of Asceticism,” although then a lot of people would probably either get the wrong idea or lose interest entirely. I myself lose quite a bit of interest in anything with the word “moral” in its title, but I guess I’m in the minority; oh well.

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So…I had a nice conspiracy theory blog that I was just about to upload, then my laptop went and crashed on me, resulting in the complete loss of said blog, and rather than rewrite the damn thing, I decided to take a book analysis I did in high school (for this book, of course) and post it here instead. The whole thing is quite long though, so I just put in the more interesting bits, some of which is similar to my forever lost blog. So…here you go.

Although I consider the climax to occur at the time of the monster’s final speech, research into other sources points instead to the death of Elizabeth as the climax, with the final speech a part of the falling action. Despite this information, however, I firmly maintain my position that the climax does indeed occur at the end of the novel. My reasoning for this is that while the death of Elizabeth does mark the final nail on the coffin for the fate of Victor, the death of Victor and the monster’s vow of suicide marks the final nail on the coffin for the fate of anyone who undergoes the enterprise that Victor has pursued. It finalizes the cautionary theme of the entire novel, and is thus in my opinion the true climax of the story.

In general, the characterization in the novel is the weakest aspect of Mary’s writing. Though the characters themselves are round and moderately believable (probably more so in the time period this was written in), the problem is that virtually every person in the novel possesses the exact same character – in other words, they all have the same personality, but with varying circumstances that may illuminate one or more different aspects but still in the end derive off of the same archetype. This was a somewhat annoying deterrent to my enjoyment of this novel, though it wasn’t a major turn-off as the story focuses more on philosophical concepts than personal relations. In hindsight, I’ve considered the possibility that the reason for this severe lack of character variety is the resultant of a technique that Shelley utilized in order to highlight the fact that everyone possesses the potential to become like Frankenstein and his monster. If this is true, then I applaud her; I honestly doubt that it is though.

“Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect…Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition, for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me” (110).

After finishing the novel, I have come to this conclusion with regards to this allusion: Frankenstein’s monster is Adam, while Frankenstein himself is Satan. My reasoning for this is thus:

Frankenstein, in his creation of the monster, “polluted” the natural form of life. The knowledge of good and evil was forced onto the neutral existence, thus creating the unnatural monster – this is an allusion to Eve being tricked into eating the fruit by Satan. Upon seeing the hideous monster, Frankenstein, the rest of humanity, and eventually the monster itself abhors its appearance – this is an allusion to Adam and Eve wearing clothes because they did not want to be naked. After this point, however, the allusion becomes loose for one reason.

There is no parallel to God.

Because of this, the events themselves play out differently than in the biblical sequence (I may be wrong as I have not actually read the bible). It is not God that punishes Frankenstein/Satan for his misdeed, but rather his own knowledge and corruption that destroys his “Eden” of Geneva. The monster/Adam, having no God to guide it, is gradually tainted by the world and ultimately becomes evil even though it wishes to be virtuous. The tragedy of the story plays out when, at the end, having mutually destroyed each others’ happiness, Frankenstein/Satan dies in the cold hell of the arctic while the monster/Adam resolves to die in a hell of fire.

Being someone who does not believe in objective morality, I viewed Frankenstein and his monster as equal existences while I read the story. In my opinion, Frankenstein’s fatal mistake was not in creating the monster, but in his immediate rejection of it thereafter, which was the trigger that would eventually lead to the tragic conclusion. I consider the monster to be more justified than Frankenstein in his demands, but recognize Frankenstein’s reasoning in refusing to create another monster that he has by then designated as the source of his misfortune. It is here that this story becomes a true tragedy rather than a conflict of “good” and “evil.” Both characters are simply existences that are trying to gain happiness in their lives, who through unfortunate circumstances and misguided actions cause the unhappiness of all.

Reading something I wrote roughly a year ago makes me feel like my writing quality has degraded…oh well. Hopefully, my computer won’t crash next time.

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