Example Essay – Frankenstein vs Handmaid’s

This is an essay my school set. Let me know if there’s a theme you’d like to see some writing on!! And always feel free to email with questions englishlityear12@gmail.com x

Compare the ways in which the writers of your two chosen texts present what it means to be human.

In both Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, issues of emotion, compassion and individuality lie at the core of the text. Exploring both the most primitive and complex aspects of human nature, both writers force us to consider the feeble link between “human” and “humanity”, and moreover how malleable a concept our humanness is.

 

In “Frankenstein”, the Creature is stripped of human attributes through the use of nomenclature, despite the fact that he built from human parts. Describing him as a “wretch”, “devil”, and “monster”, Shelley reduces our image of Victor’s creation to something sub-human and abhorrent, drawing on gothic tropes of satanic and occult imagery. While these descriptions alienate his character from a typical human, it is also Shelley’s use of determiners which stress his otherness. Defined as “the” creature rather than “a”, we suppose him to be one of a kind, and hence separate from humanity, which we view as a category. Shelley’s choice of the definite article shrouds the Creature in an aura of mystery, permitting him to exist only on the fringes of human society, as a spectator rather than a participant. Shelley’s depiction of the Creature plays on the gothic fascination for the uncanny and perverse, showing how disgusts manifests itself towards the marginalised.

 

Likewise, in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” nomenclature is used to divest Offred of power and individuality. Offred’s name is formed from the preposition “of”, followed by the name of her commander, hence it is not used to distinguish her from others, but to determine her relationship to a man. By defining her as the possession of a male, Atwood reduces Offred from woman to commodity, no longer a person but an item to be put to use. Atwood draws on philosopher Simone de Beauvoir’s theory that the female is seen as a crude imitation of man, that “when she acts as a human, she is said to imitate the male.” Only permitting Offred humanity through association with a man, Atwood implies that our notion of “human” is intrinsically male. Like the Creature, who is a corrupted version of a human man, Offred too is viewed as a lesser copy of this same ideal.

 

While this may suggest that our idea of humanity is largely prescribed, both writers show that the individual may choose to see humanity where they choose. In “Frankenstein”, Walton notes a respectability and charm in Victor’s character which greatly influences our impression of him. By framing the central narrative with Walton’s letters, Shelley ensures we are first introduced to Victor through Walton’s admiring eyes, allowing us to perceive him as “gentle…wise, and cultivated.” While Victor’s actions may contradict these words, Walton’s unwavering admiration for his friend ultimately shapes our view of his character, allowing Victor to appear complex and three-dimensional. Shelley uses Walton’s voice to project a humanity onto Victor’s character, proving that ideas of human nature are shaped by perspective. Rather than presenting Victor as entirely evil and repulsive, Shelley draws on the Romantic preoccupation with heroism, presenting him both as an protagonist and antagonist who simultaneously attracts and repels us. Through his conflicting character, Shelley reminds us that a human demands flaws as well as strengths.

In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood also proves that we may choose to see human traits in someone otherwise deplorable. When Offred describes her relationship to the Commander, she often applies childish language to his behavior, describing him as “silly” and “juvenile.” Atwood’s flippant choice of words paint the Commander as an innocent and even sympathetic man, who Offred looks upon with a degree of pity. Like Walton, who finds a certain tenderness in the seemingly villainous Frankenstein, Offred permits us to see the Commander as human, assuring us that he is not “an unkind man.” We might argue that Offred’s character suffers from some form of Stockholm syndrome, trying to identify and empathise with her oppressor. Claiming that nothing in her novel had not happened before in the real world, Atwood proves an uncanny truth that acts of violence are committed by other humans who look like ourselves. Considering the depravity that inspired her novel – the Holocaust, the Magdalene Laundries and the Romanian birth control ban – it seems apparent that humans cannot all be characterised by a sense of humanity.

 

We may draw parallels between these descriptions of the Commander and Offred’s anecdote in chapter 24, where she recounts a documentary about the mistress of a Nazi. Musing that he must have had “some endearing trait” for her to believe in his goodness, Offred recognises that our ideas of a person are easily pliable. The mistress insists the man was not a “monster”, suggesting that anyone may be human if it is an “available temptation.” Ironically, no such allowances are made for the Creature in “Frankenstein”, who is also referred to as a “monster”, despite his initially benign intentions. Both writers pose the uncomfortable suggestion that we pick and choose who we treat as a human, for our own comfort rather than sincerity. Atwood’s poignant choice, to link this back to Nazism, draws a direct parallel between the supposedly fictional society of Gilead, and an atrocity only thirty years older than her novel.

 

Though essentially very different novels, both “Frankenstein” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” acknowledge the complexity of identity, and how easily this is shaped by voice and circumstance. The two texts question whether being human is a simple as an image or set of attributes, or potentially something indistinguishable, with no set meaning or form. While neither novel may resolve entirely just what it means to be “human”, they certainly reveal how broad an idea it may be – “How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all.”

Maria x

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“I always narrate the text”

In our emails and comments, the most common question at the moment is “how do I stop narrating the text in my essays?” Lots of people get told by their teachers that they are simply recounting the story rather than analyzing, and this can really knock your confidence. In reality, everyone has narrated a text at some point in their writing. It certainly doesn’t mean that you don’t have informed and critical understanding.

 

Analysis is all about digging underneath a word, phrase or structure. Imagine a box labelled “buttons.” Anyone can look at it and know that there are buttons inside. They won’t know what sort of buttons, or what size, or what colour unless they open the lid. Analysing a text is like lifting a lid on it.

Here’s an example:

“The first hapless victims of my unhallowed arts” – Frankenstein, Volume 1

Narrating the text is to tell us something that we can already decipher by having read the book. Eg. Shelley uses the word “victims” as William and Justine die because of Victor’s work. She uses “first” because Clerval and Elizabeth will also die.

Technically, this is correct, but it isn’t telling us about the purpose of Shelley’s writing. To get underneath a quote, you have to remember that the person marking your essay already knows what will happen to the characters. They want to know why you think we should take notice. So:

To exemplify the danger of Victor’s endeavours, Shelley likens Justine and William to “hapless victims”, suggesting they are paragons of innocence that are tainted by his evil. The choice of the word “unhallowed” emphasises the occult associations of his work, warning us that transgressing nature leads to destruction. Knowing that the two are only the “first” victims, the reader is left to speculate about how the story will escalate. Shelley encourages us to invest ourselves in the text by purposefully withholding information.

I hope this helps. As you can tell by my box analogy, explaining things concisely is not my skill. If you have any questions, you can drop an email and I’m happy to talk one-on-one.

Maria xx

 

Comparing Frankenstein and The Handmaid’s Tale

When I first started studying these texts, I was honestly bemused. What does a monster made of human remains have to do with a dystopian theocracy? Quite a lot, it turns out.

We’ve had a few emails from other students, asking if we can help them compare these two seemingly very different texts. I’ve decided that since this is such a widespread question (and rightly so!) I’d put together a few ideas to help you get started. Largely, I’ll be framing this post as questions which you can ask yourself when you revising, perhaps in mindmaps or bullet lists. This is a new way of organising a post, but I hope that it will be helpful!

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Literary Context of The Handmaid’s Tale

bookworm

The Handmaid’s Tale is a book that draws heavily on ideas about genre and the purpose of literature to create its style and content. One of the Assessment Objectives (AO3/Context) requires you to understand these ideas and refer to them to reach the top grades. The level of detail I go into here is unnecessary and may even be detrimental to your essay — your examiner already knows what postmodernism is! All you need is a one sentence explanation, before you link the context in to your analysis.

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Pearson Example Essays – PROSE

Image © Bigstock

When it comes to writing essays, it can be really hard to know how to structure them because you cannot keep the style from GCSE, it’s just not complex and sophisticated enough. You may also not know how to write a great introduction or conclusion!

You may have noticed that there are a couple of A grade sample essays that we have been set by our teacher and put up on this blog to help you. But we know that not everyone is aiming for or will be able to write at A grade so Edexcel has provided a document with example essays which were awarded various grades/levels, which not enough students know about.

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The Handmaid’s Tale – Context

Image © Stephanie Marshall

You won’t be able to get above a certain grade in the Prose exam if you don’t include context (AO3). Contextual information could be in the form of relevant historical or political information, a feature of the genre which is evident in the text, a quote from a critic or a link to the author’s own life or views, but to get the best marks for including it, you must link it to the argument in your thesis (for example, “Critic Anton Franks suggests that “Frankenstein himself [became] a kind of monster” in the act of bringing the creature to life, implying that the horror of witnessing the results of his research brought about a fundamental change in Victor’s personality, destroying his happiness and ambition, and thus dooming him as a victim of his own science.”). Examples of context for The Handmaid’s Tale include:

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Impact of Science on Relationships and Intimacy

We were asked to help on the following question by izzyjuly7…

Compare the ways in which the writers of your two chosen texts present the impact of science on relationships and intimacy.

So we must consider the science and relationships within both Frankenstein and The Handmaid’s Tale.

The definition of science, “a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws:

the mathematical sciences/systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation”

Frankenstein
The creation of Frankenstein’s monster is plainly the science in the novel, the act of galvanising a dead body. It affects many relationships and intimacy within as well…

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