I’m sure parts of India are fantastic to see but there are way too many incidents like this (woman raped and then set on fire) that make me wonder how Western women, in their quest for enlightenment, feel comfortable travelling alone in that country. It’s quite unnerving how easy we humans accept things that happen around us as normal: owning slaves, hanging negros, raping women and/or children, burning witches, silencing minorities, stoning infidels, exploiting workers, Orwellian surveillance and so forth. If the majority are doing it, or not actively fighting it, then it must be OK. Or the other excuse: “it’s part of our culture”.
People can hide the most odious and disgusting practices, like castes and honor killings, behind irrational institutions like culture or religion but they can’t change the fact that oppression of other humans is inconsistent with common decency. Without decency a man is no more than a beast. Since evil triumphs when good men do nothing (Edmund Burke), standing silent on the sidelines and doing nothing is not an acceptable option for a decent human being.
Man as both both creator and created, it seems, is cursed to seek the very formula of creation. Take the case of Victor Frankenstein, Creator, in Mary Shelley’s book of the same name. (Revelation for me, it’s not the monster who’s named Frankenstein). Bent on creating life, he brings to the world a freak both terrifying and thrilling. Unlike the Good Lord who looked upon his creation and saw that it was good, Frankenstein fled his own handiwork. Poor thing. He then determines to destroy what he had brought forth (rather like The Man Upstairs with Noah’s Flood). So begins the struggle between the “Good” and the “Bad” although it’s soon clear that the Good isn’t all good and neither is the Bad all bad. There’s a section in the book when the pitiable creature tells its own story and one’s heart fills with pity.
The novel itself is in the form of a letter written by a young explorer, Robert Walton, to his sister in which he describes his mission to “traverse immense seas” to a land where the “sun is forever visible”. Why? He wishes to “confer on all mankind” his discoveries and he is sure that “success shall crown my endeavours”. Madness? “There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand”. Whereas the adventure in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon was pursued out of curiosity, young Walton seeks to “make a name for myself”. The omens are not good when he picks up Frankenstein from the icy seas where the latter had almost frozen to death while out hunting his daemon.
I think the usual focus on Frankenstein’s creature misses the point of the novel: that what we get after we achieve our dreams may not turn out in any way to be what we dreamt. In fact it could turn out to be much worse. We know this of course. The Greek stories are our perfected examples. But do we learn? Perhaps the question should be: can we learn when there’s often, and maybe always, something in our souls that we do not comprehend willing us on? According to the Introduction in my Puffin version, Frankenstein was Mary Shelley’s entry to a ghost story competition that included her husband, the famous poet P.B. Shelley and other friends among whom was Lord Byron. Ah, with friends like these. She clearly won. It’s not the greatest novel ever written but certainly one of the most original and, for its time likely along with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the most chilling. Read it and then go fulfil your dream.
When I was young there was a popular Nigerian soap centered around a Village Headmaster. This enlightened soul laboured to wean his fellow villagers off superstition but to no avail. Sadly, speaking to people from the dark continent, one sometimes feels like The Village Headmaster. Even highly educated people believe in demon possession crap which leads to the torture and abuse of children and women to account for misunderstood phenomena or accidents. And proof demons exist? Jesus reportedly cast demons out of a man, sending them into a herd of pigs. The pigs later drowned themselves in the Sea of Galilee. Really? You just can’t make this stuff up.
Am I evil? Am I good? I’m done asking those questions.
– Dexter, Season 2, “The British Invasion”
Man (also homo sapiens): arguably the most intelligent of nature’s creations; unarguably the most tortured: Good, Evil, Crime, Punishment, Justice, Equality, Freedom, Responsibility, Death. Man is tethered to anguish, its boundary, without definition; its depth, without fathom; its end, doubtful.