A Case of Shared Arrogance: An Examination of the Fatal Flaw in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” Essay
Death is a shared human experience and therefore a universal theme in literature. Poetry, fiction, and drama venture into the dark recesses of life by exploring the inevitable fate of everyone and everything that breathes. Death differs from person to person and the treatment of death in literature differs from author to author. Similarly intoxicating is the act of resurrection, themes of which can be found throughout the history of man and literature. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the the epitome of the Gothic horror novel which examines what happens when creation runs rampant. Many authors are often inspired by Mary Shelley’s predictions and reinterpret the Frankenstein mythology in modern terms. Stephen King examines this theme again and again in many of his works of fiction including “Pet Sematary.” Arrogance, displayed by the strikingly different protagonists in Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and King’s “Pet Sematary”, not only influence but dictate the tragic outcomes of both stories.
Upon first examination the life and times of both Creed and Victor are strikingly difference. However, each of these characters has a fatal personality flaw which reveals itself in the form of arrogance and blindly imbued by power. Creed and Victor live in different times, have different pasts, occupations, and personal experiences. Yet each character’s fate ends disastrously and for the same reasons. Creed experience death and loss early in his life. His father dies when Creed is just a toddler and later the death of his cousin Ruthie (Bloom 160). Both contribute to his cold and almost indifferent view of death. Contrast that with Victor’s past. His younger years were filled with luxury and bliss. He lived, comfortably, surrounded by a traditional and functional family. This stable existence is riveted by the sudden death of his mother. It is through this loss that Victor begins to separate from his family and decides to move from the safe walls of his familial house to the University. It is at the University where his obsession with life and death was fostered by other students who were in search of the “fountain of youth”. Anne Mellor, in The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley, asserts that “Since fate or an “imperial Nature” now controls human lives, Victor Frankenstein is decidedly less responsible for his actions; in the best light, he seems almost a tragic hero suffering for an understandable hubris.”(17) . Each character is internally inspired to battle death and conqueror it. Creed writes in his day planner, after he saves another patient ”won one today, Louis” (Pet Sematary 161). Harold Bloom, in Stephen King, observes “Pet Sematary goes over the themes of late modernism, and has similar cultural work to do. King anatomizes mass culture as an evasion of death and life, as simulacrum.”(167). Similarly, Victor shadows Louis optimism and idealism, and confidently asserts ”Wealth was an inferior object: but what glory would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!” (Shelley 39). The false confidence displayed by both Creed and Victor allowed them to be swept up into situations which are out of their control. They believe that they can control death and in the end, realize that death controls them.
Creed is obnoxiously normal, and exudes functionality and logical. His practical personality is the polar opposite of Victor grandiose composure. He has delusions of supreme success and finding the only cure for death. This attitude creates conflict within his family and isolate him in a way which encourages his raving behavior. Both men find their philosophical bases in science. Creed is a medical doctor who saves lives each and everyday. He has a family. He is a good husband and father. Creed’s rational approach to life leaves little room for imagination. Unlike Victor who’s imagination leaves no room for rationality. However, as Pet Sematary progress there is a change in Creed (Schor 76). As he suffers through his son’s death, his psyche cracks and he slowly develops into an obsessive lunatic drunk on power and arrogance. Victor’s character development moves in the same direction. With each passing experiment he gains a confidence which leads him to believe that he, like Creed, can overcome death. Regardless of this overwhelming self confidence each man choose his actions and they each exhibit free will. Even after Creed’s brings back the family cat from death with lackluster, if not terrifying, results, he seems inspired by the fact that he can breathe new life into the dead. Creed ponders ”In spite of everything,” and concludes ”the idea had that deadly attraction, that sick luster, that glamour” (Pet Sematary 255). This parallels Victor approach in his pursuit to create a living, breathing human from miscellaneous parts. Victor lusts for this power and states ”A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (Shelley 51).Each character takes on the role of God and believes they can produce life.
Creed takes his newly found confidence and power and applies it to the resurrection of his son. His actions are prompted by grief and his logical being is suppressed by his new godlike persona. Creed refers to his undead son as “Creature”, King plays homage to Shelley’s Frankenstein. Tony Magistrale, in “Stephen King’s Pet Sematary: Hawthorne’s Woods Revisited, explains “Creed’s controlled attitude toward death infuriates both his daughter and wife. They see nothing “natural” in the abrupt negation of life. But more important, the novel will also reveal that Creed himself does not believe that death ”’is the most natural thing in the w[orld]’ ” (41)(127). Even after Creed’s son kills his wife. Creed, again decides to play God, and drags her lifeless body to the ancient burial grounds, in a state of transcendence.” This memorizing state is also exhibited by Victor, during the creation of Frankenstein (Magistrale 126). Victor is described by Shelley and explains “he seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit” (Shelley 52). Disillusionment follows, when the Victor’s new life awakens as a hollow, emotionless monster. The wives of both men are killed by their arrogant and selfish acts of creation. Each creature seeks out victims based on proximity and nothing else. Creed and Victor continue their endeavors and are blind to the obvious fact that their creations are destructive mistakes. Each character is unable to dispose of their creature. Victor laments before death that he wishes he could have had time to perfect his resurrection skills (Magistrale 127). His creature die with him. Similarly, Creed, instead of destroying his undead wife and child, chooses to live with them. Each of these novels end tragically and each protagonist has the free will. This free will is influenced by their overwhelming arrogance and self indulgences.
The relationship between the creator and the creation is extremely important in each novel. It is symbolic of the universal theme of God versus man, which parallels the relationship between Creed, Victor, and their individual creations (Clayton 90). Equally as interesting it also represents the the relationship between the author and his writing. In each case the relationship is cyclic and the question because, “who made who”. Creed’s dead son was an innocent victim who under the control of his father. His father believes that he is offering his son the ultimate gift of life. However, the son is unhappy and seeks revenge on the man which created his awful existence. The single difference between Shelley’s Frankenstein and King’s Pet Sematary is where the evil originated from. When Creed places his son, Cage, in the burial ground, the evil enters his body from an outside source. This evil is unaffected by the presence of Creed. Victor’s creature becomes evil when Victor chooses to abandon his creation. Jay Clayton, Frankenstein’s Futurity: Replicants and Robots, believes that “Shelley’s purpose in intensifying her rhetoric in the 1831 version is not to amplify the critique of science but to lay bare the dangers of Romantic egotism.”(88) . Each of these novels function as creation story and their authors find inspiration in the myths of Prometheus. Each author is making a statement about man and his position in the world. Essentially Shelley, and King, believe that arrogance and self indulgence transforms men not into godly beings but into escorts of evil. Each protagonists goes again God to make their own versions of life and it is these innocent undeads which must carry the burden of their creators’ sins (Hoppenstand 5).
The fatal flaw of the main characters in “Frankenstein” and “Pet Semetary” is that of overwhelming self confidence. While each main character is different in personal history, personality, and motivation – their fates are the same because they share the same fatal flaw. It is this self confidence which creates a situation where each protagonist is blinded by God-like power (Mellor 18). They choose to assume the role of the Creator and breath new life into the dead. The results are deadly, while each produces innocent creatures who have no free will who are forced to carry out evil and murderous acts. The cyclic nature of the universal human experience is pervasive and unforgiving (Clayton 89). It is this common experience which prompts fictional characters and real people to seek out a cure for death – each with momentous and unforgettable results (Mellor 20). All creatures that have lived must die and are effected by death. It is this shared experience of death, dying, and killing that is uniquely human and chisel the human character.
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Hoppenstand, Gary, and Ray B. Browne, eds. The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmares. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1987.
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Mellor, Anne K. “1 Makinga “monster”: an Introduction to Frankenstein.” The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley. Ed. Esther Schor. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 9-24.
Clayton, Jay. “5 Frankenstein’s Futurity: Replicants and Robots.” The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley. Ed. Esther Schor. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 84-98.
Schor, Esther, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein Or, the Modern Prometheus. New York: Collier Books, 1961.