Saturday, January 30, 2016

New Address

For years I have experimented with both Wordpress and blogger as blogging platform. For a variety of reasons, I feel that the former meets my needs much more, and I am therefore moving to that platform entirely. Hopefully, this will bring me back to writing more...

Find me now at:

Monday, January 26, 2015

The original question

The question of how the Universe began is to me the biggest question of our lives. It is something that puzzles us, astounds us, makes us spend hours pondering, debating with people around, mostly pointlessly. Because we cannot answer this sitting in the drawing room. (Though it is strange that a question of that magnitude cannot be answered through field studies - the answer, if at all, will come out of a drawing board or a computer someday) It inevitably runs into the question of belief - whether God or a supreme being exists, one that made the grand design, or whether it all came into existence out of nowhere, through some yet undiscovered scientific phenomenon. 

In his book The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking argues that time is a dimension similar to space, and therefore, there could be a point in time, before which time itself did not exist. Hence the question of what existed before the time Universe came into being is meaningless. Something similar to asking what is south of the south pole - at south pole, the world curves back. There is no more South. Seems a bit hard to grasp, this. I have not yet learned to treat time as a dimension, and even if I did, I would still expect something to fall beyond the zero point. The only way I can get my head around it is that the point at which universe came into being, the moment of the big bang, is also the moment the universe ended, and it is a circular cycle of Big-bang to expansion of universe, to its contraction until it is ready for the big bang again. 

Which brings me back to the idea that the entire universe, and thus our complicated world with its complicated lives, are essentially all part of a big whole. We all got scattered in an explosion, and are now wandering to find our way back to the whole. But are we really looking to get back to the whole? Do we want to get condensed in a big ball, or go back to the tree and get rooted there? 

All our lives, we try to find our own identities. The tiny adults already start feeling the pressure of becoming as different as possible from their parents, to spring out from the root. Which youth is not rebellious or not miserable, and happy to be identified with his/her parents? When we find someone identical, do we rush to embrace him/her, or do we feel threatened, and like Saramago’s Tertuliano go on to kill the doppleganger? Doesn’t the source of our existential angst lie in the truth that we are all same, and essentially mere fragments of a dense ball of matter? That we are so minuscule that the whole will carry right on without us? 

In Arthur C Clarke’s fantastic story Childhood’s End - he imagines the time when the whole comes calling and wants to claim its children. There is unification on large scale, until entire humanity dissolves into a larger whole. It is a violent tale, for this homogenisation is not painless. It is an apocalypse of a much larger magnitude, because it takes away the arrogant individuality created over hundreds of years. While we anxiously search for where we came from, do we really want to return there? I suppose not. There is something which constantly keeps us seeking outward, and the only reason we continue to seek the origin of the Universe is because we find it hard to comprehend that it may pull us more in rather than out.
If we solve this mystery, would we have become successful, or would we have broken the most wonderful illusions that keep us alive?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dreamtigers (Borges)

For at least a couple of years, I have been lazily hunting for Borges' Ficciones. I believe it was a reference in Alejandro Zambra's brilliant work Bonsai that triggered this search, something about a story that was so fantastic yet so touching.
Though this search has been futile so far, it took me to a section of the library which I had not yet visited. Why certain books need to be classified under World Literature, while books from the same authors find a place in the Adult Fiction section is beyond my comprehension - nevertheless this classification has opened a new spot for me in the library and I don't mind at all.

Even as I browsed through Dreamtigers, a collection of Borges' short pieces, my eyes fell on this and ensured I picked out the book:

To say goodbye to each other is to deny separation. It is like saying “today we play at separating, but we will see each other tomorrow.” Man invented farewells because he somehow knows he is immortal, even though he may seem gratuitous and ephemeral.

Delia, we will take up again–beside what river?–this uncertain dialogue, and we will ask each other if ever, in a city lost on a plain, we were Borges and Delia.
The book, which is a rather slim volume, is divided in two parts. Part I reads more like essays, short notes and outlines of some dreams, part II is all the above things put as poetry. There is also a very small part called Museum, which is a section tough for me to classify. Being far more inclined towards clearly expressed thoughts unconstrained by an unnatural form (read rhyme), I certainly had a preference for Part I. And even though it is a small collection, I largely skimmed through part II.

In this collection, if there is a running theme, it appears to be immortality & perpetuity. Borges seems  singularly preoccupied with the question of immortality and what comes after the end of life apparent. In this collection, he has put his dreams, hopes, memories and conflicts about immortality on paper. For instance, in a note called Borges & I he seems to contemplate whether the writer in him is falsifying and exaggerating his life to keep it alive in the form of Spanish literature for later:

It’s the other one, it’s Borges, that things happen to......It would be too much to say that our relations are hostile; I live, I allow myself to live, so that Borges may contrive his literature and that literature justifies my existence. I do not mind confessing that he has managed to write some worthwhile pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because the good part no longer belongs to anyone, not even to the other one, but rather to the Spanish language or to tradition. Otherwise, I am destined to be lost, definitively, and only a few instants of me will be able to survive in the other one. Little by little I am yielding him everything, although I am well aware of his perverse habit of falsifying and exaggerating
It reminded me of Pamuk's memoirs in Istanbul, where he imagines another Orhan living elsewhere (you can find the extract here). Perhaps it is natural to writers that they create an alter ego. After all they split themselves into so many characters, that the feeling of otherness is almost a certainty.

In another piece, Borges again mentions the need for continuity, the perpetuity and how it might lead to a waste of life. It refers to the dying of Caesar, and how it repeats 19 centuries later:

Destiny takes pleasure in repetition, variants, symmetries: nineteen centuries later, in the south of the Province of Buenos Aires, a gaucho is attacked by other gauchos. As he falls he recognizes an adopted son of his and says to him with gentle reproof and slow surprise (these words must be heard, not read), “Pero che!” He is being killed, and he does not know he is dying so that a scene may be repeated.
I am not sure how tigers fit into this quest for perpetuity, but the poem the other tiger offers some clue. To Borges tiger is something otherworldly, something imagined through his reading of the encyclopaedia,  and through this tiger of the text, he dreams of the living tiger. In doing this, he wonders whether text can recreate life. With the imperfect tigers of his dreams, he is not convinced - and the same conflict hinted at in Borges & I seems to reappear here.

Interpretations aside, this book did make me think about afterlife, and the angst of not knowing the vastness that lies beyond. I will be coming back to this, and it is just as well that I have found all the pieces preserved at the floating library.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Wallander - the troubled detective

Kurt Wallander is a grim man. Whether you meet him in books, or in the TV series, you will seldom see him (or read about him) smile. Both Branagh & Henriksson, who have played him in the English & the Swedish series, know this well. In fact, Branagh has even admitted to visiting flower shows to cheer himself up from the starkness of his screen life.
The hero of Henning Mankell's several mystery novels is a police inspector in the Swedish town of Ystad. He is a fictional detective, yes, but if you are thinking of the cocky Sherlock Holmes, then you are way off. For starters, Wallander doesn't jump from windows like Sherlock (as Mr. Downing or Cumberbatch have lead us to believe). If you are now thinking of the smiling, more laid back Poirot,  then cut the mustache, the smile and add a lot of severity and self-doubt instead.

I have only read two Wallander books, so my impression of him is largely from what I have seen on the tv series. I have come to like this detective who has doubts, who is not perfect, who is stubborn, and labors through investigation (instead of having some elementary interventions). He is a very good police officer, but he gets into each difficult case with a reluctance, as if dragging himself to the gym, hoping he will find it closed when he reaches there. But once he is there, he goes all in, forgetting everything else - sleep, personal commitments, food. 
Wallander brings detection face to face with existentialism. He is confused with the world around him, always trying to make sense of himself, and struggling to be a good policeman in the ever-changing Sweden. Having failed as a husband,, he is also constantly worried about being a good father, which is difficult with a rebellious daughter like Linda. He is anxious that he forgets to keep appointments with his father and does not spend enough time with him. In essence, Wallander brings to front all the angst of the modern man - is he doing enough? Is he capable? What should he be doing to fulfill his responsibilities better?
I have also seen in him some puzzling contrasts. For instance, he has driven his wife away by being too immersed in work. Yet, when he meets the widow of a Latvian Major, he takes leave from work, and crosses borders illegally to help her. I wonder if its the same person being talked about, and the only rational explanation seems to be is that he has a strong desire to be needed. So as long as it is a damsel in distress, he can expend his energies and time saving her, but cannot work on a relationship with a woman who is safe and needs him only for emotional support.
I also find it interesting that since Wallander, a few troubled detectives have found their way on screen. (Detective Hardy from Broadchurch being one from recent times). Even those who love the dazzling Sherlock Holmes, are happy to see these real people struggle through detection and grapple with their personal demons.

Friday, July 12, 2013

This way for the gas, Ladies and Gentlemen

I am sometimes embarassed of my interest in holocaust literature. There is something morbid about wanting to read the tales of death chambers, of cattle cars, of people being pulled out of their homes in middle of the night.
And yet, it is such a bizarre side of reality - something so humongous and beyond understanding, that I feel compelled to know more, to understand what happened. The many books and many films on the topic mostly share the survivor tales, or tales of tragedy - the after-effects of the holocaust (or more appropriately "Shoah"). These tales, the most beautifully written ones, like from Sebald, or Kertesz - bring to fore the sense of loss, the disorientation, which goes far beyond the actual physical act of mass-murder. But there is little written or said to explain the perpetration, what went on in the minds of the tormentor and the tortured when the physical act was being carried out. How did a whole machinery get convinced to participate in the barbarism? What went on in the minds of people in the camps, seeing the fumes from the chimney?

Borowski's collection of short stories touches upon something of the latter - but his reality is so harsh and inhuman, that I almost want to scratch it out as cynical rant. He himself spent 2-3 years in Auschwitz, and the stories seem autobiographical. So you would assume that they would have some truth in them. But if there is, it is a disturbing truth.

"Weakness needs to vent itself on the weaker". This seems to be a theme of Borowski's stories, and also the centre of life in Auschwitz. The prisoners, enslaved by the Germans, have more respect for their guards than they have for their fellow slaves, whom they often spy on, tell on, beat-up, steal from. There is little sympathy for the person who is in the same boat.

In the title story, slaves help to unload the cattle trains. There is a selection process - those unfortunate, are being sent to the gas chamber directly. The slaves are doing their own sorting - of the belongings of the new arrivals -  they collect gold and valuables for the regime, food and utilities for themselves. They deceive the people being led to the 'evil eye', sometimes even laugh at them, but most of all, treat them with contempt.
The tone of this story, and most of the others that follow is cold and sharp. There is little emotion - only a very animal-like awareness of senses - hunger, lust. The narrator sounds nihilist, but his bitterness sometimes escapes into the text.

The most compelling story, which is also beautiful, is written as a letter (or rather collection of letters strewn together) called Auschwitz, our home. It is beautiful for the shimmer of humanity it offers. The writer of the letters writes to his girlfriend (these are, in all likelihood from the letters written by Borowski himself to his girlfriend whom he had followed into the slave camps). He writes about the absurdity that is going on around them.
He tells her:
If I had said to you as we danced together in my room in the light of the paraffin lamp: listen, take a million people, or two million, or three, kill them in such a way that no one knows about it, not even they themselves, enslave several hundred thousand more, destroy their mutual loyalty, put man against man, and...surely you would have thought me mad. Except that I probably would not have said these things to you, even if I had known what I know today. I would not have wanted to spoil our mood.

He writes about how hope and God have weakened the people, who, imagining justice, and looking to a better future, are not tearing down the death camp. He also talks of his own hopes of surviving the camp.

It is difficult to accept Borowski's account as objective truth. He wrote most of these stories after coming out of the camp. He mentions somewhere that the slaves were only surviving on hope - but it is impossible that the world outside of the camp walls could match up to the enormous Eden these hopes must have built. 
There will be no borders after the war, I know, and there will be no countries, no concentration camps, and people will not kill one another. This is our last fight.
Any unfairness, any punishment, any harshness in the post-Auschwitz life would have seemed like a much bigger failure to the survivors, who had come to expect a heaven outside Auschwitz. Disappointment and bitterness were bound to follow - therefore I think Borowski's account is tinged brightly with his disappointments of the Poland after war. The fact that he committed suicide within a few years of freedom, highlights this disappointment.
Besides, his letter, which seems to have been actually written while in Auschwitz, is less brutal, more human and looks out with some hope, however feeble, makes me think that a lot of steeliness must have come post-Auschwitz.

In one of the stories, the narrator calls the Chimneys to be the great eye - it made me wonder if Tolkein's mordor was indeed the death camp? Where else could he have drawn inspiration for a world so bleak.

Borowski and his work has been described in Czeslaw Milosz' work The Captive Mind which I had read sometime ago. There, he had referred to Borowski as Beta - and it is thanks to one of the comments on the blog post that I could find out who Beta was.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Jagten (The Hunt)

Does a misunderstanding or misconception ever correct itself? In stories, misconceptions often place themselves at the center, sometimes spinning the entire tale around. Mostly, in the end, people speak up, and miraculously the fog lifts.
Not so in the crisp and stony reality from Thomas Vinterberg. In his movie, he marks out how it is not enough to be acquitted from a court trial, and certainly not enough to have done nothing wrong. Long after being cleared, doubts persist and hunt the accused - may be in reality or may be in his own mind.
Lucas, a nursery teacher at the center of this drama, is wrongfully accused of sexual conduct in front of a child. A child who is his best friend's daughter and who he is very fond of. The small town discounts the many years in which it has know Lucas to be a charming, lovable person in face of a child's thoughtless accusation. The paranoia of parents at the thought of sending their child to a potential predator everyday spirals out of control. Suddenly, all parents begin to see signs of molestation in their own children. The children work themselves up in a hysteria where they begin to remember an evening in Lucas' basement alone with him. 
The image remarks how immaterial it is that the basement does not exist. There are moments when, as a viewer I began to wonder if indeed it lies hidden elsewhere, even when I had been privy to the wrongfulness of the accusation from the very beginning. Mass perception has a way of becoming reality. Aided by the insecurity people have for their children, and in the unshakable (but really quite questionable) faith that children are always honest and innocent, this perception becomes wildly accepted, even by the band of brothers Lucas has grown up with.
This remarkable hold on rumor and the hazard it poses - this is what makes The hunt the best film I have watched this year. Mads Mikkelsen's performance and the mood-landscape is a treat on top. Even though this film goes against the severe principles of Dogme, somehow the use of editing and cinematography adds to the stark reality and therefore appears to follow the Dogme in spirit.

Monday, June 10, 2013

And so they are ever returning to us, the dead

Sebald's characters live in memories and the past - this is perhaps the least kept secret about his books. Their dead keep returning to them, the possibilities of their own deaths continue to haunt them - until they can bear it no more and often embrace that death which has been following them.
In Emigrants, which I am now re-reading after a few years, four stories follow four people who escape (or are forced to leave) the places where they were born. The places where (in a now archaic worldview) they were supposed to spend their lives. In the face of evil which reaches these places in the form of racism, nationalism or other forms of vile hatred, they abandon their fate and chose different paths. For some it is merely a different country, for others it is a completely different life. However, they continue to be haunted by the memory of their past. It is as if they should have stayed back and faced the consequences of being born in a place. In a bizarre link between fate and birthplace, these people believe that the persecution their birthplace offered will pursue them no matter where they go.
So these emigrants spend restless hours climbing mountains, or walking the countryside, or catching butterflies - either whiling away time in wait for that destiny they escaped or trying to listlessly walk away from this persistent destiny.
I have, so far, read only two sections. The first one, on Dr. Henry Selwyn struck me as a little odd. What strikes me in Dr. Selwyn's story is that his homesickness is not something he has carried around him since his emigration. It is in the later stages of his life, as estrangement with his wife grows is when he begins to think about home. This is uncharacteristic of Sebald's tragic heroes, who, displaced at a very early stage, seem to carry the burden of exile throughout their lives. In Dr. Selwyn's case, homesickness seems more a romanticism of past in the face of an unhappy present. In Dr. Selwyn's life are enclosed many possibilities - the possibility of a happy country life in Lithuania, the possibility of persecution in the holocaust, the perils of an immigrant's life in America, a happy life with his wife in England. Dr. Selwyn has escaped all these possibilities, to end with the most banal of all maladies - an unhappy marriage. Perhaps he is tormented by the banality of his misery, and yearns for a more dramatic tragedy (of being buried under snow like his friend, or living the holocaust). May be this is what lies behind his melancholy - not the memory of home, but what home seemed poised to bring when he left it. Is Sebald trying to say that even those who completely avoided the holocaust are victims of it because all other miseries look embarassingly small in comparison?

Monday, September 24, 2012


Incidentally, all of my last few posts have been based on the readings from SF and Fantasy course on Coursera. Things are a little hectic in work and in life otherwise, that I am reading little outside of the course syllabus. The course is coming to a close, and as insightful as it has been, I am also eager to resume my regular reading.
A couple of weeks back, we were reading Charlotte Gilman's Herland and Burroughs' Princess of Mars. The two books could not be more different, and yet there were some common threads running between them. While Princess of Mars was a dominantly 'masculine' book - with heroes, fights and men saving damsels, Herland was feminine, even if not in the traditional sense of the world.
It is about the second book, Herland, that I felt more strongly. (The first was a little over the top - you would know what I mean if you see the movie John Carter which is based on Princess of Mars). In Herland, four men accidentally discover a land where only women live. These women run an efficient and apparently a highly developed nation. They reproduce on their own, and the basis of society is a strong maternal instinct for providing a better life and future for their children. 
Gilman was a woman way ahead of her times, who recognized that she was not an ideal mother and hence gave up the bringing up of her child to her husband and her best friend. She also recognized that she was not compatible with her husband and therefore actively encouraged a relationship between her husband and the above mentioned best friend. These acts might seem less revolutionary now, but in her times (1860-1935), it would have been very difficult to gain acceptance with such actions.
Her ideas in Herland depict that women achieve much if they can live outside the boundaries defined for them in a masochist world.  She also advocates that motherhood is not a right but a great responsibility and only the worthy should be allowed to bring up a child. It is a developed thinking, but in aiming for higher ideals, Gilman seems to have sacrificed the femininity of her characters. 
Stereotyping of Women in Herland In Herland, Gilman imagines a world in which women exist independent of the burden of 'femininity' placed on them by men. Mostly through the voice of Terry, sometimes through Van, she highlights how men stereotype women: jealous, incapable of invention, weak, long-haired, shy, maternal, etc. In a largely male dominated world, women fall in accordance with these expectations and get defined by this 'femininity'. What Gilman shows through her story is, that in the absence of these expectations (denoted by the Utopian Herland), women can explore their true potential. They can build highly civilized societies; rise above personal feelings and take knowledge and learning to unprecedented levels. However it is curious that the only suitably defined characters in her story are the three men. The women exist as abstraction, part of a collective whole. They all have short hair and able-bodies; they are all 'fair ladies'. They show little human emotion and have almost no drama ("The drama of the country was—to our taste—rather flat"). They are also asexual beings, repelled or uncomfortable with the idea of physical proximity. In other words, Gilman has stepped away from giving any emotional depth or individuality to these women. The only time some personality differences are mentioned are when the girls align themselves to the three men - even there the individuality is centered on the men. It seems that Gilman has replaced one idea of femininity with another, and is still looking at women to confirm to some norms/ stereotypes. The only difference is that these norms mostly stand in opposition to those defined by men, and therefore are a rebellion to the male dominance. This rebellion still falls short for not recognizing women as separate individuals with emotional depth.

I strongly dislike the idea of feminist movements where women run ahead to stand at the opposite end of how they have been 'defined' (by burning bras, or adopting unflattering attires, or choosing not to marry to proclaim 'freedom') It still keeps you defined by someone else, and you are still an abstraction. While I feel very strongly against the secondary status of women in many societies, particularly India - where even liberal men congratulate themselves on 'allowing' their wives to work, I desist these caricatures of feminists which discredit the different and individualistic nature of women. So, I did not like what Gilman wrote - I don't intend to be a superwoman, nor assert that one has to be brilliant to be recognized as an individual. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wells and Freud

I have very little exposure to psychology and even lesser understanding of the various theories/advancements in the field. However, even in this limited knowledge it is difficult to not come across Freud and his structural model. There is a certain fascination in the idea of the psyche having three distinct identities fighting for control.
While reading Wells' story The island of Dr. Moreau, as part of the SF and Fantasy course on Coursera, I sensed that Wells was elucidating Freud's theories. On some research I found that they did have an acquaintance, a mutual respect for each other's ideas and exchanged some of their thoughts/ideas through letters. For the course I wrote this essay. Luckily, one of my reviewers was a psychologist who pointed out that I had missed one essential point, which follows the essay:

Super-ego versus Id
 In The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells touches on many interesting themes in few words. One theme that we have repeatedly seen in our readings is the danger of man trying to play God or interfering with nature. In this story, Wells adds another dimension to the man versus nature conflict, which is whether a code of moral values is more powerful than natural instinct.
In his structural model, Freud identified Id as the uncoordinated instinct and Super-ego as the critical and moralizing aspect of the psyche. The third element, Ego, tries to find a balance between the two. Wells' story depicts the conflict of Super-ego and Id without the presence of a strong ego. On the island, the beast folk are shown as instinctual creatures(Id) who are controlled by the law or Dr. Moreau (Super-ego). 
In the initial part of the story, it is the super-ego which is stronger. Dr. Moreau, banishes all natural instincts (not to suck up drink, eat fish or flesh, etc.), and uses punishment to silence the Id. The beast folk are scared and curb most natural instincts. This creates an imbalance, which Prendick as an outsider is able to perceive as threat. It is interesting that in this phase Prendick is more scared of Dr. Moreau than the beasts. 
In the second part, the Id takes over when the beast (Puma) escapes and attacks the super-ego. In the Reversion, beast folks begin protesting against decency and monogamy and fall back into disorganization and chaos. In this environment too, Prendick feels threatened, though this time it is the bestiality which scares him. In both cases, the absence of Ego can be seen as a destabilising factor. It seems that Wells concurs with the views of his contemporary Freud that for a psyche to function well, Ego should be its strongest element.

This is what my reviewer pointed out: "The only point I think you've missed is rationalizing the absence of the Ego. The Ego is based on the reality principle and it's absence could signify a suspension of reality denoted by an isolated island." 
I cannot claim that I fully understand the critique as I dont understand the relationship between Ego and Reality principal very well, but I am working on it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The old monsters

As part of the SF and fantasy course I mentioned in my last post,  the last few weeks I have been reading Dracula, Frankenstein and some stories from Nathaniel Hawthorne and Poe. It is difficult to say if I am enjoying these reads. Dracula was interesting, but having read that story a few times, the last part seemed like a dull load. Frankenstein was unappetizing from the very beginning - the romanticism of the writing, the flowery language, the grandiose descriptions - they all seemed like monsters of their own.
I could not help thinking how uni-dimensional the characters in these books were - take Dracula for example. The black and white characters in it are clearly marked. Except for the mad-man, everyone is singularly good or evil. The story seemed like a preaching sometimes, extolling Victorian virtues.  Here is the little essay I wrote for the reading
The atmospheric work from Bram Stroker reads like a Biblical tale in a modern setting. With use of modern symbols and interesting art forms (journals, multiple narratives, mystery), Stroker attempts to deliver key themes of Christanity to a modern audience who might feel disconnected from the ancient stories.
The strongest Biblical symbol is Dracula, shown as a metaphor for Satan and described both as tempter and deceiver who uses people's weakness in order to deflect them from the path of good. This can be seen in how he entices Renfield by falsely promising him eternal life, convincing him to let him enter the hospital. He (with other vampires) fosters sinful desires: Jonathan Harker is tempted by the three women in Dracula's castle, while Lucy calls out to Arthur in a voluptuous voice to kiss her, before her fall.
Like in the Bible, Bram Stroker illustrates that Dracula's temptations can be resisted by being alert, by prayer and by relying on God's faithfulness. In the story, characters struggle to stay awake; many a tragedies occur while they are asleep or in trance. Dr Van Helsing strongly advocates keeping a crucifix on person when in proximity of Dracula. This crucifix, a symbol of God, saves the party from harm. Mina constantly resorts to prayer, never wavers in her faith, and is thus saved from the influence of Satan.
Stroker's technique is very similar to the technique of Biblical story-telling in modern theatre - perhaps an influence from his theatre background. He tries to internalize the story for his audience by keeping the script simple, breaking up the story into scenes or chapters, keeping fixed locations (the castle, Whitby, hospital), and tracking the emotional journey of the characters. This keeps the reader interested and imprints the Biblical teaching of virtue over desire very vividly in his mind.
Reading Frankenstein was even more difficult, but there was a singular anxiety that is reflected in that writing - the anxiety of being alone. Perhaps it stemmed from the isolated environment Mary Shelly was when she first wrote the story. My somewhat formed thoughts on this which I presented as an essay:
Alienation appears as a dominant theme in Mary Shelly's novel. The three narrators- Walton, Frankenstein and the monster, are all disconnected from the society around them and experience angst on account of this alienation. This alienation mirrors the feelings of the 19th century European society which was witnessing rapid industrialization.
Before Industrialization, people produced for self-subsistence and therefore had a direct relationship to their labour's fruit. However, in Industrial era, because the product would belong to capitalists, workers felt alienated from their work and therefore not in control of their lives. Frankenstein's labour, though frenzied, is still dissociated from its final outcome (He never thinks about the life he is creating). Upon completion, he runs away from it. Mary Shelly has captured the worker's estrangement with his work very succinctly through this analogy. Frankenstein, like Walton and like the modern man, spends a lot of time away from his family and natural surroundings to pursue secondary relationships with his work. They all work in alien environments (a cottage, aboard a ship, a factory). Their isolation causes them anxiety and dissatisfaction with life.
The monster's alienation is of a different nature, but still relates to the working man. He feels powerless to do what he would like to do: find friends and lead a peaceful life. He finds "human senses as insurmountable barriers" to achieving his natural state. He struggles against this powerlessness and seeks revenge. The working man similarly feels powerless to determine his fate, which is increasingly dependent on the decisions of the capitalist. He either submits to this power and feels unhappy, or adopts unlawful means (robbery, thieving, murder) to protest and regain his lost power.
With her theme, Mary Shelly seems to endorse the Romantic view that Science, Modernization and Industrialization have created antagonism in human nature.