Monday, 18 April 2011

Concept of the "Other" in Literature

The concept of the ‘Other’ in literature can take on numerous forms and on one thread of thought it is considered to be an individual who is perceived by a group as not belonging; as they have been culturally constructed as being fundamentally different in some way (Southwest Educational Development Laboratory 1999). The group sees itself as the ‘standard’ and judges those who do not meet that norm and perceived as lacking essential characteristics possessed by the group, the ‘Other’ is almost always seen as a lesser or inferior being and is treated accordingly. For an example, it may be someone who is of a different race, gender, culture, religion, social class, sexual orientation or nationality. In this aspect, this essay aims to explore in detail the gender issues present within the prescribed text and the role of women in Shelley’s (1996) Frankenstein particularly within the context of a strongly patriarchal tradition. The other thread of thought involves the myth of the monster as ‘perilous’ and ‘strange’ or ‘abnormal’ and plays with the concept that there is a monstrous ‘other’ exclusively different from the readers who, at least identify with the protagonist’s of the novels. Both Frankenstein and Stevenson’s (2003) Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde encourage the reader to consider the disconcerting possibility that this ‘other’ is actually harbouring deep within us in the unconscious realms of the body . The concept of the monster helps to prevent those that identify with the main characters, from assuming that they know everything about themselves and that they are completely good; as the dark chaos that sits in man’s hearts need to be embraced or made aware of for suffering to be overcome (Nietzsche 2002 p. 85).

Firstly, on the exploration of gender and the culturally created ‘other’, Carter & Cranny-Francis (2010 p. 13) commented on the depiction of the woman in Frankenstein as produced by patriarchy, the male-defined ‘feminine’ woman, a masculinist construct that has little to do directly with the observed world of women. They explained that what is commonly regarded as ‘feminine’ is obedience, emotional beings, motherly and affectionate, a creature of nature rather than civilisation and identified (through her menstrual cycle) rather than the more powerful, life-giving sun. For a novel written by the daughter of an imperative feminist, Frankenstein is noticeably deficient of strong female characters.

Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man.”
The concept of the ‘other’ has been explored in terms of gender and culture however one of the numerous benefits of literature, is the ability for writers to explore the mystifying realm of the unknown. The use of the imagination allows exploration and differing interpretations into hidden or created cultures, animals, objects, humans, groups, aliens, monsters etcetera. On the notion of the monstrous ‘other’, Bennett & Royle (2004) comment on Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the unsettling effects of the double. They go on further to say that the effect on us as readers can be said to arise from the eerie feelings of familiarity of our notions of self-identity

After completion of these texts, how does an author use the concept of "otherness" within these novels or perhaps other novels you have read?