The audience of any story generally functions as the recipient of the narration of the story-teller or of a character in the story. This relationship consists of two roles: the passive role of the audience as the recipient of knowledge or ideas and the active role of the teller as the sender of this information. Furthermore, this passive-active role can be differentiated into a figuratively gendered relationship, traditional to a great deal of literature of the late 1700s and early 1800s, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Mary Shelley s Frankenstein, of the passive female role as
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The wedding guest in Samuel Taylor Coleridge s The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner functions as the audience to the Mariner s tale. He is mesmerized by the Mariner s narrative of devastation and has no other choice but to sit and to listen to the hypnotic words. The gendered relationship between the narrator and the audience becomes evident in the opening of the story. The teller of this tale, the ancient Mariner, assumes the figuratively male role as the active narrator of a story, as the one who dictates what the audience hears. The audience of the tale, the wedding guest, assumes the feminine role as a passive receiver. This relationship is clearly demonstrated as the wedding guest seems to be hypnotized by the Mariner s words and cannot move from his position. At this point, the wedding guest will hear everything from the Mariner that the
reader will read, so he is also representative of Coleridge s relationship to his own audience, the reader.
Based on this correlation between the wedding guest as the Mariner s audience and the reader as the author s audience, then, Coleridge is able to blatantly present the moral of his poem in the Mariner s farewell to the wedding guest. Since the Mariner s crew cannot be considered a moral authority of any sort because they are inconsistent, capricious, and superstitious, the wedding guest functions as a sort of moral authority to the Mariner s tale. The wedding guest does not appear to make any moral judgments about the Mariner for his deed, but it can be concluded that he does gain some moral understanding of the story because although the reader could stop reading at any point, the wedding guest, who is hypnotized by the tale of devastation, remains through the
duration of the story and is thus made a sadder and a wiser man after hearing it all.
The Mariner s closing words to him in line 610 and on demonstrate his moral lesson: Farewell, farewell! but this I tell to thee, thou Wedding-Guest! He prayeth well., who loveth well both man and bird and beast. He prayeth best, who loveth best all things both great and small; for the dear God who loveth us, he made and loveth all. As the Mariner tells the wedding guest that God made and loves all of His creatures, he is also conveying a warning to him to show respect for all creatures, lest he be cast into the
isolation and desolation that the Mariner experienced.
Margaret Saville functions as the audience to her brother Robert Walton s letters from his voyage on the sea in Mary Shelley s Frankenstein. She reads everything that Walton writes from the beginning, so she is representative of the readers of the book. So then, even though Walton functions as the audience to Victor Frankenstein s tale, he turns around to record it in the form of his letters to his sister, his own audience. Margaret, then, assumes the passive role of the female receiver of information from an active male
sender. This is also indicative Mary Shelley s role as the author, suggesting that she has assumed the active male role in her writing to her own audience of readers as the passive receivers of the culmination of her work.
Margaret is confined to receiving news from the world outside of her daily life (Walton s sea voyage), rather than imparting news from the world within. She is simply the receiver of information, without transgressing the bounds of her own life. Her brother serves as a source of knowledge beyond the limits of her own personal consciousness, while she is tucked away safely at home, far from the isolated and desolate lands of ice and snow that her brother experiences. She can read about it from the comfort of her own environment.
Also, we never learn what her reaction to the whole tale actually is, so Walton also serves as a window into what that may be. Walton implies in his last letters that she will have visitings of despair and yet be tortured by hope (202). In the same paragraph, however, he also states that she may be happy with her husband and children; not necessarily happy about hearing such a horrifying tale, but happy nonetheless. So then, the reader never knows how Walton s audience of Margaret feels about everything she has just learned via his letters. We do know, however, how we feel about the whole story, so it can be deduced that since Margaret is the closest representation of the reader,
perhaps her reaction would be similar to that of the reader s.
Robert Walton functions as the audience to Victor Frankenstein s narration of devastation and destruction once he has boarded Walton s vessel and been revived. Walton has expressed his want for a mate or companion in his letters to his sister and meeting Victor Frankenstein seems to be the answer to his longing. At this point, Frankenstein becomes a character in Walton s story, but will soon become a source of knowledge beyond Walton s reach. Walton s sentiments of longing are reflective of many eighteenth-century heroines, illustrating his assumed role as the passive and figuratively female receiver of the male Frankenstein s tale. Similarly to his sister s role as the recipient of knowledge beyond her own consciousness through his letters, he is able to live vicariously through Frankenstein s story. Walton, in this case, experiences what it would be like to make a scientific breakthrough of the magnitude of Frankenstein s creation of a life, without actually carrying it out. Walton has gone on this voyage in search of great things and while he seems to be lacking in his discoveries, his new-found companion has completed what Walton may consider to be the ultimate of scientific advancements. Walton, however, as audience to Frankenstein s tale, is shielded from the horror that has resulted from this dissent into material, or scientific, knowledge. He, similarly to his sister, is safely confined from the consequences stemming from
Frankenstein s creation, while still in awe of what has actually transpired.
Given Walton s position as the shielded receiver of knowledge, then, he is able to deduce the moral of Frankenstein s story. Frankenstein warns him that his pursuit of scientific knowledge and understanding may not be for the better, as it has ruined his own life. Walton, then, remains in this passive role, as the receiver of Frankenstein s tale of terror, while still remaining within the safety of the bounds of his own life.
Victor Frankenstein assumes the role of the audience when his creature speaks to him, as well as when he witnesses his own creature s destruction throughout the book. He is the audience to his own creature s autobiographical narrative, of which he plays the parts of creator and listener. Frankenstein is immediately forced into the role of the passive receiver of what the creature has to say, especially since the creature is of such greater physical strength than he is himself. The creature assumes a physically dominant role, similar to that of traditional male-female relationship in which the male is traditionally physically stronger than the female counterpart, indicating the gendering of
the teller-audience roles in this case. Frankenstein s powerlessness against his monster is also a part of the deaths that have occurred among those close to him at the hands of his own creation. Even though he does not know for sure that the destruction of lives was due to the life he created, he has an instinct of guilt and fear from the beginning. He was seemingly unable to prevent the deaths of those whom he loved and thus played a passive role in saving their lives, being able to do nothing but observe in terror. So then, the power that he has relinquished in creating the creature, he is able to exert in telling his
story to Walton, in hopes of preventing another catastrophe due to the desire for scientific achievement.
The creature s words to Frankenstein emphasize what Frankenstein seems to have neglected in his creation of a human life, that is, the creature is conferring a consciousness, will, and voice upon a scientific discovery. Up to this point, Frankenstein has suffered a great deal of heartache due to the creature s deeds, but he will come to realize through the creature s own story that it has been Frankenstein s own fault for neglect. The creature was not born evil in itself, but due to Frankenstein s misguided actions, it was made evil through human abuse. Also, although Victor Frankenstein has experienced great loss and profound emotional suffering, leading to isolation in his own
life, he has not experienced the emotional pain of the rejection that he has caused his own creature, whose existence has actually added another life to the number of relationships in Frankenstein s life, to feel. Thus, he experiences even this pain of rejection and isolation from a passive standpoint as he hears it from the creature s story.
Conclusively, then, the character who assumes the role as the audience to another person s story in each text is in a position of powerlessness to hear each person s story, but at the same time, gains a great deal from each narrative. The audience functions in a sort of little woman role and is able to hear his or her narrator s tale behind a sort of shield without actually feeling or experiencing all of the pain, suffering, or adventure that
the figuratively male teller has experienced. The sender, then, functions as the giver of knowledge or information that is beyond the receiver s capacities and assumes dominance over the audience. The audience is able to live vicariously through their narrators, even if this life may not be the most pleasant or, quite frankly, rather horrifying.