Our theme for the month of November is “the periodic table.”
Promethium. As an English major who failed her AP chem test, I went straight to etymology for this one. Language of origin? Greek. Symbol origin? Mythological. Prometheus: the giver of fire to mortals. What a stand-up guy.
I lived in Sioux County, Iowa. I was in 5th grade and I was rereading the Harry Potter series for the sixth time. I attended a small Christian grade school, where we celebrated Reformation Day instead of Halloween. On Tuesday, November 4th, 81 percent of voters in Sioux County voted for the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain. Barack Obama won the race by a landslide with 365 electoral votes. (Gryffindor also won the house cup.)
The second title of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus. If you haven’t read this masterpiece, please do yourself a favor and Amazon Prime that sucker in time for some weekend reading. It follows the story of Victor Frankenstein, the world’s most detestable main character. Sure, he stitches together disembodied limbs to create a person, which is cool in a disturbing sort of way. But that’s not the mesmerizing part about this book. If you don’t get to the middle and want to throw your book at Victor’s face, you aren’t doing it right.
I moved to Kent County, Michigan, and joined the throng of 2000 students pulsing through the halls of Grandville High School. My biggest concern was running a 5K faster than 23 minutes and making sure none of my friends knew that I used to go to Christian school. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney received 53 percent of the vote in Kent County. Obama still won a clear majority, clocking in a victory at 332 electoral votes. (My best 5K time was 23:11.)
You see, Victor Frankenstein creates life. He harnesses “the power of the gods” just like Prometheus did. Yet somehow he can’t see this life as human. He denies his creature the love and companionship that it desires. Shelley emphasizes the fact that life is not merely moving, breathing flesh, but a deep-seated desire for love. And it is by denying his creature that love that Frankenstein creates a monster.
I moved to Washtenaw County, Michigan. The University of Michigan was my home, and I got up each morning to ride the bus from my dorm to my classes on campus. I haunted my friends’ room, often falling asleep on their couch to avoid my own roommate. Hillary Clinton received 67 percent of the vote in Washtenaw County, and I voted for the first time with my four female engineering friends. Donald Trump won the electoral college with 304 votes. I took the long way around to my classes the next morning to avoid the riots.
Victor Frankenstein is the most frustrating character ever because he is so human. The right choice is so clearly before him and he doesn’t take it. Instead, he creates a monster with his selfish arrogance. You want to slap him upside the head so you don’t have to slap your own selfish self.
I moved to Montcalm County, Michigan. I walk the halls of Carson City-Crystal High School, past students with TRUMP 2020 written on their disposable masks with sharpie. I read Oliver Twist aloud, praying that my students understand something that is going on. On Tuesday, 68 percent of voters in Montcalm County voted for Trump. When the power went out on Tuesday, one of my tenth graders blamed it on Nancy Pelosi.
I have lived in places where the political “monsters” have taken so many different forms. These places, these people, these ideologies have shaped my own views in myriad ways. Maybe I need to slap myself upside the head and stop creating monsters out of humanity. Victor and I may need to work on our empathy this election season. If each person could just get an extra vaccination of empathy this week, Mary Shelley could sleep a wee bit more soundly in her grave.
Susannah Boersma graduated from Calvin University in May of 2020. She studied secondary English education. She lives in Grand Rapids and works at Carson City-Crystal High School as an English teacher.