Natural vs. Unnatural
The novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Frank Runyeon’s dramatic performance of The Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew connect to “Theology” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and “Tableau” by Countee Cullen because all four works of literature express the dichotomy of the natural and the unnatural. In “Theology” Dunbar touches on the dualistic nature of the natural and the unnatural that accompanies the act of judging in a religious environment. In “Tableau” Cullen focuses on the essence of the natural and the unnatural, while relating their antagonistic relationship to the relationship blacks and whites maintained during segregation. Mary Shelley’s masterpiece Frankenstein, details the life of Doctor Frankenstein, whose unnatural goal leads to an unnatural lifestyle, which comes to life in Frankenstein’s monster, and portrays how negative the unnatural can be. Frank Runyeon’s dramatic performance of The Sermon on the Mount contained the beatitudes, which illustrate Jesus’ perspective on the relationship between the natural and the unnatural. All four of these works allow for a better understanding of the complex relationship between the natural and unnatural.
In “Theology” the speaker critiques the dualistic nature of heaven and hell in a sarcastic and comical manner. The poem begins in a serious tone brought on by the title “Theology,” which is a topic rarely taken lightly. However, the tone quickly shifts when the speaker states, “There is a hell…If there were not, where would my neighbors go?”(Meyer 252). This leaves the reader wondering how serious of a poem “Theology” is. At first, the poem seems to be written by someone uneducated because the speaker’s defense for heaven and hell appears to be conceited, but soon we realize the purpose of “Theology.” Dunbar wants his readers to realize that religion sits in an ivory tower and judges, which creates conflict. He wants us to realize that it is unnatural to judge, and that we are taught to judge through religion. The fact that it is unnatural to judge is demonstrated in “Tableau” where we see two boys too young to have learned to judge.
In “Tableau” the speaker paints a vivid image of two kids, one black the other white “locked arm in arm” walking down the street. The speaker refers to the white boy as “the golden splendor of the day” and the black boy as “the sable pride of night” (Meyer 489). These metaphors allude that the two boys are invaluable and the imagery of day and night adds a subtle note of equality. As the poem progresses the scene widens, and the speaker states, “The dark folk stare, and here the fair folk talk, [i]ndignant that these two should dare [i]n unison to walk”(Meyer 489). Cullen specifically chooses to use the word “fair” to describe the white folk, because in the next line it juxtaposes the word “indignant,” which connotes unreasonable unfairness the “fair” folk demonstrate. This poem serves the purpose of portraying that it is unnatural to judge because the two boys don’t judge each other. Only the bystanders, who have learned what it means to judge, judge. Race is an invention of man and Cullen wants us to realize that our unnatural creation terrorizes many. The horrid creation of race and the segregation that it leads to parallels Frankenstein’s monster in many ways.
In Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein retreats from society to work on the unnatural act of animating the non-living. The doctor breaks connection with his family, his friends, and even his instructors and colleagues to tend to his aberrant project. Eventually, “After days and nights of incredible labor and fatigue”(Shelley 43) the doctor animates his creature. When the creature comes to life, the doctor “feels the beauty of [his] dream [vanish], and breathless horror and disgust [fill] [his] heart” (Shelley 48). Frankenstein’s monster is the culmination of the unnatural lifestyle Frankenstein lived working towards his unnatural goal, and his disgust for his creation parallels his disgust for himself. When Frankenstein’s monster goes out into the world he causes horror in the same way the unnatural act of segregation caused horror.
In The Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives us the beatitudes, which are a set of rules for the newly forming Christian faith. In his sermon the two beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land” and “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” relate well to the previously discussed literature. Jesus wants us to realize that there are negative aspects of being natural such as being meek or being persecuted by unnatural people, but Jesus want us to know that natural people will be rewarded for not choosing an unnatural path. While sitting in our school’s cathedral I realized that I have given into the unnatural, and I have suffered consequences for my actions. This allowed me to look for moments in my life where I was taught to be unnatural and it made me wonder how unnatural I have become.
These four works of literature are interconnected because they reflect on the hostile nature of the natural and the unnatural. “Theology” shows how even the high moral act of practicing ones faith can corrupt us to the unnatural. “Tableau” demonstrates how oppositional the natural and the unnatural are, and how the unnatural seeps into society. Frankenstein shows us how grotesque the unnatural can be while illustrating that the creation of the unnatural is a painful and hard process. The Sermon on the Mount shows us how even though there are visible weaknesses of being natural there are worse consequences for the unnatural, and we will be rewarded for being natural. In conclusion, these four works have given me a better understanding of what it means to be natural and what benefits being natural can have.
Collins, John J., Mary Ann. Getty, and Donald Senior. The Catholic Study Bible: The New American Bible. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.
Meyer, Michael. Poetry: An Introduction. Boston: Bedford/St.Martins, 2013. Print.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. N.p.: Simon & Brown, 2010. Print.