What's the purpose of Mary Shelley?
September 6, 2018 7:41 AM   Subscribe

From Frankenstein. Why does the monster often use an archaic word-thou- when he talks to Frankenstein? What's the difference between you and thou here actually? I'd like to know its effect when the archaic word is used in the story.Thank you.
posted by mizukko to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
While rarely used at the time of the writing of the story, it implies a greater intimacy or equality than "you." Like Du/Sie, tu/vous, tu/usted.
posted by praemunire at 7:49 AM on September 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Thou" originally was just the second person singular pronoun, but it quickly evolved to signify familiarity, like "tu" in French or Spanish.

However, the specific connotation she might have been going for was the use of "thou"/"thee" over "you" when addressing God, which was quite common among Protestants at the time, especially in hymns. Frankenstein was the monster's Creator, so it makes sense for him to address Frankenstein as one might address God.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:51 AM on September 6, 2018 [25 favorites]

I believe the monster is emphasizing the closeness of their connection, and yeah, the creator connection that tobascodagama talks about factors into it.

Here's some history of thou and you.

This page talks about its use in Elizabethan drama, but has tidbits that might still be of use to you.
posted by gudrun at 7:57 AM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh! Frankenstein also uses archaic words,
like,-Abhorred monster! fiend that thou art! the tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes.- Then, he continues by using "you"! -Wretched devil! you reproach me with your creation. come on, then, that I may extinguish the spark which I so negligently bestowed. - It's not easy for me to taste (understand)? its nuance.Sigh.
posted by mizukko at 9:10 AM on September 6, 2018

I think a lot of the archaism is just due to the book itself being a kind of creation narrative. Creator and created converse in a higher register.

(Ahahahah, I forgot that the book literally includes an equivalent of "Come at me, bro!!!")
posted by praemunire at 9:28 AM on September 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've read that Frankenstein's diction had been more informal, but Percy Shelley changed it while "helping," presumably to make it more erudite. Here is some info on his edits, though I can't find the article that specifically discussed the formal diction.
posted by mermaidcafe at 9:45 AM on September 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

In rural North Yorkshire in 1975 the Land Rover I was driving between two farms had a mechanical problem, which meant I had to stop at the side of the road. A local labourer (about 40-50) was walking by and, after I explained the problem, he asked me "Canst thou drive tractor?" It was the first and only time I've been addressed as Thou, but it wasn't that long ago.
posted by TristanPK at 12:04 PM on September 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

That person may have been religious. Many Dissenting sects insisted on using "thou" rather than "you," and I believe that practice survives in some splinter groups down to this day.
posted by praemunire at 12:59 PM on September 6, 2018

No, there's a few English dialect variations that still thee and thou without religion having anything to do with it. Old Bristolian for instance, hardly ever heard seriously now, "Casn't thee, my babby?"
posted by glasseyes at 3:14 PM on September 6, 2018

Some of the archaisms maybe intended to reflect how the creature learnt language - he learnt to read using Paradise Lost, which might plausibly make his speech quaint.

They still say thee and thou in parts of Yorkshire today; it's not reflective of the speaker's religious beliefs there, it's just part of the dialect in that region. But Frankenstein isn't set in Yorkshire so I doubt that explains the creature's usage.
posted by Ballad of Peckham Rye at 3:30 PM on September 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

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