A student sent me this introductory paragraph and thesis:
“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels both show the writers feeling about how man is a corrupt being, and both characters have dangerous lifestyle addictions that end up leading to their downfalls in life, but Shelly uses real places in the world where as Swift decides to make up fictional settings.”
The writer has a very strong start here. Still, he needs to push his thesis one step further, as he knows. It’s incontrovertibly true that Shelley writes about real places and Swift writes about imagined ones. But so what? Why did the writers make those choices? What EFFECT do those choices have? Shockingly, I’ve somehow managed to make it this far without reading Gulliver’s Travels, so I’m faking it a bit, but here are two examples of what I mean:
—Real horror derives from verisimilitude. Because Shelley sets her novel in the real world, her story of corruption and downfall seems frighteningly plausible. In contrast, Swift’s decision to set his story in fictional lands makes his story more fantastical than frightening.
—Because Swift is critiquing very real people and events, he must set his tale in an imagined land. To set it in the real world would turn his sophisticated satire into a lightly fictionalized essay. Shelley, on the other hand, is tackling more general questions (What responsibility do we bear when we create life? Does addiction inevitably lead to immorality?); she has no real-world targets, and can therefore comfortably set her story in the real world.
See what I mean? Think more about what it means that Frankenstein’s monster is lumbering around Geneva, whereas Gulliver is hanging out in Lilliput.