Daily we wear marks on our bodies that tell some piece of our story. How often do we take ownership of those stories and tell them in the way we want them to be known? Too often outsiders make assumptions, ask insensitive questions, pass judgement, or assign meaning to these memory markers. I wanted to encourage students to write their own versions of the stories behind their marks. Are these marks imperfections or embellishments? Marks of growing stronger or grappling to overcome loss? Full disclosure, I began thinking of scars because of the requirement for our 10th grade honors students to read Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein. Former students claimed to be as scarred by stumbling through the difficult novel as Victor’s Creature was by his creator’s greed. Scars and our marks became the link between the classic to our present.
For us to better relate to the struggle between Victor and his Creature, we began by cataloguing our marksㄧbirthmarks, scars, moles, burns, streaks, frecklesㄧthrough journaling. From there, the amazing Amelia Gramling, poet and resident artist with PAGES, guided us as we brainstormed our most meaningful marks and the physical regions where we feel our strength lies. Using concrete metaphors, we brought description and insights to parts of the body. We pre-wrote communally, passing the page from writer to writer. Each first line began with a metaphor, the middle two lines showed action, and the final line included another metaphor. A student example for the hand was: “The hand is a feather/ Moving delicately across the page/ Flying free through the air/A hummingbird.”
We moved from prewriting to reflecting and shaping the stories we wanted to tell about our individual scars. A red patch of skin on an ankle became a story about walking over a rocky shore into the ocean for the first time. An indention on the chin told a tale of walking the family dog down a little stretch of sidewalk before the dog bolted, taking the walker with him. Stretch marks on the back of legs acted as a reminder of outgrowing the title of smallest kid in the class.
In Frankenstein, the Creature’s physical scars carry no bearing on his self worth until he attempted to interact with another living being. The Creature’s realization about how others saw him led to the story behind his origin. Chased off because of his disfigurement and intimidating size, the Creature spirals into loneliness prompted by misunderstanding, fear, judgment, and rejection. I feel that, through our writing and sharing, we empathized with the Creature’s struggles and conquered some of our own. We tapped into our insecurities by bringing to the light these imperfections we were taught or encouraged to cover up.
Our next step was to map our discoveries symbolically on the outline of a body. Bringing our stories together, we took on the roles of both Victor and the Creature as we created a single life-sized body where we individually sketched our chosen marks. Our stories were stitched together on this body just as Victor pieced together his creation. But where the Creature never found his voice or acceptance in what he was and where he came from, we supported each other in sharing our vulnerability through storytelling. We declared what could be seen and what remained hidden within; we gave power to each other’s stories through acknowledgement and shared experience.
The outcome was commiseration for the Creature and each other. We gained a better understanding of the novel and developed a stronger understanding of ourselves and our class community. We aren’t the only ones who experience observers putting their spin on our stories. We all know the line, “It’s alive!” and probably think of Frankenstein, except this quotable exclamation wasn’t penned by Mary Shelley in her novel. Hollywood added this line to the 1931 film version. Students know the line, but now they know the truth behind it all. With a bit of coaxing, writing, and mapping, we uncovered that the Frankenstein of their Halloween memories is far from Victor’s Creature. He’s actually much closer to us than originally thought if we take some time to comprehend his story and open up about those marks that record our own.