Reconstructing the Human Experience

Jacob George

In Shelly Jackson's Patchwork Girl , Victor Frankenstein's worst nightmare has been realized: the female companion to his unnamed eighteenth century creation not only survived, but is alive and well in the twentieth century. Created in a format which illustrates the participatory role of the reader in hypertext, Jackson's Patchwork Girl is a fascinating interactive experience; ideologically speaking, however, as a logical survivor from Victor's labratory she falls a bit short.

Jackson's tale begins with these words:

I am buried here. You can resurrect me, but only piecemeal. If you want to see the whole, you will have to put me together yourself.

Patchwork Girl is at its best when the reader is active, using the various lexias to construct his or her own version of the so-called modern monster. In other words, the monster will remain buried and alone until someone ambitious comes along willing to participate in Jackson's sewing class. There is no creation, in essence, without the reader's human touch. The ideological discrepancy with Mary Shelley's novel is darkly ironic: all that Victor's creation really desired (according to him, anyway) out of his companion was to escape humanity permanently. While his modern counterpart openly asks for human assistance, the original creation wanted no contact with humans whatsoever, not surprising given his treatment by them in the novel.

These divergent approaches to human contact become all the more apparent with Jackson's My Body , a patchwork of anecdotes and experiences which uses the hypertext format to help illustrate how we construct our own identities. Each body part links to a different story or rumination, ranging from graphic descriptions of scraped knees to the author's hilarious ongoing internal battle over whether or not to shave her legs. Jackson's body is a treasure chest of memories and experiences which provide the reader with vivid visual images. Yet once again any sort of analogy to a Frankenstein-esque reconstruction of identity would be sorely misplaced.

The effectiveness of Jackson's body comes when the reader realizes that each and every one of us (humans, that is) possess a similar cornucopia of lush experiences that make us who we are. But stitching ourselves together in Jackson's fashion does not make us Frankenstein's creations. No, Victor's grotesque creation was thrown into the world without the benefit of memories or experience. He had to start from scratch in a world which refused to accept or assist him. After reading Jackson, one might exclaim: "ah, we are all constructed in this way; what a warm and fuzzy realization!" Victor's creation, on the other hand, should he choose to surf the web (if the Patchwork Girl is alive, why shouldn't he be as well?) , would more likely comment: "you would not let me be human, much less give me a companion in my lonliness. You could never hope to understand my experiences."

To compare a hypertext experience which invites all readers to add their own human essence with Frankenstein's monster is to laugh in the poor guy's face. Let's give him a break, and show some human compassion, ok? Of course, Victor's creation certainly did exhibit some humanesque qualities. After all, despite his clear disdain for the human race, he did feel an urge to share his story in the end with a tell-all confession, did he not?

Discussion of Patchwork
Girl Patchwork Girl Overview Screen
for Website Body and Self