(with reference to Frankenstein and Blade Runner) 

The comparative study of texts and context can be murky waters for many, but that boils down to a lack of understanding at what the question is asking. Context generally refers to what is happening outside the text at the time it is being created – this can refer to societies beliefs and values at the time, and what is happening in the world, whether it is in reference to politics, technological advancements and much more. Although a text begins from the creator’s imagination, it is affected by all of these external influences greatly.

Context consists of 3 main facets: the Historical, Social and Cultural (HSC). These three aspects of context are interrelated and tend to overlap a lot when you are writing your essay. This is why it is important to integrate context into every text you study in this module

  • The time period of any text you study affects the way you see it. Although the world is an ever changing place, we see that much of human nature remains the same, evident through history repeating itself time and time again.
  • Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein (1818) draws upon galvanism and the industrial movement and Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner (1992) has been heavily influenced by Thatcherism and Reagonomics.
  • Despite there being over 150 years between their compositions, both these texts explore several common themes such as mankind’s loss of humanity and societies obsessed with the pursuit of science and technology
  • Frankenstein and Blade Runner explore the theme of man attempting to play God which is evoked through allusions to the Promethean myth, as both texts present protagonists who steal the gift of the Gods, in this case life, and are gravely punished for doing so.

The Romantic Movement was a key influence that shaped Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein due to the representations of the imagination, individualism and “the enchanting appearance of nature.” This movement was a reaction against the Enlightenment which embraced reason, philosophy and science. This rapid progress of science had induced fear in the masses, something Mary Shelley articulated in Frankenstein. Victor’s myopic hubris of “chasing nature into her hiding places” as he seeks to assume God’s prerogative, is foreshadowed by his father’s personality early in the text.

Blade Runner provides another example of how a text is subject to the influences of contextual forces. It portrays a pessimistic view of the future which represents the striking changes that took place in America during the 1980s. Issues such as globalisation, environmental chaos, technology, consumerism, commerce and population explosions are highlighted through the texts, weaving our society with humanity’s deepest fears. There is also an emphasis on the absence of nature – represented through synthetic animals and the motif of the constant rain which is oppressive instead of purifying.

These different contexts can also have many similar characteristics (to a certain extent) and this should always be mentioned in your response. For example, Blade Runner encapsulates Shelley’s original warning against the Machiavellian pursuit of science and technology and takes it to the next level. This is done by presenting it in a postmodern context where science and technology have advanced beyond the point of return.