Frankenstein - The Humanity of the Monster Essay
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Frankenstein - The Humanity of the Monster
Sometimes, in novels like Frankenstein, the motives of the author are unclear. It is clear however, that one of the many themes Mary Shelley presents is the humanity of Victor Frankenstein's creation. Although she presents evidence in both support and opposition to the creation's humanity, it is apparent that this being is indeed human. His humanity is not only witnessed in his physical being, but in his intellectual and emotional thoughts as well. His humanity is argued by the fact that being human does not mean coming from a specific genetic chain and having family to relate to, but to embrace many of the distinct traits that set humans apart from other animals in this…show more content…
As any human would, Phil seeks food, comfort, and shelter, even before he knew what adequate shelter was. On page 131, Phil states that he longs to obtain food and shelter, but the sight of a hut was new to him. Of course, Phil never obtains any adequate shelter and is sustained only by what he can obtain from the forest (berries, roots, etc.).
It is normal for any animal on this earth to join it's own society, group, herd, or pack. North American wolf packs are notorious for having a social system where one wolf becomes the outcast. The story of the "Lone Wolf" (sometimes referred to as the omega wolf) is one very similar to Phil's. The Lone Wolf, though he is no less of a wolf than any other, must endure a life of exile and hardship, often fighting for himself, against odds. Social exile is not as uncommon as one would think, however it is the main argument against Phil's humanity. This isn't to say that Phil does not want to join human society, for he makes a number of unsuccessful initial attempts, but is driven away every time (136). By this it can be viewed that Phil has no living connections in the world. This is perhaps the greatest argument that Shelley makes against Phil's humanity.
His unsuccessful attempts at interacting with humans only discourage him temporarily, as his wanderings bring him to the cottage of a poor, exiled French family. During his
We all know what Frankenstein’s monster looks like: he looks like Boris Karloff. But, at one time, he looked like a Roman senator — and, another time, like a weird clown. First, though, he was black marks on a white page. The story of the pale student, his pale creature, their multiple killings, their failed attempts at marriage, and their deaths on the ice urgently pose the question: What would it be like to see this?
The answers to that question, in the form of plays, movies, comic books, and graphic novels began in 1823 with the first stage production and have not stopped coming since. In Shelley’s novel, the Creature’s face as a textual entity allows the reader a more subtle and moving emotional experience than either stage or the movies do, but theatrical and cinematic depictions offer a more viscerally appealing, and perhaps more intimate experience, than the book.
Promotional photograph of Boris Karloff as the Creature in 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein, directed by James Whale and produced by Universal Pictures. NYPL, Billy Rose Theatre Division
Playbill for an 1827 stage production of Richard Brinsley Peake’s Presumption! or, The Fate of Frankenstein. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection
Promotional material for the 1910 Edison film version of Frankenstein. NYPL, Billy Rose Theatre Division
The Creature comes face to face with readers surprisingly few times in the novel. Here’s the first moment, described by his creator, Victor Frankenstein: “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.... How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! — Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion, and straight black lips.” This is the most extended description of the Creature’s face, and it’s never been fully used in any enacted version. It is free of moral judgment, though full of disgust and horror.
Mary Shelley’s draft of Frankenstein, 1816–17 (fol. 21r); the opening of Chapter V. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries
Mary Shelley’s draft of Frankenstein, 1816–17 (fol. 21r); the opening of Chapter V. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries
But Frankenstein soon imputes immorality to the Creature as part of its ugliness: a flash of lightning “discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy daemon to whom I had given life.” While this is Victor Frankenstein’s most consistent way of relating to the monster — he’s a father who hates his child, reacting as if it were an entirely alien being — Shelley also reinforces the characters’ similarities. The two prospective bridegrooms join in a pursuit, a far more passionate partnership than any other in the book. This double vision creates the visceral conflict between what Frankenstein thinks and what the reader feels.
When the Creature discovers himself, he quite agrees with Frankenstein’s assessment of his work. This occurs during his idyll in the forest, learning about human culture from the De Lacey family of Felix, Agatha, and her blind father: “I had admired the perfect forms of my cottagers — their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions: but how was I terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” Shelley’s overwhelming emphasis is on the horror and ugliness of the Creature’s face. Secondarily, it is on the pity that comes from that horror. She has powerful instruments by which to convey both the horror and the pity: above all, she has first-person narrative.
The most touching of Frankenstein’s narratives occurs when the Creature relates his education. After finding copies of Plutarch, Milton, and Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, he reads with avidity that produces in him “an infinity of new images and feelings.” This accidental education is moving partly because it responds to every child’s wish to be saved, to be cherished, to be given all that one needs — something that neither the Creature nor Mary Shelley experienced.
After the Creature relates his tale, Frankenstein acquiesces to his plea for a mate, in return for which the Creature promises to live a vegetarian life in the wilds of America, far from the eyes of human beings. The tale retains its power over readers long after Frankenstein has lost patience for the Creature and his demand for a mate — intensifying the disparity of sympathy between the reader and Frankenstein. Shelley surely wanted readers to feel this disparity, but the power of the narratives limits the degree to which the novel allows us to identify with the Creature. Although our sympathy never quite disappears, the moment when Frankenstein destroys the Creature’s bride marks a final turn toward the deathly for both of them. It is as if the Creature were too good a philosopher to be allowed to win. This is one of the secrets of the novel’s enduring grip. The Creature has both reason and sympathy on his side; Victor has, on his, instinctual antagonism against the horror that he has created.
If the Creature had retained its power of speech in Richard Brinsley Peake’s 1823 stage adaptation, the shifting point of view would also have been preserved. But a speechless creature is truly handicapped. Once the Creature has been muted, a number of changes in the dominant tone take place. The first casualty is our feeling of kinship with him; the second is our kinship with Victor Frankenstein, which grows in the novel after the narrative returns to his point of view. The third is the novel's peculiar ambiguity, with its uncertain pointing to Victor as the hero.
But the narrative also makes gains when the story is transferred to the stage and screen, chief among them humor. Although we know from her letters that Mary Shelley had a sense of humor, there's not a funny moment her novel. Peake's fabulously successful Presumption! or, The Fate of Frankenstein is leavened with comic figures: a stupid servant and his marginally more clever wife, who sing funny songs, are given humorous turns throughout the play. Among the five different settings of the play in 1823, several were flat-out comedies — one a farce by Peake himself, called Another Piece of Presumption, in which the characters have names such as Frankenstitch, Frizzy, Shovelhat, and Hobgoblin.
The Creature, too, became funny. Even the first illustration, from 1831, shows the Creature comically confounded at its own existence. The black lips, yellow skin, dun sockets make loathsome reading. On stage, though, the Creature would look jaundiced. So when Peake dramatized the novel, the Creature became blue. A Times of London review described him bursting "on to the stage ... a tall light blue figure, with a white face and long black hair!"
Mr. T. P. Cooke, of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden, in the character of the monster in Richard Brinsley Peake’s 1823 stage adaptation of Frankenstein. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection
The frontispiece of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein featured the first visual depiction of Frankenstein and the Creature. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection
Director James Whale’s paradigmatic 1931 film famously silences the Creature. It also brutalizes the creator. In their longest scene together, Frankenstein uses a torch and whip to torture the Creature. The intimacy of the close-up shot allows the Creature, if not to speak, at least to convey the misery he endures.
Once abstracted from the story, the Creature becomes shorthand for anything overgrown, misshapen or threatening. In 19th-century Britain, the Creature was put to the service of racist or xenophobic purposes. The Creature retains its iconic fertility today.
A mob prepares to hang the Creature in a scene from the 1935 Universal Pictures film Bride of Frankenstein, directed by James Whale. NYPL, Billy Rose Theatre Division
As a political symbol during the 19th century, Frankenstein represented both Reconstruction efforts in the U.S., and workers’ rights upheavals in England. In a satirical cartoon by Sir John Tenniel published in Punch on September 8, 1866, tiny John Bright, M.P., a supporter of workers’ suffrage, does his best to avoid the monstrous shadow of “The Brummagem Frankenstein,” that is, the working man. In Birmingham — working-class pronunciation was “Brummagem” — a reform demonstration drew an estimated 250,000 workers. As the cartoon’s caption notes: “The unwillingness of Parliament to accept any measure of Reform had aroused a wide-spread discontent amongst the working classes. A monster gathering was held at Birmingham in August.” NYPL, Print Collection
“One of the graces making a man; or, Frankenstein outdone,” an 1827 satirical cartoon about the making of the Duke of St. Albans. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection
Typical outfits worn by Swiss peasants, ca. 1800–1825, perhaps of the type that the De Lacey family would have worn. NYPL, Picture Collection
Boris Karloff, as the Creature, and Marilyn Harris, as Maria, in a scene from the 1931 film Frankenstein, directed by James Whale and produced by Universal Pictures. NYPL, Billy Rose Theatre Division