Essay: Doppelganger Theme in Frankenstein and How Freud Analyze it in the Uncanny

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Doubling in Frankenstein

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus is a cautionary tale of the dangers of taking the power of life and death into one's own hands. First published in 1818, and then edited and republished in 1831, Frankenstein explores the relationship between Victor Frankenstein, the proverbial mad scientist, and his creation, the Monster. Through this relationship, the reader is able to better understand how doppelgangers manifest themselves in literature and how Sigmund Freud's concept of the uncanny, or das unheimliche, and id, ego, and superego influence the creation of horror in Frankenstein.

In Frankenstein, Shelley creates two distinct monsters, Victor Frankenstein and the Monster. Through the creation of this duality, Shelley is able to create a feeling of what Freud refers to as the uncanny. Freud describes the uncanny as "that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar." Furthermore, he argues, "Something has to be added to what is novel and unfamiliar in order to make it uncanny" (Freud). One of the ways in which the uncanny manifests itself is through the creation of the doppelganger, which makes it initially appear as though Frankenstein is more innocent than the Monster when in reality, it is his appearance and demeanor, or the perception thereof, that hide the fact that he is the true monster of this tale. In Frankenstein, Frankenstein's monstrous nature arises from his desire to control the creation and destruction of life, to become God. Frankenstein is driven by his thirst for knowledge, which encouraged him to further study the works of "natural philosophers" like Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus. Guided by these philosophers, Frankenstein "entered with the greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life; but the latter soon obtained [his] undivided attention" (Shelley). Furthermore, "[a]fter days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, [he] succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, [he] became…capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter" (Shelley).

Frankenstein is able to hide his monstrous nature behind his intellect and apparently unending desire to uncover the secrets of life and death. At this point in Frankenstein's creative process, he is driven by Freud's concept of the ego, "that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world" (Freud, the Ego and the Id). The ego does not differentiate between right and wrong, but rather seeks a realistic, and the most feasible, avenue for instant gratification. Because Frankenstein eschewed social conventions and moral behavior and thought, it can thus be argued that he is driven by his ego and is devoid of a superego -- or there is an unbalance thereof -- because the superego's function is control the id's impulses and lead to the formation of an idealized self (McLeod).

It is also possible that a latent response from his superego also influenced his behavior because Frankenstein was able to recognize his mistake as soon as the Monster was brought to life, however, not a minute before. Upon realizing what he had done, Frankenstein "rushed out of the room…traversing [his] bedchamber…threw [himself] on the bed…endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness" (Shelley). Paradoxically, Frankenstein does not seek to correct the problem, nor does he feel guilt, but rather wants to forget what happened, and abandons the defenseless Monster. Frankenstein purposefully created the Monster to be ostracized by society and cannot bring himself to care for it or help it transition into society. Furthermore, he refuses to comfort the Monster and create a companion for him, because he finally realizes that to do so would be immoral and unethical. Although Frankenstein has the ability to create a secondary, female companion for the Monster, he prevented from doing so by his superego -- as he no longer wants to consider himself a god nor bring further destruction into the world -- and by fear. Frankenstein believes that a female monster will be more destructive than the Monster and that she would be "ten thousand times more malignant that her mate, and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness" (Shelley). What is more, Frankenstein considers the possibility that the female monster would reject the Monster and turn to the "superior beauty of man" (Shelley). It is in this fear of the unknown, and the endless horrific possibilities of a second creation that the uncanny can be seen. Frankenstein is simultaneously familiar with the behavior and appearance of the Monster, and while he would hope a female counterpart would be content with the Monster, the unpredictability of a female monster creates unfamiliarity. It is Frankenstein's refusal to create a secondary monster, and to have a chance at a normal life (as normal as the Monster can have), that pushes the Monster to embrace what Frankenstein has thought him to be -- an evil creature -- and seek revenge on his creator, and depriving him of his companions, which further emphasizes the doppelganger qualities in both man and creature.

While Frankenstein has been depicted as being outwardly human and innocent and inwardly monstrous, the Monster, up until Frankenstein's refusal of the creation of a mate, has been depicted as outwardly monstrous and inwardly innocent and human. Frankenstein's rejection of the Monster forced him to question his existence, question his role in society, and to learn acceptable behaviors by observing others, much like a small child would. Based on his previous experiences of rejection, by both Frankenstein and the general public, the Monster remains detached from social interactions despite him wanting to participate. The Monster reminisces, "What chiefly struck me was the gentle manners of these people, and I longed to join them, but dared not…[remembering] too well the treatment I had suffered the night before from the barbarous villagers" (Shelley). Because of these rejections, and because he does not yet know how the world operates, the Monster has to rely on his id, the part of his psyche that reacts to an individual's instincts. It is through the id that the Monster begins to understand himself and his role in society. Driven by his desire for food and shelter, the Monster transitions into the development of the ego and the superego, which when compared to Frankenstein, are reversed. The Monster's superego begins to be formed through his observations of the De Lacey family and by reading.

Like Frankenstein, the Monster is influenced by what he reads, however, while Frankenstein is obsessed with the creation of life, the Monster focuses on the meaning of life. During this time, the Monster reads Plutarch's Lives, the Sorrows of Young Werther, and Paradise Lost. However, due to his innocence and isolation from others, the Monster is not able to fully comprehend or relate to the majority of the characters he reads about (Shelley). However, the Monster is able to see himself in Adam in Paradise Lost because he is the first of a new race, created in God's image. He does not consider himself to be a monster, as the world sees him, because even "Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him" (169). As Adam was created in God's own image, the Monster is a "filthy type of [Frankenstein's image], more horrid from the very resemblance" (Shelley). It is through this comparison to Adam that the Monster, and the reader, recognizes that it is the manifestation of Frankenstein's monstrous, creative, and destructive nature. The Monster's appearance is a reflection of who Frankenstein truly is, and thus, through his resolve to destroy Frankenstein, is not only bringing about his own destruction, but also relieving the world of a destructively creative force, thus ensuring that Frankenstein, nor anybody else, will have the knowledge and the power to control life and death.

Secondary doubling can be seen between Shelley herself and her creations of Frankenstein and the Monster. In "My Monster/My Self," Barbara Johnson argues that Frankenstein "the story of a man who usurps the female role by physically giving birth to a child" (Johnson 248). Birthing something that is dead is a concept that Shelley was all too familiar with. The majority of the children that Shelley gave birth to did not live past childhood; her first daughter died days after her birth in 1815, her son -- William -- died at the age of three, Clara died shortly after turning one, and she miscarried her last child weeks before her husband died. Only her fourth child, a boy named Percy Florence, would survive and live to be 80. In addition to seeing herself as Frankenstein, Shelley also saw herself as the Monster, who was abandoned at the moment of birth. Shelley was abandoned by her mother, like the Monster, as soon as she was born, however, while Frankenstein's abandonment of his creation was voluntary, Shelley's abandonment was not as her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died shortly after giving birth. It can be argued that Freud's uncanny manifested itself in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Doppelganger Theme in Frankenstein and How Freud Analyze it in the Uncanny.  (2013, May 3).  Retrieved May 26, 2019, from

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"Doppelganger Theme in Frankenstein and How Freud Analyze it in the Uncanny."  3 May 2013.  Web.  26 May 2019. <>.

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"Doppelganger Theme in Frankenstein and How Freud Analyze it in the Uncanny."  May 3, 2013.  Accessed May 26, 2019.