Frankenstein -- a Critique of the Monster Essay

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Frankenstein -- a Critique of the Monster and the Family

He approached; his countenance bespoke bitter anguish, combined with disdain and malignity, while its unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes. Mary Shelly, Frankenstein

When Frankenstein was adapted for stage in 1823 the production's title was Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein. A Victorian audience was concerned with the theme of a man's ambition to replace God by creating a new species. Equal emphasis was placed on this aspect of the novel in the 1831 introduction of Frankenstein, "It is Mary Shelly's critique of where such highly abstracted creative powers can lead when put in a 'realizing' scientific context and then driven along by 'lofty ambition' and 'high destiny' (p.204) that we see in the pages of Frankenstein" The novel was controversial in that it went against the traditional religious ideas of the time; Victorian morality held that God was the Almighty Creator. However, modern readers, with less restricted moral boundaries to those of the Victorians, likely see Victor's main crime within the novel more the perverse way in which the creation is carried out and more importantly Victor's failure to nurture the offspring; his crime is against the traditional framework of the family (See:Feldman, et.al., 1987).Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on Frankenstein -- a Critique of the Monster Assignment

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, was published in 1818, anonymously; with Mary Shelley's name appearing in the 1831-second edition. The book combines numerous elements of the Gothic novel, the Romantic revolution, warnings against industrialization, and philosophical concerns about the power of Man vs. God. To contemporary audiences, the plot is simple: a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, learns to create life in the "image" of man, but one larger than average and more powerful. Over the course of time, Frankenstein's creation learns to fear man, and spends a year living near a cottage and observing the family he never had. It is through these observations that the creature evolves his humanity -- his physical appearance may be different, but his soul cries out for the same things as an human -- love, compassion, company, friendship, conversation, and simply to "belong." The creature finally confronts Frankenstein, demanding a true family and father, and begs for a companion, since no human will accept him. The creature promises that if Frankenstein makes a female companion for him, he will never again appear in the scientists' life. Frankenstein agrees, but then becomes fearful of the power two such creatures might have, he and his assistant Clerval destroy the new creation. In fury, the creature kills Clerval, and Frankenstein is imprisoned for the crime, becoming violently ill. Frankenstein is finally acquitted and returns home to marry his cousin Elizabeth, knowing full well that his creature has now vowed to destroy Frankenstein's family, since the creature cannot have a family of its own. The creature does indeed kill Elizabeth, and the rest of the novel is the pursuit and final confrontation between Frankenstein and his "child," ending up in the Arctic; where Frankenstein dies as the creature appears in his room. The captain of the ship, Walton, finishes the story by telling of the creature's lamentations and sorrow for the violence that has followed his short and unhappy life. The creature then leaves the ship and travels further north, vowing to destroy himself on his own funeral pyre so that he would be released from his pain of loneliness and humanity would never know of his existence.

Despite the modern film prejudice, Frankenstein is more concerned with the interrelationships between family members, the power that a Father has over his children, and the wisdom necessary to create. In addition, the abject humanity, ego, and self-awareness become central to the creature's own journey through life -- finally realizing that it is the creature who has the more developed soul and compassion, but the external defines his place within the society of the time.

Shelley, of course, drew inspiration from Ovid's "Prometheus" mythos. Prometheus stole fire from heaven to create the first human in the same manner that Victor Frankenstein drew the power of electricity from above -- all to create a new species. While Prometheus ostensibly used his power for the good of mankind, Frankenstein's motives seem far more self-centered and egomaniacal -- he has the power to create, so why should he not use it? He has abandoned his family with the following rationale: "A new species would bless me as its creator and source... no father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs' (54).

Moreover, Victor's actions suggest a fear of normal human sexuality. His solitary creation of a being is a direct rejection of the role of the female; it is a rejection of the natural biological responsibilities between men and women. Victor purposefully isolates himself from his family, escaping the suffocating 'silken cord' (34) of domesticity to carry out his scientific experiments. Shelley symbolically presents this laboratory as a womblike 'workshop of filthy creation' (55). The actions following the moment of creation are central to a study of Victor's crimes against normal family values. The Monster appears childlike, reaching out towards his creator and attempting to utter sounds. Victor is appalled at the grotesque nature of this being and reacts by abandoning it.

This first instance of abandonment, from the Monster's perspective, forms the very basis of his subsequent psychological development and is a key event in his initial inability to process morality. In effect, Victor's abandonment of his creation is a direct rejection from its potential family -- and the creature's potential in life. In Percy Shelley's preface to Frankenstein the central function of the family is described as 'the exhibition of the amiableness of domestic affection'. In the Monster, Mary Shelley presents a character who is entirely rejected by those around him, a character who tragically longs for nothing but acceptance. Ironically, this sense of horror and revulsion did not seem an issue when the creature was not ambulatory, "he was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion," (87).

Victor's perversion of natural human sexuality in this creation scene is continued in a dream. The dream is a device typically used in Gothic fiction to present the inner most thoughts and desires of a character's psyche. Victor dreams that he goes to kiss Elizabeth, who then transforms into the corpse of his mother. Ideas of incest, such as this, are apparent throughout the novel - for instance, Victor's relationship with his adopted sister Elizabeth. While this relationship is presented as one of idealistic childhood companionship, Shelley deliberately shifts Victor's narrative to a darker tone with the prophetic statement 'more my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only' (36). This is an intimation of future unrest in a relationship to which Victor is apprehensive to commit. Certainly, this is quite anti-Victorian, and combined with the idea that ugly cannot be good, or ugly cannot be beautiful, comprises not the creature's defect, but Frankenstein and humanity's inability to fully understand the nature of the soul (Gigante, 2007, 567-72).

It is important to consider Victor's hostile attitude to forming a relationship with his adoptive Elizabeth when discussing his rejection of normal human sexuality. Elizabeth is a character who is presented in a positive spiritual light with her 'celestial eyes' and 'saintly soul' (38). Yet, to Victor 'the idea of an immediate union with my Elizabeth was one of horror and dismay' (151). Victor's wedding night is the point at which Victor must confront his fear of normal human sexuality. Victor literally turns his back on his bride, leaving her alone with the Monster, enabling it to carry out its earlier threat of: 'I will be with you on your wedding night'. The Monster destroys Elizabeth; not out of lust or anger, but in order to emotionally wound Victor. Ironically, these actions actually save Victor from facing his fear of human sexuality and a future trapped in a world of domesticity, once again providing a complete contradiction between the family and the isolation Victor engenders in his life.

It is possible to further consider Victor's crimes towards the family by placing both Victor and his creation within a displaced Oedipal paradigm; the basis for which is the idea of possessing the mother and destroying the father. Both Victor and the Monster are motherless, and upon seeing the cameo of Victor's deceased mother on William's body, the Monster is filled with jealousy and a need for possession. The second element of the complex is the need to harm the father - this is achieved by the Monster through his attacks of the members of Victor's relatives, bride, and an outrage to punish the creator for having the ability, but not the compassion and sense, of bringing him into the world.

In Shelley's literature, mother figures are notably absent. Among her other works Lodore, Falkner and Mathilda are concerned with family affairs, focusing on father-daughter relations in light of the absence… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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