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Monstrosity In Frankenstein Essay Examples

The Monstrous In Frankenstein

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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or; The Modern Prometheus, published in , is a product of its time. Written in a world of social, political, scientific and economic upheaval it highlights human desire to uncover the scientific secrets of our universe, yet also confirms the importance of emotions and individual relationships that define us as human, in contrast to the monstrous. Here we question what is meant by the terms ‘human’ and ‘monstrous’ as defined by the novel. Yet to fully understand how Frankenstein defines these terms we must look to the etymology of them. The novel however, defines the terms through its main characters, through the themes of language, nature versus nurture, forbidden knowledge, and the doppelganger motif. Shelley also shows us, in Frankenstein, that although juxtaposing terms, the monstrous being everything human is not, they are also intertwined, in that you can not have one without the other. There is also an overwhelming desire to know the monstrous, if only temporarily and this calls into question the influence the monstrous has on the human definition.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) describes ‘human’ as being ‘Of, belonging to, or characteristic of mankind, distinguished from animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright posture.’ (OED). The term ‘monstrous’ is described as ‘The condition or fact of being abnormally developed or grossly malformed.’ (OED) Yet, we as humans define ourselves not just on biological terms but socially and spiritually too. In Frankenstein the Monster, who by his very label and beginnings implies a perfect example of monstrosity is, in fact, articulate and erect yet is still not considered human in the traditional sense. It is his eventual spiritual and social malformation that fully defines him as monstrous.

Even as language plays a huge part in the definition of human, as taken from the OED, the narration, and thus language, in Frankenstein also helps to define the terms ‘monstrous’ and ‘human’. As the monster discovered, language is intertwined with culture (Brooks ). He is on the side of nature, a deformed creature of appearance, and upon catching sight of his reflection understands not to show himself to the cottagers, of whom he yearns to win the love of, for fear of them fleeing (). He is ‘excluded but learning the means, by which to be included’ () with language. It is the novels stark definition of monstrosity through physical appearance not through acquisition of language that starts the catalyst for corruption of the Monster spiritually and mentally.

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Yet, the monstrous can not be easily classified through physical appearance alone.

The age old debate of nature versus nurture is a theme that runs strongly through the novel. Shelley defines ‘human’ and ‘monstrous’ through examining the nurturing relationships of the characters, for Frankenstein’s lack of parental role with his creation, is ‘monstrously’ neglectful. We see Caroline, Frankenstein’s Mother, nurturing Elizabeth, his sister, back to health, in which his Mother looses her own life as a result and Clerval, his closest friend, nurtures Frankenstein through his illness. The De Lacey's nurturing home also becomes a source of nurturing love for the Monster, as he begins to return their love, and complete truly ‘human’ acts of kindness towards them; for instance; leaving firewood and clearing snow in the winter (Shelley 83). Each nurturing act contrasts strongly with Frankenstein's monstrous neglect of the Monster's needs. Although Frankenstein receives the human quality of love in all its forms, from his family and friends, he never fully gives it in return, so obsessed is he with his creation. However, the Monster easily gives his love to the cottagers and through his expressed wish for companionship shows that his capacity for love is great. ‘He requires love in order to become less monstrous, but as he is a monster, love is denied him.’ (Oates ). Shelley is thus blurring the lines between the definitions of monstrous and human by questioning if monstrous is when one is unable to be loved or unable to give love.

On the outskirts of scientific and moral forbidden territory roams the monstrous (Cohen 3) Patrolling the boarders with striking images of what may happen if we ever crossed them. Robert Walton, the frame narrator, and Frankenstein are connected through this desire to cross the borders, either physically into a region that may bring death, or through discoveries in science that bring moral monstrosities. These characters are another example of how Shelley’s definitions of the terms ‘human’ and ‘monstrous’ are intertwined in Frankenstein. Frankenstein’s relentless pursuit to cross into the forbidden destroys lives, the opposite of what he was trying to achieve. Conversely, Walton wisely takes the path that Frankenstein refused, returning home when reaching the boundary of almost certain destruction, in his quest for the North Pole. Shelley allows us to see, through the frame narration of Walton and his epiphany to return home, that Frankenstein’s hubris pursuit of knowledge leads to his downfall. ‘I trod heaven in my thoughts, now exulting in my powers, now burning with the ideas of their effects Oh! My friend, if you had known me as I once was, you would not recognize me in that state of degradation.’ (Shelley ) Walton see’s that Frankenstein’s quest for knowledge, his isolation from those who love him, led to the destruction of himself and those he loved and so turns back from the brink of his own destruction. However, it is only after Frankenstein dies, that he fully accepts that it is the right decision, as if the monstrous in Frankenstein can be defined as an influence on human actions.

Not only does the monstrous protect against the unknown, it stands along side of us, representing something ‘other’ to ourselves (Cohen, 6). Traditionally the term ‘human’ could be defined through ‘monstrous’ being everything human is not. Just as the Monster in Frankenstein kills William, Justine (although not directly), Elizabeth and Clervel he does not view it as murder, but as justified revenge against his creator. ‘Have a care: I will work at your destruction, not finish until I desolate your heart, so that you curse the house of your birth.’ (Shelley ). This defines the monstrous as being able to roam outside the boarders of moral convention. However, Frankenstein puts a human persona on the definition of monstrous, we see the Monster yearning to be human; he learns language and craves love, and conversely Frankenstein as being monstrous; his neglect of his duties, family and friends to the point of destruction of them all. Again, Shelley interweaves the definitions of the two terms through showing that the monstrous is human and the conventional definition of human can incorporate monstrous.

The strong bond found between Frankenstein and his Monster is traditionally known as the doppelganger effect (Oates ), where a living person has a ghostly double haunting him. Here Shelley illustrates that the definitions of ‘monstrous’ and ‘human’ are often just parodies of each other. The Monster represents Frankenstein’s dark side and Frankenstein is the creature’s haunting darkness, both denying the other happiness. They are inextricably entwined with each other, often resembling that of a mind which is torn over a decision; running backwards and forwards from each other, never coming to a safe conclusion. When considered as one person, the combination of Frankenstein and his Monster represents a true definition of human. To express and express and experience that of love and to be loved, joy and compassion, to feel and express the full range of emotions from love of humanity to the need for hateful revenge, desire for knowledge, happiness and fear of death.

Frankenstein, defines the terms human and monstrous through questioning what constitutes them. Love, compassion, a sense of justice defines human yet these same qualities can be found co-existing along side the monstrous. They are terms that represent good and evil but unlike the clear cut definition of good and evil Frankenstein shows us that the human and monstrous are interchangeable. As shown in Frankenstein, our fascination for the monstrous leads us to be influenced by it. So although we define human as being everything the monstrous is not, the monstrous is also part of the definition of human.



Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is an 18th century, Gothic text that encompasses monstrosity, abnormality, murder, and madness. Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the monstrous creature, is subconsciously tied to his creation. Throughout the novel, Victor is constantly pursuing his creature in an attempt to stop his murderous rampage. The definition of monstrous is having the frightening or ugly appearance of a monster or a person or action that is inhumanely or outrageously wrong. The first definition of monstrous could be used to describe the creature and the second definition could be used to describe Victor Frankenstein himself. In the nineteenth century monstrosity was a word used interchangeably with mentally insane. Abnormality in the nineteenth century was centered on same-sex desires and homosexuality. Mary Shelley explores the definition of monstrosity in her novel Frankenstein through the descriptions, actions, and underlying, psychological motives of her characters.

Victor Frankenstein’s creature is an imaginary projection of Victor’s own mind. His subconscious is filled with his repressed urges, fears, and desires. These collectively make up his beloved creature that he is disgusted by once he is brought to life. In Freudian psychology one’s subconscious, which contains the mind’s repressed urges, fears, and desires, is called the Ego. The creature is a representation of Victor’s Ego. According to Mary Poovey in her article ““My Hideous Progeny”: The Lady and the Monster”, she clearly states, “Shelley makes the ego’s destructiveness literal by setting in motion the figurative, symbolic character of the monster” (). Victor becomes obsessed with the idea of bringing life from death. During his time at Ingolstadt, he is isolated and constantly working on his creature. This constant obsessive nature that he becomes stuck in drives his unconscious mind mad. Through his isolation and fascination with the creation of his monster, Victor cuts all ties to his family and friends, which begins his selfish and egotistical behavior. The creature, however, takes these newly found states of mind and puts them into action. Poovey states that Victor Frankenstein’s “benevolent scheme actually acts out the imagination’s essential and deadly self-devotion” (). This means that the creature takes Victor’s unconscious state of mind and projects them as his own actions. Unbeknownst to Victor, the creature is an extension of his own mind, which has been tainted by isolation and a broken childhood. These two factors are major reasons why Victor’s subconscious urges and desires contain violence to his loved ones. In the beginning of the novel, Victor leaves and breaks relationships with his family and his closest friends, which can be seen as figuratively destroying them, and by the end of the novel Victor’s own creation has been put into actin and has literally murdered them (Poovey ). Combined with Victor’s subconscious urges, desires, egotism, and selfishness, Shelley creates an evil, yet misunderstood monster of the mind. Mary Poovey suggests, “The imagination, as it is depicted in Frankenstein’s original transgression, is incapable of projecting an irradiating virtue, for, in aiding and abetting the ego, the imagination expands the individual’s self-absorption to fill the entire universe, and, as it does so, it murders everyone in its path” (). Ultimately, Victor breaks his relationships with his family and friends in order to focus on defying mortality. His success leaves him desolate and alone, which is exactly how the creature has lived his own “life”.

Lars Lunsford agrees with Mary Poovey’s accusation that Victor’s egotism and selfishness begin to take over his mind as he realizes the greatness of his discoveries. Lunsford claims, “Although Victor says he will have to “form [his] own friends” in Ingolstadt, he never does, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, he latches onto the prospect of his reputation and resolves to “enter the world and take [his] station among other[s],” which of course leads him to literally form his own “friend”—the monster (Shelley 93)” (). Victor’s obsession with defying death stems from his childhood, however, the prospect of his reputation and his egotism cloud his view while he creates this creature. Even after the creature comes to life and begins wreaking havoc among the town, Victor will not destroy it, “As Shelley’s novel unfolds, Victor ends up losing three family members and two family friends. Ostensibly, they are victim’s of the monster, but they actually die because of Victor’s desire to maintain his reputation” (Lunsford ). Victor is solely responsible for the deaths of his loved ones. As previously stated, Victor’s broken relationships with his family and friends cause the creature to murder them, and Victor’s selfishness and egotism causes him to stand by and watch as they die. He will not jeopardize his reputation, as a creator and scientist, even if it means he loses his only loved ones.

Looking at the novel from a different Freudian lens, it can be concluded that the novel is made up of a dream. First, Frankenstein is a frame narrative which most literary critics associate with dreams or oral stories told by a character. Secondly, as Victor creates the monster he is sleep deprived and driving himself mentally insane causing the critic to believe that the creature is not only a projection of Victor’s mind, but a dream all together. Lastly, according to Freudian philosophers, during a dream-like state, the boundary between conscious and subconscious becomes permeable and in literature, the motif of water symbolizes this dream-like state. That fact that Walton is on a boat, sailing to the North Pole symbolizes the beginning of the dream, according to Freudians. Martin Tropp agrees with the Freudian viewpoint of the novel in his book, Mary Shelley’s MONSTER: The Story of Frankenstein: “On the deepest level, the story Frankenstein tells Walton is a long dream, resonating with the force of nightmare” (19). During dreams, one’s repressed feelings surface into the imagination. This explains why Victor’s “dream” becomes a nightmare, “Mrs. Shelley clearly ties the inspiration of the young scientist to repressed anger and suggests that his search to explore scientific mysteries is, in part, an exploration of the secrets within himself” (Tropp 21). As Victor searches for a scientific answer to his question of defying mortality, he unknowingly finds his repressed and dark subconscious desires. He is the creator of his own nightmare. Tropp explains, “The Monster, resurrected from the remnants of the dead, embodies all those destructive impulses long buried within its creator” (24). By bringing life from death, Victor also brings to life his egotism, his selfishness, and his own subconscious monstrosity. These elements of Victor are brought to life through the monster as a projection of Victor himself. Tropp interestingly states that the monster’s murders contain a pattern and a motive to isolate Victor; the completion of the dream design finishes his task of self-destruction (32). Victor’s selfishness and egotism are what drives him into self-destruction. The creature also wishes to isolate Victor just as society has isolated it due to its monstrous abnormalities. The creature is an outcast in society due to nineteenth century views on abnormalities. According to Tropp the creature is viewed as the childlike portion of the psyche because of his hatred of society: “The Frankenstein Monster is often equated with a child because its hatred for the adult world that casts it out is childlike in its rage and simplicity” (). Monstrosity and abnormality in the nineteenth century is viewed as today’s mental disorders. Victor is mentally insane due to his obsession and isolation over his own creation. The creature, as a projection of Victor’s most repressed urges and desires is immediately cast out of society for its actions and grotesque appearance. Looking through a Freudian lens, Tropp explains Frankenstein’s apparent illness: “Frankenstein could almost be labeled a narcissistic schizophrenic, or what Freud called a paraphrenic: ‘They suffer from megalomania and have withdrawn their interest from the external world.’ The paraphrenic is also preoccupied with ‘the lost narcissism of his childhood – the time when he was his own ideal.’” (48). Frankenstein’s lost childhood haunts him in his later years. He did not complete crucial developmental stages in his childhood due to his mother’s death, which now drives him to create life from death, possessing the monstrous nature in his own mind and projecting it onto his creature.

The Endurance of Frankenstein Edited by George Levine and U.C. Knoepflmacher is a book that contains many critical essays about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. One essay in particular discusses the uses of doppelgangers in the novel. Judith Wilt agrees that Victor Frankenstein and his creature are in fact one being in her essay, “Frankenstein as a Mystery Play”. A doppelganger can be viewed as someone’s alter ego, which agrees with the Freudian viewpoint that the creature is a projection of Victor’s repressed ego. Wilt recognizes the point that Victor pursues the creature in order to kill it, however as many chances as he gets, he will not: “It is above all Frankenstein who seeks to annihilate the creature, to take back his life. His indestructible self, even in the accomplishment of pursuits and torments upon his creator that double his own agony, keeps Frankenstein alive at all costs out of a powerful sense that he cannot sustain existence alone, that alone, despite his size, he is not quite real, cannot stand his ground” (40). In literature, once a doppelganger is dead, so is his or her counterpart. Victor becomes self-aware when he realizes that he in fact needs the creature to survive. Also, according to D. Negra, author of the article “Coveting The Feminine: Victor Frankenstein, Norman Bates, and Buffalo Bill”, Victor is the victim of split subjectivity. This means that Victor embodies the more feminine subjectivity, while his creature embodies the more masculine subjectivity: “Victor literalizes his masculine/feminine split by creating the monster as his masculine doppelganger” (). The definition of a doppelganger states that the two counterparts must be opposite as is the case with Victor and his creature being the embodiment of masculinity and femininity. Negra also describes the creature as “a physical manifestation of something internal” (). In other words, the creature is Victor’s mind personified. It is everything that is subconscious to Victor, yet still very much a part of him.

In conclusion, there are many ways to look at this novel. Through a Freudian lens, Victor and his destructive creature are one. His imaginary projection of his repressed urges and desires come to life as he himself goes insane. His broken childhood, his isolation and his obsession with creation are all factors that drive him mad. The monstrosity of his creation begins with the monstrosity of his mind, which personifies into the monster. Works Cited

Lunsford, L. The Devaluing of Life in Shelley's Frankenstein. Explicator. (): Print. Tropp, Martin. Mary Shelley's Monster: The Story of Frankenstein. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Print. Levine, George L, and U C. Knoepflmacher. The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press, Print. Negra, D. Coveting the Feminine: Victor Frankenstein. Norman Bates, and Buffalo Bill. Literature Film Quarterly. (): Print. Poovey, Mary. ““My Hideous Progeny”: The Lady and The Monster”. Frankenstein: The Text, Contexts, Criticism New York: W. W. Norton &, Print.

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