The most effective way, to read Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein is by analyzing what is a monster, how it is come to use, I think. Because, the definition of monster, its application to other fields and also inheritance from different ideologies give us the clues about understanding Frankenstein as a character and its place in the context. Of course, Mary Shelley has many references by putting Frankenstein in that novel with monstrous features. To be able to understand these pinpoints, first I want to look at Peter Brook’s article what is a Monster According to Frankenstein, then The Politics of Monstrosity by Chris Baldic.
In the Peter Brook’s article, I want to highlight some points which make Frankenstein a monster. First of all, his definition of Frankenstein is as an extraordinary body with several distortions distinct from what people usually desire. We see, in the book, Frankenstein as a monster differently in two ways: in sight and in speech.
First of all I want to give some details about how the visual elements make Frankenstein a monster. Probably, the most important part in the book is the Victor Frankenstein’s denial of his own creation, monster. This is the part in which the monster discovers his monstrosity in accordance with his appearance. The monster, Brook argues, understands that it is not the visual features which make him a desirable object. It is completely apparent in the scene when the blind man welcomes it. From now on, our monster starts to recognize that it is the relation of language which makes him able to communicate others.
He wants to be a good rhetorician and he becomes in accordance with his desire to be included in society. Actually, we realize ironically that the most eloquent creature in the novel is the monster itself, although this is feature associated with human beings. It is also a little bit uncanny because normally in order to speak effectively one should use his gestures and facial expression from which the monster is deprived.
Seeing the monster as an effective verbal creature gives us the idea that maybe he can overcome his monstrosity. It is sympathetic and persuasive. Normally we expect a monster to be the reverse. The reverse will be the case later. But, at this stage, the monster sees his vices as a result of being abhorrence. As a creation of a human being, the monster sees his monstrous behaviors’ source in humans. This is a reference to Hobbes gigantic creature which I will discuss in the second part of my paper. Moreover, the monster finds the solution to be virtuous in finding a place to himself in community. So, although he sees the problem in people, he sees the solution in them too.
We see his trials in order to be in the society by observing how they achieve this. He sees that it by language. That’s why he develops his linguistic abilities in the book. He discovers that people share their feelings by language and wants to be included in this sharing of sentiments. It is a reference to Rousseau’s scenario that language is as a tool to contact with others.
How the monster realize his monstrosity is the main question in the book. It is mostly done by people and especially by his creator. Being the only creature in his species is making him discover himself as a violation of the law of sexual differences. As long as he does not see the other, he cannot define himself. This experience in the book is named as anti-narcissistic. He realizes that he is a monster and thus not a desirable object. He is created differently. So, he desires a monster woman to desire in order to fill the gap in his nature.
His first attempt to murder is seen because of the depressed feeling of him to be seen as abhorrence all the time. When he first confronted with William, he thought that a child will not label a creature as evil just for deformed appearances of him. He is too young to have prejudices. But, William shows him the reverse. Still, this is not the actual cause of his murder of William as it is expected. He kills William because William is the grandson of his enemy.
Being deprived from mother and a woman companion first shows its affect after this part. When the monster took the picture of a woman and said that she softened him even in this aggressive state, we immediately understand the need of a woman in his life. The destruction of his only chance of having a monster woman by Victor is the big step to wake the monster inside it. Because, we see the monster really needs a companion from his own species and having the same defects with him. This turns into an object to desire for him even though he never experiences a thing like this before. It is also weird because needs rise from the deprivation of what we had before. The monster, never had a mother or girl friend, namely opposite sex figure, so the need for it is indefinable. One interpretation of this can be the need for a female monster in order to fulfill the lack sense of sexual difference. We can also interpret his desire to fulfill this as a reflection of his desire for an actual parent. But still I think there are some inadequate parts. So the destruction of the female monster is his loss of all hopes to get in the chain of existence which is the only way to satisfy desires. In a way, his all attempts from now on, to satisfy that desire which I mentioned above. This is the realization point of the monster of his unending monstrosity.
His becoming an unending monster in himself is in a way very related to politics that’s why I want to give some further points about it. The whole becoming a monster process for Frankenstein can be seen as a total metaphor of how the people in states become alienated from their orders and become rebellious against it like the monster in the book did to his creator Victor Frankenstein in order to make him feel the same way.
In The Politics of Monstrosity, Chris Baldick basically wants to emphasize the meaning of monster in a political sense. He gives explanations about how the political meaning of monstrosity developed and in what sense these meanings applied to Frankenstein. In this part of my paper, I will try to give a brief summary of Baldick’s article by highlighting the points which seem to me the most important and related to Mary Shelley’s famous novel, Frankenstein.
First of all, Baldick tries to define what we mean by saying ‘monster’. It is really hard to define because there are a lot of words having similar meanings with monster such as wretch, daemon, creature or fiend. They are used interchangeably in common but there are also big differences between them. In modern sense, he argues, we use monster to define a very huge, unnatural and also very scary dimensions. However, the essence of monster is hidden in morality.
In theology, the lunatics’ purpose is to reveal his vice intentions and irrationality as a warning to erring humanity. Augustine, a Christian neo-Platonist philosopher, monsters reveal the will of God. Martin Luther saw monsters as a warning from God to the corruption of Rome. However, when we come to 16th century, Shakespeare is the person who has an explanation to the meaning of monster. He saw it as an illustration of particular vice, and a way of defining immorality. I think his way of defining monster is a very important attempt which gives political interpretations rise. Moral sense of monstrosity is very common in Renaissance to strengthen the degree of vice.
The German Idealist philosopher, Hegel, turned this Shakespearian usage of monstrosity into a mark of the amount of quality. As I said before, the most impressive account was Shakespeare’s. Moreover, the most effective form of monstrous representations is ingratitude in Shakespearian sense. Especially, children’s bad behaviors toward parents are intensely labeled as being monstrous. So the rebellion style of being monstrous is specified long before the monster of Frankenstein. It would seem plausible if one may argue that having specified the boundaries of monstrosity can be the source of defining Frankenstein as a total monster agreed by everyone.
In the classical mythology, monsters are characterized as having ill-assorted parts. We always see monsters as a combination of different creatures and its parts are always in the excess of what it is made of. This feature has two consequences which have a big effect on Frankenstein: first one is the aesthetical consequence. In this approach, physical distortion is showed in a much exaggerated way to highlight certain problems. We see this clearly in the portrayal of Frankenstein both in the book and in the movie. Secondly, the political consequence is a representation of fear and transgression in a physical deformed figure. The physical appearance of Frankenstein immediately makes us believe that he is going to be the rebellious one. What I said in mythology par as being a combination of different things is a metaphor of being against the unified system. Shakespeare also saw ingratitude as a mean of multitude. The unified political body is under threat where there is a multiplicity in ideas.
Hobbes explains a gigantic creature which is made by humans at all like Frankenstein. Although they created it with the power of having different ideas and expressing them, we also called it as the monster in the end. The other interpretation of monstrosity sees the monster as French Revolution itself. Burke adopted the Shakespearian sense of monstrosity and integrates political power and family. He thought that being a rebellion against the order is like being a parricide. The revolutionists in France were the source of chaos. On the other hand, Tom Paine argues that the monarchy and aristocracy are monstrous regimes in themselves. He thought that in aristocracy it is not the child who should be regarded as monstrous rather it is the parent itself. When Burke sees the birth of the monster child as democracy, Paine sees it as the end of the monster child. Another view can be Wollstonecraft’s in which it is argued that although there are some monstrous parts in Parisian rebellious movements, they are the consequences of despotism applied by Europe’s aristocratic governments. The difference from Burke is that, Burke sees these rebellious processes as the result of enlightenment and rational innovation whereas Wollstonecraft sees them as the consequences of political charge. So, the rebellious character, Frankenstein, is a product of science but more important a man. If we try to analyze this, we can see that it has both parts from Hobbes and Burke.
To sum up, it is clear that Frankenstein is not just a gothic tale to be read for fun. It in itself is full of different connotations to political, sociological and psychological orders. Mary Shelley uses metaphors so cleverly that, every different reading of Frankenstein concerning different ideologies and structures is possible. I only tried to give some relationship between the metaphor of monster, how it is and its transformation portrayed and how it reflects some political concerns within.
*The only source I used in this paper is Frankenstein edited by Fred Botting.