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Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein and the Monster’

Literature or written letters have always played the important role of communicating change and social values in the history of mankind like the ancient societies of the Egyptian and Sumerians, dating back to 4th millennium BC (Martin et al, p.8). Literature has a unique way of addressing human problems, social economic and cultural issues affecting the society. A perfect example is that of Mary Shelley’s classical piece of literature that deals with the social ills of her day. Mary Shelley was an English writer and novelist that lived between 1797 and 1851. She wrote many classical literature and one of many writings is the popularly read Frankenstein that was published in 1818. This is the most important piece of writing that she finished at the age of 19 years.

Mary Shelley’s novel was written as part of the Gothic genre and depicts the creation of a monster which promised to transform human societies then turns to devour human beings in the European society of the 18th century where she lived. Mary Shelley had witnessed firsthand the social-economic, cultural and political revolutions of the early 18th century brought about by the enlightenment, technological advancements and scientific discoveries. In order to challenge and critique these dangerous developments, she sat down and carefully created the story of Frankenstein and the Monster as a critique of one the emergences of science (Schor, pp. 9-13).

In this piece, Mary Shelley provides a narration of what had happened one night when she encountered a nightmarish ghostlike figure in her dream, which she later developed into a story of Frankenstein and his descendants (Mellor, p, 170; Coghill, p.3). It is against this backdrop that this essay shall analyse the dialogue between the monster and his creator and explain the meaning of a monster. It shall also critique what it has done to the society.

The Dialogue between the Monster and his Creator

According to Shelley, the creator of this monster is known as Dr. Victor Frankenstein who builds workshops of science for filthy creations. He promises to embark on further scientific studies and reaches a point of devising plans for “recreating and reanimating a dead body by using a combination of chemistry, alchemy and electricity to make his ambition a reality” (Coghill, p. 8). The monster promises Frankenstein that “I will be with you on your wedding night” (Vargish, p. 334; Dolar, p. 5-23). This was the monster’s promise to his creator. Here, Shelley writes about the experience of motherless birth and therefore, the wedding night described here seems to mark the death of Frankenstein’s bride by the name of Elizabeth. The monster (science) has threatened to kill Elizabeth who is going through grief, a seeming representation of insecure human relations (Varigish, p. 334).

After recreating that life, he begins to feel guilty that the new creation has a provision to take care of the monster (Coghill, p. 8). According to Shelley, the emergence of the monster science produced disastrous consequences that would be devastating for the society. Through science (monster), Man (who is represented by Victor Frankenstein), is playing the role of Creator. Man effectively tried to make a baby without a woman (Mellor, p. 38-42).

The amazing, or ironical, thing about this creature is that it was created for noble purposes so as to defeat death and bring hope to mankind but it instead turned selfish and began to cause havoc. The creator opened the eyes of the blind and the blind, instead of being grateful, begins to see the ugly face of the creation and the creature also threatens the owner (the creator himself). This creature (monster) also threatens to kills the creator’s best friend (Henry Clerval) and his bride (Elizabeth Lavenza). In one of the dialogues, the creator asserts thus: “Did i request thee, Maker, from my clay, To mould me man? Did i solicit thee, From darkness to promote me.” (Mellor, p. 42). The creator (Frankenstein) then responded thus, “I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed, and I ardently wished to extinguish that life which I had so thoughtlessly bestowed” (Mellor, p.42).

A closer examination of the monster’s appearance shows that the monster here is depicted as a mammoth non human creature that frightens everyone. The creature, which appears in the form of ghost, has characteristics of a monster and that is even depicted in its conduct of causing harm in the society. The behaviour of this monster is causing feelings of insecurity and fear amongst the inhabitants in the area (Lowe-Evans, p. 39).

The monster is the perfect representation of the scientific advancement and technological revolution that was growing at an alarming rate in the 18th century. Shelley is thus addressing some of the problems that were created through this science and technology including social injustices and discrimination of the poor and the uneducated (Coghill, p. 6). Coghill agrees with these views by stating that industrial revolution created a new social class in European society known as the middle class and caused the towns and cities to become dangerous places to be as the gap between the rich and poor widened (Coghill, p.7).

By and large, the monster here is not a real creature. In essence, Shelley used figurative language and attempted to sway the opinions of the readers against the monster by referring to it almost derogatively as a ‘creature.’ Shelley portrays the monster as being responsible for racial prejudice and enslavement of non white peoples as inferior race. This was a marked departure from the prevailing types of stories being created at the time. Shelley deliberately refused to accept the English popular culture and social political ideologies of her time (Malchow, p.90-130). Through this work, she instead warns that science has the power to control the laws of nature in reaction to Darwin’s scientific experimentation and rejection of religious faiths. Shelley therefore portrays Frankenstein as a horror creature that is causing injustices in the society at large to drive this point home and in the process; she caused a considerable amount of controversy in the fields of religion, education and culture (Bennett and Stuart Curran 39).


The shallowness of society is also depicted in Mary Shelley’s book. The society at the time is suffering from Frankenstein’s syndrome which refers to an overemphasis or focus on appearance. People are judged and accepted on the basis of how they look. These looks are judged according to facial appearance or colour of the skin. In addition, people are judged based on their social class, gender and culture. This is depicted through the emphasis of the ugliness of the monster which has similar characteristics to human beings. It seems that Victor did not like the appearance of his own creation and therefore described it as being a “breathless horror and disgust” (Shelley, p. 42). Victor is himself prejudiced about his own skin colour and all of these prejudices in the book which shows that science created different social levels of strata and racial classes.

Shelley’s Critique of Bad Science

Mary Shelley purposely wrote this novel to warn on the dangers of emerging science and technology that had gone too far, particularly when scientists use science to gain fame rather than advance knowledge to help mankind (Nocks, p.137-155). According to Nocks, the contemporary scientific discoveries in the field of medicine and biotechnology like gene splicing, cloning and organ transplants of today has caused lot of moral controversies and has left one to wonder where science is taking the destiny of humankind ( Nocks, pp.137-155).

It can be argued that in writing Frankenstein, Shelley had been worried about the emergence of bad science which at the time of writing had tried to meddle with the laws of nature especially on issues concerning procreation and roles of men and women in the society. To her, the scientists who had created this monster (science) would not be able to deal with its dangerous implications. Her fear was that science had started controlling the laws of nature and was in danger of playing God. She argued that this monster of science would lead to monstrous births or deformed babies. Thus, it seems that the purpose of writing Frankenstein was to address or demonize the overreliance on scientific discoveries as a solution to human problem. It was therefore written for a “social, political and ethical purpose” (Betty and Curan, p. 41). Human beings are free moral beings but in Shelley’s view, they had started to try to control their destiny by playing God through science (Shelley, p. 39).

Shelley also paints a bad of picture of unhealthy relationships between parents and children, attributing this problem to scientific discoveries. This explains why the monster is vengeful for not having a parent. Shelley also shows how the myth of modern Prometheus, which has to do with science, is meddling with the original creation of mankind. This Prometheus is said to have breathed fire, was a life creator and a destroyer of some aspects of human race. From the description of the story, the creator is afraid of the fire and the brain used to create this monster was taken from an abnormal mind which is also deformed contrary to the originally intended one (Damron abstract). This is a clear indication that scientific experiments, in Shelley’s view, are responsible for social injustices, social decay and a myriad of human problems due to all these experiments. For instance, the monster threatened to travel far and wide, with devastating effects.

From the beginning, science was intended to solve human problems but as shown in the book, it failed in this quest. It was hailed as the grand solution to human predicaments but in Shelley’s view, the monster (science) is ugly (Mellor, p.43). This monster attempted to integrate itself into the patterns of social life of humanity but everybody who saw him runs away in fear. Science feels abandoned and is therefore filled with revenge towards his creator.

Shelley’s novel portrays the cries from human society that man created himself by trying to play God. Frankenstein has become a metaphor for our own cultural crises and it has become a vital metaphor, peculiarly appropriate to a culture dominated by a consumer technology, neurotically obsessed with getting in touch with its authentic self and frightened at what it is discovering (Levine and Ulrich, p.3). What man has created has come back to haunt him. Biotechnological advancements in the field of biological and nuclear warfare have created fear and uncertainty in the world. Social media, a medium that is supposed to make the world more interconnected, has made people less in touch with real life relationships. Scientific progresses in food have created processed foods that have been linked to a spike in cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other lifestyle related diseases. In short, science has created several monsters just as Shelley explained throughout Frankenstein.

Conclusion

Based on the analysis of Shelley’s novel titled ‘Frankenstein and the Monster,’ it is evident that the monster is a figurative term used by the writer to describe the emergence of horrors and crises created by man’s science to solve his own problems. The monster was created by a human being called Victor Frankenstein who effectively is depicted as playing God. This story speaks about the emerging wave of technological revolution and scientific discoveries that was sweeping across the entire continent of Europe as a solution of human problems yet actually turned out to be detrimental to society. Man (Frankenstein) used science to play God and instead begun to cause havoc. The dialogue between the monster and creator there represents the friction between the two, which is depicted as a sort of love-hate relationship between a parent and child— man and science.

The monster begins to breathe fire and destruction on the creator’s work, something which takes place even today. Science was expected to provide solutions to human problems but is now causing lots of social injustices, moral decay, prejudices and health problems among other issues. It is a clear indication of the problems associated with science’s displacement of religion which leads to many moral problems. In society, particularly in the western world, science and technology has created a middle class and other forms of social stratification. Science has resulted in the maltreatment of people based on superficialities such as looks, visible differences and educational achievement. Man (the creator) is today living in fear and worries because of the monster that he has created. Weapons of mass destruction, pesticides and processed foods are amongst several examples of scientific products that are causing havoc and threatening peace and man’s coexistence with one another. The moral of the story therefore appears to be that science is a monster, a monster which needs to be handled delicately to prevent its negative effects on the society.

Works Cited

Bennett, Betty T, and Stuart Curran. Mary Shelley in Her Times. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins

University Press, 2000. Print.

Coghill, Jeff. Cliffsnotes Shelley’s Frankenstein. New York: Hungry Minds, 2001. Internet resource.

Damron, Traci K. «Frankenstein: A Seminal Work of Modern Literature.» (2012).

Dolar, Mladen (1991). “I Shall Be with You on Your Wedding Night: Lacan and the Uncanny.”

October58: 5-23.

Levine, George, and Ulrich Camillus Knoepflmacher, Eds. The endurance of Frankenstein: essays on Mary Shelley’s novel. Univ of California Press, 1982.

Lowe-Evans, Mary. Critical Essays on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. New York: Hall [u.a., 1998. Print.

Malchow, Harold L. «Frankenstein’s monster and images of race in nineteenth-century Britain.» Past and Present (1993): 90-130.

Martin, Henri-Jean, and Lydia G. Cochrane. The History and Power of Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Print.

Mellor, Anne Kostelanetz. Mary Shelley: her life, her fiction, her monsters. Psychology Press, 1988.

Nocks, Lisa. «Frankenstein, in a better light.» Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 20.2 (1997): 137-155.

Shelley, Mary W, David L. Macdonald, and Kathleen D. Scherf. Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus; the 1818 Version. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Press, 2004. Print.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Broadview Press, 1999.

Vargish, Thomas. «Technology and Impotence in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.» War, Literature

& the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities 21.2 (2009): 322-337.