It is almost unavoidable while interpreting literature to lace its contents with the biases of the age. Imagine how Sherlock Holmes’s depictions have changed over the years. Or better yet, imagine how a Harry Potter novel written in Edwardian England would have played out. Similarly, the Creature in Frankenstein, I think, basically represents the anti-thesis of man. And this representation, perhaps the result of the Creature’s tabooed origins, has been portrayed differently with civilization’s mercurial mood swings. Therefore each portrayal, because it is a ‘portrayal’, initiates or conforms to the reigning stereotype of what it is to be the opposite of man. But the essential premise of the Creature remains the same. However exercising a religious fidelity to the literal description of the creature would be analogous to studying Sun Tzu just for planning battles with pointy sticks.

My reading of the novel showed me that Frankenstein’s creature is not a shallow character, but the author’s incarnation of a general idea. And being such, it is susceptible to evolve in its interpretation.Ever since its conception, Frankenstein’s monster has been depicted differently over time, and so allows us to see how society perceived itself through the decades.

The Creature in the novel is described as a tall muscular being with translucent yellow skin and black hair. But more importantly, the creature is described as being alone. At that time (the early 19th century), Western society was experiencing an ever increasing level of participation in governmental affairs. Nationalism was a popular philosophy and Europe was finding its identity. Opposed to all this social integration of mankind was Frankenstein’s monster: Shunned by its creator, spurned by society, it was an amalgam of random parts stumbling through wilderness in search of its identity and its place in the scheme of things.

Early in the 20th century (in 1910) came the first film adaption of Frankenstein. The creature in the movie was very different from its depiction in the novel:

The Creature in its 1910 incarnation.

The Creature in its 1910 incarnation.

The monster.

The monster.

A clip from the 1910 adaption showing the climax of the film.

Apart from its appearance, even in its behavior,the creature appears to be different from its actual description and modern popular perception. The creature is highly expressive, and equally savage in appearance. It is timid until provoked, an almost beastly trait. And if period dramas can be taken even slightly seriously as representations of Edwardian society, this disheveled, blunt and violent creature can very well be the epitome of un-manliness.

At last comes the modern stereotype associated with the Creature: that of a numb green beast hell-bent on the mute destruction of its creator.

Boris Karloff Frankenstein (1931)

The modern age is the age of expression. How we communicate defines us. The media have a monopoly over our culture. The way the world judges civility is by one’s ability to convey thoughts. Freedom of expression and censorship are the debates of our age, and everyone striving to prove his/her weight has got something to say.

The new Frankenstein’s creature (above) looks like he hasn’t. Neither have I, apparently, not anymore.

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