Within Frankenstein, the creature’s psychological maturation process serves as a crucial element of the monster’s characterization and the narrative direction of the novel as a whole. Lacan’s “mirror stage,” acts as an excellent analytical tool for the comprehension of this mental development in its fullness.

The mirror stage is a term used to define the period of infancy during which the individual begins to recognize the coherence and organization of their various body parts. This ideal and absolute sense of fullness allows the infant to inhabit “the imaginary,” a mental state similarly marked with integrity and completion. Even after the state of the imaginary is exchanged for the state of “the symbolic,” with the rise of language, the concept of the perfectly whole ego cannot be forgotten. It is deeply satisfying as it maintains the illusion of inherent individual definition, and accordingly it is preserved in the form of the “ideal-I.” This state of pure self-congruity is pursued throughout the rest of life as one of the most central human drives, but it can never be achieved again due to the rise of language.

The creature is initiated in this standard process, but as he follows it, his unusual circumstances lead to an abnormal alteration of the ultimate results. In his intellectual infancy, the being finds the De Lacey family, and is compelled to observe them. He gradually enters the mirror stage, but there is a fundamental error in how it is used. Instead of granting the creature a sense of wholeness and coherence in his own body, he finds it in three others. He is never given the opportunity to realize his own form in the construction of ego, so it is instead based upon his observation of the De Laceys. Within their household, the monster finds a sense of satisfying fullness, as each of the family members cares for each other and fulfill different responsibilities and emotions. As long as he inhabits the imaginary, the De Laceys serve as a strange substitute ego or “I,” for the creature.

As the being matures, however, this state cannot maintain itself. The symbolic begins to arise as the creature realized that Felix De Lacey “uttered many of the same sounds when he read, as when he talked … he found on the paper signs for speech” (104). This statement expresses the first comprehension of abstract signs, most notably in the form of words. Immediately afterwards, the monster sees his true form for the first time but was “unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror … I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification” (104).

By only seeing himself once the mirror stage has terminated, the creature’s ideal-I has been utterly fractured and broken. His necessary individual coherence is exchanged for contention. He realizes that his own construct of self is inconsistent with his true form, and that his ego is flawed. A fundamental human drive has been stolen from him, as he can no longer truly pursue or accept his ideal-I.

Because his mirror stage and conception of identity are based upon a group of people rather than a single individual, there is some morsel of hope for the ideal-I of the creature. By gaining acceptance as a part of the De Lacey family, the ideal-I can be repaired. However, each time the creature sees his own image, “hope … vanished, when I beheld my person reflected in water, or my shadow in the moonshine” (118).

The creature’s disgust in his self image may be comprehended as a perverted psychological maturation. Through a false mirror stage, the fundamental drive for the ideal-I is lost. This results in the horror of existential crisis, as any semblance of inherent identity yields to pure disorder and dissonance.

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