By Mary Russell

In his essay “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation”: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein,” Warren Montag compares the creature to the proletariat at a very surface level interpretation. The creature, created by a middle class wealthy man, is abandoned and recognizes that he, “Possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property…” (p. 109). The creature openly identifies with the working class in this passage. The creature is formed of many men, representing the mob of the proletariat, and when he is finally brought to the edge of his temper he lashes out at his creator: the bourgeoisie. Victor’s large family manor is contrasted with the woods the creature is forced to live in further driving home the poor state of the creature. This interpretation is obvious hence why Montag goes on to say that, “Such a reading is too simple; to stop here would be to reduce the literary work to a mere allegory structured by a set of symbolic equivalences…” (p. 474). Certainly the creature is a symbol of the proletariat but I would not go so far as to say that the novel is as simple as that. Frankenstein is a member of the bourgeoisie but also a victim of the system.

Montag writes about Frankenstein’s perspective stating that, “He is able to see that he has always lived according to laws of whose existence he had been unaware,” (p. 475). Frankenstein relays his story of creating the creature by stating, “These thoughts supported my spirits, while I pursued my undertaking with unremitting ardour. My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement,” (p. 57). Frankenstein is pushed forward to produce, the create. He is obsessed, and does not observe self care. This belief that he must continue with his work harms himself, and even he isn’t sure where this motivation comes from. This unknown force is driving him forward. this unknown force is the Industrial Revolution.

Montag claims that Shelley never mentions the technology present, and only its effects to, “Render Frankenstein’s labor as well as the product of that labor, the monster, all the more incongruous. He is the sole embodiment of the industrial in an otherwise rural world…” (p. 479). I disagree with this point and believe the vagueness of the technology is to convey imaginary relationship we have to the reality of our situations. The industrial revolution is never mentioned because to Victor, this is not why he works so hard. He believes he works and studies for his own curiosity or to satisfy his obsession. He believes he acts out of his own individuality. Frankenstein states that his discovery, “Was the most gratifying consummation of my toils,” (p. 56) however he never states why he wants to bring life back. He works, ignoring his family and health, for what reason? Assumptions could be made of course, for example one could ask why he shouldn’t be curious. However, this is not representative of Frankenstein’s individual wants and desires. He is pumped through college told he needs to make discoveries, to progress society. A school for sciences during the industrial revolution would be focused on the creation of factories or chemical reactions to power machinery. Despite Franenstein’s self proclaimed obsession with the sciences, he would undoubtedly be fed the idea that he must produce something of value to society.

Image result for industrial revolution poster
Ideological state apparatuses of propaganda such as this poster here would be common in industrialized cities. Work, work, work everyone must work. Despite how exhausting and unhealthy it may be, it is good for society! Your work means victory! Build more, produce more. It is insidious, feeding society the belief that they must work, and that they choose to work. Frankenstein had the option of working in a factory or going to school, making him believe he had any choice in the matter. In the end he is a slave of the system, toiling away for years to create his product. The industrial revolution is not mentioned because Frankenstein is out of touch with this reality. The story is told from his perspective, and in his perspective the revolution is not why he works. He is an individual in his mind, not a slave to the machine.
This is why Montag concludes that the creature is a representation of the unrepresentability of the proletariat. Frankenstein is wealthy but he toils away and falls for the same ideologies as the working class. The creature is the proletariat and yet so is Frankenstein. The enemy of the proletariat are the bourgeoisie, the people in power. Frankenstein has no power over society. He has power over the creature but Frankenstein himself is more representative of mid level management. So many people fall victim to the lies of capitalism that it is impossible to create one stereotype of the working class. Everyone is fed the ideologies of society and thus everyone become cogs in the machine, even the middle class.