By Isaac Gallegos Rodriguez

A-drawing-by-Karen-Greenlee-representing-her-mindset-towards-necrophilia

The principles and teachings of psychiatry, although contested by some, produces an interesting means of literary analysis. When applying Sigmund Freud’s The Uncanny and the psychoanalytic lens onto Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, more specifically Victor’s ‘wildest dream’ (pg. 60), we can begin to go ‘beneath the surface’ of the character Victor Frankenstein and further understand his obsession with death.

Sigmund Freud’s The Uncanny theorizes that the ‘uncanny’ is the term for unfamiliar things that frighten us and help us remember what is known and familiar. Freud continues to expand on this idea of the uncanny and asserts that the uncanny is the revelation of ‘what is private and concealed, and meant to be hidden’; the uncanny, or what we deem frightening, is part of our deeper unconscious selves, and is highly connected with the psychoanalytical idea of the ‘return of the repressed’: the process whereby repressed elements, preserved in the unconscious, tend to reappear, in consciousness or in behavior. Our understanding of the uncanny and the return of the repressed can be applied to Victor Frankenstein’s “wildest dream”(pg. 60) and can further help us understand Frankenstein’s demented and troubled psyche:

“I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel.”(Shelley, 60)

The most alarming information from Victor’s dream, which Freud has claimed help us greatly understand our unconscious desires, is the sudden shift of lover: he begins the tale by embracing his cousin-love Elizabeth, to doing the same but with the rotting corpse of his mother. This image creates an uncanny effect on Victor, however, it may help us understand the thing that was ‘meant to be hidden’. The most blatant understand would, again, be connected to a psychoanalytic idea — the Oepidal complex. The Oepidal complex is a term to describe a male’s initial desire to be with his mother; the fact that in his dream Victor goes from holding his current lover to his former mother can enforce the idea that Frankenstein wanted to be with his mother, unfortunately, our psychological mechanics and social environments would have never this extreme form of incest. And knowing this, the “shroud [that] enveloped her [Mother] form”(Shelley, 60) this shroud can be a metaphor, that not only has the society made Victor’s idea unobtainable, now the ultimate barrier, death itself, has sealed its impossibility.

Except for that Frankenstein doesn’t see death as an impenetrable barrier, he sees death as “ideal bounds, which I should first break through”(Shelley, 57).  This is why Victor’s apparent Oepidus complex can establish a correlation between his disregard of life and death and his ultimate desire for reanimation. This can be seen as his return of the repressed; Victor’s actions are influenced by his unconscious desire for his dead mother. He is willing to create chaos and misery in his life, to know that now not even the strongest obstacle in the universe, death itself can separate his ‘love’ for his mother.

Sigmund Freud, through his vast contributions to psychoanalytic criticism, helps illuminate the major themes of life, death, and power found in Frankenstein. As complex individuals, nature has created mechanisms that keep us ‘sane’ and functional. We have filters that separate our present, socially influenced selves and our chaotic, primal unconscious; when, through flukes, the divides between our identities blur for an instant, we shudder at ourselves, we shudder at the uncanniness of ourselves.