Tag Archive: bourgeoisie

Human Ingratitude

The Marxist perspective….hm. I had never considered it, and even if I had, I would never have applied it the way Montag does. I agree with his reading of Victor being the middle class capitalist, that seems fairly self explanatory, but to make the Creature representative of the working class was something I had not considered at all. However, upon further reflection and rereading, it is almost boggling how well the Marxist reading applies to this novel.

Montag makes the point that the Creature, like the working class, was employed by the new elites for their own gain. In creating this force to overthrow the old state, the new elites unwittingly brought destruction down upon themselves when this same force turned upon them. Sound familiar? This initial parallel to the storyline of Frankenstein foreshadows the same outcomes that the revolutions ended with. The Creature, created in service to Victor is scorned and hated by all no matter the good he does for mankind. In one scene, where the Creature recounts his adventures, he mentions saving the life of a small girl and being shot as a result. “This then was the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human from destruction, and, as recompense, I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound…” (125). Discarded after his initial purpose of satisfying Victor’s morbid curiosity, one can understand the resentment and rage the Creature feels at the ingratitude the humans who abuse him for his services. Like the working class, who eventually rebels against the new elites, the Creature also plans his coup against Victor. “‘I, too, can create desolation; my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him.'” (127). This realisation that he, the Creature, is stronger than his Creator is a heady consciousness. The fact that he is able rally for his own devices against someone more “powerful”, his creator, is again a direct reflection to the anarchical situation of the French Revolution, where the bourgeoisie realised they were actually the ones in control.

The Creature being portrayed in the novel as an outcast and a disjointed freak represents the attitudes of the proletariat towards the bourgeoisie. Victor’s changing emotions of initial distaste to hatred and fear when he realises the raw, brute power the Creature holds over him is essentially a mirror to the events of the Revolution.  The moment the Creature realises this and employs it against Victor is the moment Victor’s demise is triggered.

I didn’t expect to see extreme class struggle in this novel, but looking at it closely, it now seems hard to miss. According to Warren Montag in his essay “The Workshop of Filthy Creation,” the unrepresentability of the proletariat is what the creature really  represents, not the actual proletariat itself. I agree that the only reason the monster “would no longer be a monster” (395) if the proletariat was present in the novel outside of the creature, but I don’t agree that he does not represent the presence of the proletariat in a significant way. Both the bourgeois and the proletariate are boiled down to one main entity: Victor as the bourgeois, and the creature as the proletariat. While Victor’s and Clerval’s families can all be seen as representing the bourgeois as well, they do so in such a passive manner as to be fairly negligible in the comparison. Victor, on the other hand, aggressively embodies all that is bourgeoisie.

When the creature entreats Victor to create for him a mate, Victor feels first compassion, and “sometimes felt a wish to console him,” but soon his “feelings were altered to those of hatred” (130). These are the same feelings as those of Montag’s “new elites” who found it necessary to utilize the proletariat to overthrow old regimes. At first perhaps sympathetic, they quickly grew to be resentful of the lower class who would block the new elites’ rise to power. The creature, on the other hand, is asking for similar things to the proletariat: “I shall…become linked to the chain of existence and events, from which I am now excluded” (130). Both characters mirror their respective class well, and in this passage at the very least, the creature represents the entire proletariat infused into one being, arguing for equality, acting as almost a spokesperson.

When Montag concludes the creature is, “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability,” he means that besides the creature simply symbolizing the proletariat, the creature at the same time reveals the inability to represent the working class as a singular, modern creation. The working class is a faceless, voiceless mass, while the creature most definitely has a face and a voice. I agree with Montag’s conclusion.

It’s easy to see how the creature and the working class equate. The creature’s telling of his story and his negotiations with Victor for a female could be interpreted as analogous to workers discussing their conditions and their desire for improved conditions. What’s harder to see is how that doesn’t exactly equate. The frame narrative offers more insight. The creature doesn’t directly tell his own tale. He relates it to Victor, who in turn relates it to Walton, who finally tells it to the reader. The frame narrative distorts the creature’s voice through the fact that his story is told through essentially his oppressors. As such, some of the creature’s statements and actions don’t quite seem to add up. For example, the creature says, “Boy, you will never see your father again; you must come with me” (126). From prior parts of his tale, we know the creature is eloquent. It doesn’t make sense that, if he’s trying to convince William that he’s not all that bad, the creature would say that. I would think he would continue to say things along the lines of his first statements to William: “I do not intend to hurt you; listen to me” (126). That would have been more convincing and more in-line with the arguments the creature makes to Victor.

However, we also don’t know for sure if that statement really has been distorted by the frame narrative. The creature could have said that because he was stressed, because he hadn’t had any positive experience with society, or because he was tired of the negative reactions. There are many possible explanations. This uncertainty also supports the idea that the creature cannot completely represent the working class. We can say that one explanation of the creature’s actions is more likely than another, however that explanation cannot apply to an entire group because the creature is an individual. A single individual cannot be an accurate depiction of an larger group.

The full interpretation of the execution suffered by the character Justine is a complex order, but one that may be adroitly accomplished through a critical Marxist lens. Justine may be understood as a personification of vigorous and ancient social sentiments, which is a fact exposed through certain elements of her characterization. Her name bears specific resemblance to “justice,” and she is accordingly granted an idealized mixture of humility, patience, and great beauty. These qualities, however, do not protect her from condemnation and execution. She meets this fate in an unusual way, in that in the end of her life she possesses no fear and a sense of resignation, and indeed advises the characters to  “Learn from me… to submit in patience to the will of heaven” (84). She does not act as a frightened servant would, instead responding like a goddess, saint, or philosopher, entities that would react with logical and graceful finality. This serves to further emphasize Justine’s role as more than human, but rather a symbol for the romanticized concept of “justice.”

Within the context of the narrative and Marxist analysis methods, the execution can be further explicated. The central concept within this textual event is the bourgeoisie manipulation of traditional ideological entities. In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx himself notes, “unheroic as bourgeoisie society is, yet it had need of heroism, of sacrifice, of terror, of civil war and of national battles to bring it into being” (42). However, “when the real aim had been achieved, when the bourgeois transformation … had been accomplished, Locke supplanted Habakkuk” (42), meaning that the bourgeoisie enlightenment ideals were erected over the ancient ideologies of the past. The narrative mirrors this process. The concept of “justice” is ancient, and a battle cry for social dynamism and reform. It is loved and respected as a force that pried open the feudal social structure and broke the monarchy and lords. However, the manifestation of this important sentiment is not powerful within the text, but ultimately debased. She is bound and imprisoned by the bourgeoisie elite of the Frankenstein family, nurturing their young and appearing as a loved and valued part of the household. “Justice,” is part of the superficial façade of the elite, who use it to soften and mask the calamity that they engineer.  However, once the goals of the elite are achieved, the ideal falls away. Victor completes his ultimate work in the monstrous fabrication of the new proletariat, and the old idealism of concepts like “justice,” is unnecessary. Indeed, they cannot exist in the brave new capitalist world; whether the bourgeoisie intends it or not, their creation is inherently violent, and will murder ancient sentiment. In this way, Justine and “justice,” are slowly prepared and led for slaughter, used to further the goals of the bourgeoisie, before the societal conflict created by the elite erupts. With their mastery complete, the judicial bureaucrats throw their black ballots at the feet of justice, as it is no longer a necessary illusion.

The Marxist characterization of this event is accordingly a comic farce. Justice and Justine might recall a symbol of the French revolution: lady liberty. In true form, she exists as a goddess within the ranks of subjected masses, charging into the fray of battle lofting the symbol of the people as she leads them to victory, awe-inspiring and beautiful in fearless nakedness. In contrast, the narrative portrays her as the powerless servant to the elite, who task her with raising their children. Although appreciated by them, she does not appear in true form; her nakedness is covered and she inspires no awe, but rather sympathy. Her beauty remains in this diminished form, but her sublime aspect vanishes. She dies not in battle for the rights of humankind, but in a mechanistic decision. Her execution is a farce as she is a tool manipulated by unseen bourgeoisie hands, rather than a sentiment earnestly supported and fought over as she once was.

When performing a Marxist literary analysis, it is important that basic Marxist concepts are understood. In this particular analysis, Warren Montag focuses on the idea that the emergence of an industrial society necessarily includes the emergence of a small-yet-powerful Bourgeoisie population that controls the capital which the poor and populous Proletariat construct. Montag summarizes the failed attempt of both the English and French revolutions as

“attempts to create social orders based on justice or (especially in the case of the French Revolution) reason that had collapsed into tyranny or chaos. The movements that destroyed (or attempted to destroy) absolutist monarchies were usually led by new elites (the rural or urban bourgeoisie: landowners, merchants, and financiers) whose access to political power was blocked by the old regime” (385).

The tie-in with Frankenstein comes with the comparison of Doctor Frankenstien to the middle-class capitalist, and his creation to the oppressed working-class, just as the monstrous creation of the suffering Proleltariat is the creation of the good intentions of the Bourgeoisie.

Montag’s concluding statement is that the creature is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability” (395). How can this be? The connections with the monster and the proletariat seem almost too direct to leave any doubt as to the monster’s immediate representation of this failed working-class system:

“The monster is monstrous by virtue of its being artificial rather than natural; lacking the unity of a natural organism, the monster is a factitious totality assembled from (the parts of) a multitude of different individuals, in particular, the ‘poor,’ the urban mass that, because it is a multitude rather than an individual, is itself as nameless as Frankenstein’s creation. It is also significant that the term creation is used at all to describe the origins of the monster. For the monster is a product rather than a creation, assembled and joined together not so much by man… as by science, technology, and industry” (388).

However, Montag’s closing statement brings to light the recurring theme of paradox involved with the idea that the monster is a direct and complete representation of the proletariat. To begin with this statement, Montag mentions that the monster is a singular being used to represent an entire mass of tortured people. The monster recurrently emphasizes his utter isolation: “I am an unfortunate and deserted creature; I look around, and I have no relation or friend upon earth… I am an outcast in the world for ever” (120). While the monster is alone in his misery, the proletariat represented the majority of the population. The proletariat gains no satisfaction from the ability to share their misery, while the monster only wants a companion with which to share: “Our lives will not be happy, but they will be harmless, and free from the misery I now feel” (129). This supports the idea that the creature is not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability: the feelings of a huge mass of people are condensed into one being who may share some quality of misery with the mass, but is unable to completely represent the complex feelings of an entire group.

Another point that Montag makes also demonstrates the unrepresentability of the proletariat when he states that “these new technologies and industrial systems they made possible were perhaps less disturbing than their effects on the lives of the laboring population” (386). The bourgeoisie population established these new technologies and industrial systems within which the proletariats worked. Thus there are three tiers to the system: the bourgeoisie who create the capital which in turn creates the misery of the proletariat. However, the representation of the bourgeoisie by Frankenstein and the representation of the proletariat by the monster only contains two tiers in which the proletariat are a direct product of the bourgeoisie and the capital that is the direct cause of the “unemployment, falling wages, rising prices for food and other necessities” (386) is left undiscussed. If the monster is a representation of the twisted creation of the bourgeoisie, then would the monster be a better representation of the industry that the bourgeoisie created, rather than the proletariat that the industrial system created? The monster is a large source of misery in Frankenstein just as this capital is a large source of misery for the proletariat. However, the misery that the monster causes is misery for Frankenstein, who represents the bourgeoisie. Do either the industrial capital or the proletariat cause the bourgeoisie trouble? The unrepresentability of the proletariat is once again signified by a confusing and paradoxical display of the monster’s true identity.

There are many instances of these “contradictions, discrepancies, and inconsistencies that the work displays but does not address or attempt to resolve” (390). It is difficult to represent a huge populous mass of suffering people in any instance. The multitude of ambiguities surrounding Frankenstein’s monstrous creation only reinforce the idea that this complex mass of people is unrepresentable.