Tag Archive: capitalism


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.
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By Jade Graham

Image result for marxism

There are many lenses and perspectives that readers have discovered through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and with that comes many viewpoints and beliefs. Warren Montag (appears to be around the 1990’s) wrote an essay from a Marxist viewpoint. Titled, “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein” Montag uses quotes and sources to try and prove his idea of how the monster is put in the difficult position of not the proletariat, but not being represented at all. There is the point made of within a divided class society there is labor to be done. With that comes workers in a factory, where parts are assembled. That idea of the Victor creating something does make the creature a part of the classes, but a part of the creation itself. The creature is different body parts made into a walking dead being. Parts together to help improve somehow, like creations with parts at a factory to create a full piece. The monster did not improve anyone’s life, he did not come with directions and was taken for granted.

I agree with Montag’s point after reading. I did not view him to be on the other side because I believed he had experienced both sides at one point. From a baby-like learning state who doesn’t know much, poor, and low skills to intelligent, quick, and ethical the creature is hard to pin down. Because of how different the creature is, he is not a part of society and therefore not a part of any class.

This is shown when the monster encounters the cottagers, he is an outsider. Not of their world or anything like it. He is a supernatural creation, the living dead. He is able to feel though when reflecting on the cottager’s lifestyle and their nature towards each other. That want to belong as he, “felt a sensation of a peculiar and overpowering nature: they were a mixture of pain and pleasure,” when coming with emotions that are not only shocking but rare to experience for him (100). There is ambiguity present due to how everyone can feel emotions, but for the creature to experience them is on another level. He is confused and decides to put those emotions at bay because he does not know how to handle them. The meaning of feeling emotions, what that means for the creature, and more. Acts of kindness, those of which the creature has not been given and is seeing for the first time. So to call the creature classless may be an incorrect term, but he is not upper, middle, or even lower class. He is an outsider because of his background. Created in a lab like a factory and not given any help led the creature to fend for himself and learn emotions. That is what happens when you don’t take care of your creations.

 

Nameless

Passage pp. 116-117 from “But ‘Paradise Lost’ …..envy rose within me”

The proletariat, as a collective entity, is condensed into a singular being in the form of Frankenstein’s creature. Montag describes the nameless creature as “a being for whom there is no place in the ordered world of nature” (395). Because he has neither place nor agency within human society or the natural world, the creature demands that Victor produce a mate for him so that he may create his own place. Similarly, the “proletariat” was an invention of the system in which it operated and therefore had no place within the natural order. Because the proletariat existed as a collection of individuals, it lacked the agency to determine its identity. Thus, the capitalist middle-class oppresses the working class not only by the physical burden imposed upon them but also by the dehumanizing removal of their ability to form such individual identities. Being forced into a collective mass, each member is no longer recognizable as an individual and consequently becomes isolated from human society. The creature as a representation of this namelessness or “unrepresentability” of the proletariat, becomes “the object of pity and fear” (387), according to Montag. Readers pity the monster (and the oppressed working class) for his isolation, yet fear the monster as something outside of nature and human control.

This passage from the creature’s story communicates the his isolation from human society by comparing the creature to the Adam of “Paradise Lost,” who like the monster “was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence.” The image of “an omnipotent God warring with his creatures” provides readers with a religious analogy to the tension between creator and creation, or perhaps, oppressor and the oppressed. The monster evokes a hesitant sympathy from readers by immediately opposing his circumstances to those of Adam, despite his initial identification with Adam’s isolation. While Adam was “happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator,” the monster, like the oppressed proletariat, “was wretched, helpless, and alone.” The monster’s tone of amazement toward his initial connection with poem quickly turns to one of resentment toward his creator when he bitterly compares himself to Satan, “as the fitter emblem of my condition.” In this one paragraph, readers perceive the monster’s transformation into the monstrous form Montag attributes to the oppressed working class. He claims that that in organizing an industrial society, the capitalist elites “conjured up a monster that, once unleashed, could not be controlled” (386). Just as Frankenstein’s monster “is monstrous by virtue of its being artificial rather than natural” (387), the collective working class is unsettling because it is an artificial creation of a socioeconomic system.

To a significant segment of modern society, the concept of Marxism is perceived as nothing more than a political buzzword, a failed governmental system and a relic of vicious totalitarian regimes. However, with deeper analysis, one can see that the true roots of Marxist thought are embedded in the intellectual and theoretical, rather than the practical or the mundane. This quality is exposed through Montag’s adroit Marxist analysis of Frankenstein. The text serves both to represent the structure of capitalistic society in the interactions between Frankenstein and the creature, and also to expose the deeper composition of ideology itself.

The parallels between the Marxist understanding of modern society and the events of the story are numerous and glaring. Victor Frankenstein acts as a manifestation of the newly formed bourgeoisie. He is descended from neither the serfs nor the lords, instead inhabiting the middle class. As the events of the text progress, he ideologically overturns and destroys the ancient social system by transcending the traditional means of control, such as religion or violence, instead embracing science. This knowledge is powerful enough to allow the ascension of the middle class as the new social elite, who champion industrial capitalism and doom the feudal agrarianism of the past. Victor’s study of biology and anatomy can be equated with the subjects of mechanical engineering or factory construction.

The subsequent product of the rise of enlightenment and scientific discourse is the creation of another social class. This is the proletariat, fabricated by the demand of the new elite rather than rising out of the natural structure of the world, and manifested in the creature. It and Victor, and also the workers and the owners, are inexorably linked. The principles of the bourgeoisie demand the formation of the proletariat, and the proletariat arises solely from the capitalist context. In order for the bourgeoisie to implement their new vision of the world, they had to manipulate the strength of the working classes. Frankenstein’s creation of the monster functions in the same way. Victor never questions the reasoning or implications of his work, uses the creature’s birth to validate the respect for his scientific field, and accepts a sense of natural providence or fate.

Once the proletariat has been created, a very strong sense of tension appears. A great amount of material wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of the elite, only through capitalistic societal mechanism. If the matrix of the bourgeoisie were to collapse, nothing would prevent their destruction by the masses. This results in a latent fear. In the same way, Frankenstein recognizes the significant bodily and mental power wielded by his creature, giving it life and attempting to control it although he knows of the risks. There is also a sense of pity, in that even the elites recognize the suffering at the bottom of society, and a sense of disgust, through the rejection and debasement of those given less worth. Both of these ideas can be seen in the interaction of Frankenstein and the monster, as Victor pities the creatures ignorance and loneliness, yet is revolted by its natural form.

The creature also bears some meaning towards the nature of ideology itself. Transcending superficial allegory for the proletariat, “the mass is reduced to the absolute singularity of Frankenstein’s creation, which is therefore not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability” (Montag 395). The monster not only expresses the superficial characteristics of the proletariat and the capitalistic social structure, it signifies the deepest and most important aspect: its falsehood. This sense is derived through Montag’s emphasis of the unnatural and unexplained origin of the monster, and its singular uniqueness in the world. Without these themes, the reader would not recognize anything unusual, and embrace the capitalist ideology present as allegory in the text. With these themes, however, this cultural bias is avoided. By concentrating the metaphor into a single entity, it seems grotesque and strange, rather than acceptable. The creature appears as a fissure in the symptom of capitalism, which exposes the inconsistency of the ideology with reality. The monster acts as a portal to what some might call “the sublime object of ideology,” which is by nature impossible and incomprehensible. This is the origin of unrepresentability; just like the creature, the very concepts of proletariat and the capitalist social structure are mysteriously constructed by man instead of being discovered, and posses no inherent truth or natural validity. Because of this lack of inherent or natural truth, the monster does not invoke a defined meaning in “proletariat,” but a lack of meaning in “unrepresentability.”

I find that I thoroughly agree with Montag’s analysis of the text. The allegory that he denotes is logically discovered and processed. However, what I truly agree with and find interesting is his idea of “unrepresentability.” This explains greater questions such as the horror present in the novel or the creature’s sublime aspect, which Montag would derive from the terror in the collapse of ideological symptoms and exposure to the incomprehensible kernel of reality.

For this week (2/19), you will write a blog post that examines the class struggle between Victor, the middle class capitalist, and the creature, the oppressed working class, based on your reading of Warren Montag’s essay, “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein.”  What does Montag mean when he concludes that the creature is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability”? (395)  Do you agree with this interpretation?  Why or why not?  In answering this question, please focus on a close reading of a specific passage or scene in Shelley’s novel.

Include your post under the category “Labor, Alienation, and (re)production” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.