Tag Archive: capitalism


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.

Advertisements

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.