Tag Archive: creature


The Creature’s Relationship

Zakharieva in her essay mentions the female creature and the “decision” she has to make between Victor and the Creature. She states, “The bride is not a completely new being, she is a re-creation of the two women to whom Frankenstein is bound through his sense of guilt. The Female Creature is torn between her lover and his evil counterpart – the Monster” (Zakharieva). What is the significance of the bride’s indecision? What does her self destruction mean in terms of the battle between Victor and the Creature?

The First Step Toward Neocolonialism (https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/the-first-step-to-neocolonialism/) poses a good argument for the ambiguity of the Creature’s status as the subaltern or the oppressor, and I think it can be extended to say that this ambiguity defies the imperialistic essentialism of the colonized being completely separate and different from the colonizer, and so destabilizes imperialism.

The Creature is oppressed, or subaltern, because he is under the power of humans with relation to language, knowledge and progress.This is seen in how he says that he “should not have understood the purport of this book had not Felix, in reading it, given very minute explanations.” (108) Felix as a representative of the Western colonizer, holds power over the Creature because without him the Creature has no access to language and information. The “minute explanations” also tints this instruction with a sense of belittlement, as if the subaltern Creature and Safie are so grievously unintelligent and uninformed that they need the smallest item explained. His identification with Safie, with their joint instruction and his weeping “with Safie” (109), also support his subaltern-ness. Additionally, the Creature is despised mostly for his appearance, as a “figure hideously deformed and loathsome” (109), and it is on this basis that Victor justifies hating and wishing to destroy the product of his science. This has a strong parallel to various colonizing events all over the world, where the native people were thought of as primitive and backward simply because they looked different, as in Africa, such that the colonizers could justify their taking over and oppression of the people as a favor to this poor, undeveloped society.

But as the teaching continues, the Creature appears to begin to be instilled with colonialist ideologies and stereotypes. The author of this post observantly notes that the use of the word “hapless” to describe the Native Americans has connotations of it-was-going-to-happen and sounds very close to ‘helpless’, taking the power and voice away from them. I would say that this does not just uphold colonial ideas but his weeping may be an expression of ‘imperialist nostalgia’ which Parker describes as when “colonizing people often mourn for the past of the colonized cultures they have tried to destroy” (Parker 285) . The Creature goes on to gain great command over language and in effect he learns the colonizing culture better than most of the colonizers. He takes on the status of the colonizer, as is evidenced by how he plans to go to the “vast wilds of South America” and probably start a family there, in effect colonizing it. His shift in perspective to colonizer can clearly be seen here in his description of South America as wild simply because its indigenous people live differently. After this he begins to oppress Victor, as he sets him to labor and punishes him for not doing what he was told by killing his loved ones.

But this position as colonizer is never solidified either, as the Creature notes that the education he receives from Felix gives him “a view” of the empires of the world, and as he recognizes that this may be just one of many perspective, he does not fully embody the essentialism of the colonizer who is certain of the absolute characteristics of different peoples. Also he plans on dying by self-immolation when he learns that Victor is dead, which recalls the practice of sati when a widow steps into the funeral pile of her dead husband, and this identification with the subaltern woman confuses things.

This ambiguity about whether the Creature is a colonizer or part of the colonized raises great tension in the novel and in this passage, and undermines imperialistic essentialist views and so imperialism itself, which was so central to the Western culture of the time, and this may be the reason why he is the victim of such rejection and hatred.

 

Thoughts on “The creature leaves the subaltern hierarchy”
https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/the-creature-breaks-the-subaltern/

A deep thought has surfaced after reading this post. So far we have talked about why the creature is the representation of the subaltern and have used evidence to prove that. What if the creature is not subaltern however and is actually the failed representation of the subaltern? During his last line the blogger states, “While Safie remains silent, the monster is able to relate his tale to his creator and, in turn, to Walton, removing his status as a voiceless other.” The creature cannot represent the subaltern because in speaking, he is no longer voiceless.

I agree with the points that the blogger has made to show that the creature is not a member of the subaltern and I would like to add one more important point to that. When the blogger mentions that the creature has accepted a higher rule set my mind jumped to an interesting observation. Of all the people in the story, the creature is the only one that transcends the frame narrative of the story. Walton, Victor and Felix/Safie stay in their respective frame narratives for the most part. The creature plays by a different set of rules however.The creature does stay in his frame when he is retelling his story but when he talks to old De Lacey, he has jumped into the Felix/Safie frame. When he visits Frankenstein on several occasions and talks to Victor he jumps into that frame. Even in the frame that is farthest removed from him, the creature ends up speaking to Walton himself meaning he jumps into that frame as well. According to Spivak, the creature even has the ability to jump completely out of the frames of the book. She states that, “The frame is thus simultaneously not a frame, and the monster can step “beyond the text” and be “lost in darkness” (Spivak 851). The monster is not subaltern. He is portrayed that way but I think that could be deliberate in an attempt to hide the real power that he seems to posses over everyone else in the novel.

From Victor’s “wildest dreams” it appears that he is deviating from the normal Oedipal development (if any of it can actually be called ‘normal’), and instead of progressing from the infantile Oedipal stage into an adult stage where he is supposed to look for substitutes for his mother, he is regressing back from the substitute, namely Elizabeth, to his mother, as is seen in the dream figure’s transformation. This revival of an infantile stage is a return of the repressed and this which arouses the uncanny, along with the incest taboo that is ingrained in society, causes Victor to be absolutely horrified with his unholy desire, as is seen in the image of the “graveworms crawling”(61) which, according to Freud, could be a safer way to express his horror at his incestuous thoughts, as ‘insects’ is a word similar to ‘incest’. This tension and self-abhorrence in Victor may be the source of all his anguish throughout the novel, and his drive to make the Creature. The Creature can in fact be seen as an expression of this unnatural sexual desire for his mother that is buried in his unconscious; he is the desire made flesh. Victor’s narcissism doesn’t allow him to loathe himself for what he sees as a horrifying unnatural desire, or go harmlessly neurotic like other people do when their repressed drives rise to the surface, so instead he creates a being, a manifestation of this desire, on which he can displace the hatred. This is supported by the fact that the Creature’s biggest grievance is that he is unnatural and doesn’t belong anywhere.

Like his desire for his mother, the Creature is also a literal return from the repressed, as he is put together from parts of dead bodies that were buried in the past. He is Victor’s hidden perversity exposed to whole world, as is exemplified in the image created by “[in the] light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch”(61), where the light invades the dark room, a representation of the inner compartments of Victor’s psyche, and shines on the Creature. This can also explain the description of the Creature’s eyes with “if eyes they may called”(61) which calls into question the legitimacy of his penis, as Victor is afraid that his forbidden desire for his mother means that there is something wrong with him sexually. This is why Victor seems to simultaneously hate the Creature and be obsessed with him. This is why he never tells anyone about the Creature as, to reveal his unconscious desire would be unthinkable, elucidated in how he says, “my tale is not one for the public”(78) and doesn’t even consider telling the truth to save Justine’s life. This is why he feels such strong fear, (“catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse”) and horror towards the Creature, as this is the result of the experience of the uncanny that arises when there is a return of the repressed.

The Representability of the Proletariat

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.

In class today students worked in groups of three to draw the landscape scene on pages 92-93 of Frankenstein (see pics below).  Team 3 won the competition because they were better able to represent the way the creature defied Burke’s aesthetic categories of the beautiful, the sublime, and the ugly that are deployed in this literary passage.

Nonetheless, all these pictures are masterpieces in their own right and clearly testify to my students’ imaginative powers!

Team 1

Team 1

 

Team 2

Team 2

 

Team 3

Team 3

Edmund Burke’s idea of sympathy is very applicable to Frankenstein as one of the driving forces of the novel is the creature’s desire for sympathy and understanding from someone. I chose the last passage on page 121 starting with “When night came..” and ending with “…insupportable misery” to expand on this point.

There is a huge amount of tension in this passage between the concepts of animal and man, and the ambiguity over which category the creature falls into. Words like “howling”, “wild beast” and “stand-like” make the image of him as an animal stronger. Burke says that the difference between animals and humans is that the passions of animals “are more unmixed”, and they only require a mate to be of their species and the opposite sex, whereas humans love, and search for socially pleasing qualities as well. In this the creature is like an animal as he pleads Victor to create for him a female, and gives no regard for her beauty or nature. But unlike the animals, he doesn’t feel like he belongs in the woods, which is seen in the images of “cold stars [shining] in mockery”, “bare branches” and the tension between the “hell” inside him and the “universal stillness” outside. He is “unsympathised with” even by nature, and has very human thoughts. For instance, as his pain is so close and real, it is not at all the sublime and so to alleviate some of it he wants to “spread havoc and ruin around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin”, as in watching from a distance the terror and distress that this would cause, he would touch upon the sublime, and also feel the “degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others”(Burke, Pg 42), that Burke discusses. These are entirely human tendencies.

The phrase “luxury of sensation” struck me as very interesting and odd. The “sensation” seemed to have been keeping at bay his despair, and when he had to stop it all hit him. I think this is because, as Burke says, Sense is universal and “is in all men the same, or with little difference” (Burke, Pg 13). Thus “sensation” was a luxury to the creature as it allowed him to feel as if he belonged and was the same as man, which was his deepest wish.

In the ending of this passage however, the Creature renounces this wish and declares war on all mankind. Where before he felt sympathy for humans, such as Felix, he now says that he will cease. This is because where before he wanted to be one with men, and so felt the bond of sympathy which unites all humans, here is when he declares himself separate and different. Humans didn’t think of him as one of them and so did not feel a reciprocal sympathy, and in this light he relinquishes any desire to become human and the bond of sympathy along with it. The Creature asserts himself as not a man now, as he refers to humans as a “species” separate from his own, but he has learnt too much to go back to being an animal, as he is filled with human thoughts and emotions. Thus, he is trapped somewhere in the middle without belonging to either side, he is both and neither, and this unresolved tension is what torments him throughout the rest of the novel.

Phoenix_fire

The miserable creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein purports to kill himself, yet his words invoke a curious sense of triumph and hope in an afterlife. This seeming paradox is far from it, for the fire he plans to die in is at once destroying and purifying, emphasizing the creature’s spiritual humanity.

This goes without saying, but burning alive is horrifying. The creature recognizes so much, saying he will “exult in the agony of the torturing flames” (Shelley 189). I’ll get to the strange exulting part, but, hey, let’s first recognize the very real, very scary agony and torture he’s facing. Worse, the creature declares that his present miseries will be “extinct” (189), invoking dramatic finality since, by nature of his unique creation, his demise will literally be an extinction.

That’s pretty dang sad. So why exult? Part of it has to do with fire’s purifying properties. The Bible describes how, as a blacksmith refines impure minerals in a fire to produce dazzling gold, God can purify a man from unrighteousness. The creature subscribes to this, believing that the death of his physical body is not truly an end since, as his “ashes will be swept into the sea” (189), his “spirit will sleep in peace” (189). This image works on multiple levels, invoking the idea of “from dust to dust” as well as that of the majestic phoenix (his spirit) rising from the ashes. Finally, as the creature is “soon borne away by the waves” (189), I cannot help but think of how he may soon be reborn as his spirit moves on. The circle is complete, for as a “spark of being” (60) initially brings him to a hideous earthly existence, a grand “conflagration” (189) sends him out into a new purer one. The creation may’ve been dead parts come to life, but he sure appears to have a soul. And he goes out with a bang.

More than Mad Science

Young Frankenstein

Before reading the novel, I thought the story went something like this: a nameless mad scientist works in a lab. His creation lies lifeless, strapped to a metal table. A little, hooded, hunchbacked attendant assists the scientist (Igor, was his name?). “Yes, master. Of course, master,” he says. He pulls a switch, sending volts of electricity through the creation, probably electrocuting himself as well in the process. It is dark and stormy outside. Lightning flashes and thunder clashes. The creature, Frankenstein, rises stiffly from the table, breaking the straps as it moves. “It’s alive! It’s alive!” the mad scientist yells gleefully. His eyes are wide and gleaming as he approaches his creation. More lightning. Before the scientist can speak, or maybe after he gives an order, the creature knocks him aside. Then the creature attacks Igor, or it trashes the lab. Whatever the creature does next, the actions show that the creature is violent and unable to be controlled, and that creating it was a mistake.

Needless to say, that isn’t exactly what happens in the novel. For starters, Victor Frankenstein, before he made the creature, at least, was not a mad scientist. He was a college student. His studies led him to research the cause of life. It was after his discovery of how to create life that he animated the creature. Instead of an insane scientist, the book portrays a relatively rational scientist who genuinely wanted to improve people’s lives. It’s only after the creation scene that his sanity starts to whither.

The creation scene in the novel contrasts starkly with what I thought happened. Victor works alone. Where did Igor come from, anyway? When the creature comes to life, Victor immediately backs away in horror. He is not at all excited or ecstatic like I thought the scientist was. This is what surprised me the most: that Victor was immediately terrified of the creature. I had always thought that the creature had done something fear-worthy. He’d killed some people (which he does later, but at the point of his creation he has done nothing). He had attacked Victor; he burned some buildings, destroyed some property (which, again, he does do later). I didn’t think that some green guy with bolts in his neck who moved like his arms and legs were stiff planks was all that scary. The moment the creature opens his eyes, however, Victor high-tails it out of there. The creature’s mere appearance inspired fear and hate. The creature hadn’t had a moment to act, to reveal his nature, and already he was judged.

Before reading, I also thought that the creature was mindless, mindlessly bent towards violence. However, the creature is intelligent. He becomes proficient in a language in a month or two. He has his own hopes and desires. He wanted to be able to be a part of society, at one point. Reading the novel has shown me that Frankenstein is about much more than a mad scientist’s experiment.

(photo from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dropoutart/4925278873/in/photolist-8vekPg-5heH3d-dct2ri-9REANm-6NbU1-ptSGH-2TrnH-4r5xa9-2QEuT-2SJiLF-4XYkoH-886onX-pWE1SP-94Wr3-5vxo8B-gtaKNf-4BsYjC-pWE3Nn-dtoAzJ-diQ3NM-4W7t9b-avKTWW-53p1uu-asyk3U-joN4R3-fZT2tE-c6KF4m-4fjZCP-77D9bU-8xSnvd-cjmzAS-8XXRYc-8Ltk6w-9STrEQ-eEnycr-fmYueU-fqLsrA-5qVdsH-pEpe4X-6NbTY-5vBjGZ-pEuoyu-qKv9Vc-qBGvo9-6NbTX-abyuPf-pWDN6X-pNJ6pr-nZqFVy-4W7toN/ )

When I first read Frankenstein in high school, what struck me most about the novel was that the monster is not named Frankenstein, indeed, he has no name at all. After reading it a second time, what has struck me now is that Frankenstein is not about the monster. It is not about Victor Frankenstein. It is not about Clerval, or Elizabeth, or Felix and Safie. Frankenstein is, on a deeper level, about the way personal histories intertwine, the way the lives of people far removed from each other, ultimately culminate in one story. It’s about interrelation, not a monster.

Boris Karloff Frankenstein (1931)

The frame narrative sets the story up to cause characters removed from each other to affect one another. If Mary Shelley had chosen to write Frankenstein without the addition of the creature’s encounters at the cottage, discovering language, and Felix and Safie’s story, we would only know the flat story of Frankenstein. His creature would be an auxiliary character to further Victor’s development. What Shelley gives us instead, is a tale woven from separate angles. The creatures journey and intellectual growth change the readers perception of the character, and in turn, the reader’s perception of Victor. The purpose of the nested stories is to show that they are all essential to the understanding of the narrative; each story, from the inside out, changes the way the next layer is told, approached by the reader, or understood. The story is not really about a monster. The story is about people, and the ways in which our lives radiate out from ourselves to affect each other.