Tag Archive: De Laceys

Blog Summary 2 – The Language of the Subaltern

Frankenstein’s monster learns the craft of language by carefully observing the interactions of a French peasant family, the De Lacey’s. Through this interaction, and a reversed Lacanian developmental stage, the creature becomes indoctrinated with the phallocentric colonialist discourse, believing it as fact.

            For Jacques Lacan, the mirror stage of development is marked by the creation of a child’s Ideal-I, and the change from the imaginary stage to the symbolic stage. The mirror stage occurs when a child sees an image or “imago”, typically its own reflection, and uses the image as a constant goal to strive for throughout life. For the creature, the mirror stage occurred atypically, and the monster unconsciously assigned the De Lacey family as its Ideal-I, “When I slept, or was absent, the forms of venerable blind father, the gentle Agatha, and the excellent Felix, flitted before me. I looked upon them as superior beings…” (105). If we take dreams, as Freud suggested, as when the unconscious comes through, then the creature’s dreams of the De Lacey family are representative of the creature’s assignment of them to the Ideal-I, which is further supported by the phrase “superior being”. The Ideal-I is unattainable, the child’s “superior being” which it can only attempt to match.

            In this period of growth, the creature also learns language. This is contrary to Lacan’s supposed steps because to him, language is an aspect of the symbolic order because it defers meaning to pre-existing words and clouds pure emotion. Because the creature learns language while in the imaginary state, it forever associates language and speech with the pure, infallible state of the imaginary order. When the creature eavesdrops on Felix’s lessons to Safie about history, he also interprets these lessons as factual, “I should not have understood the purport of this book had not Felix, in reading it, given very minute explanations” (108). The history is being told from Felix, a male member of the colonizers, to Safie, a female colonized. In that scenario, the creature and Safie become virtually identical, colonized peoples being taught the ways of the dominant culture, but in the creature’s case, he interprets this possibly filtered history as true. When he’s rejected from the De Lacey’s, he demands that Victor make him a female creature that he believes will undoubtedly stay with him, perhaps firmly believing the phallocentric discourse that Felix had taught, which would have emphasized female subservience.

            Because the creature’s imaginary and symbolic stages were reversed, he believes that language is a component of the imaginary state and is therefore infallible. This misconception causes his to wholeheartedly accept the phallocentric history that Felix had presented to Safie during her teachings.

Throughout the semster we have viewed Frankenstein through many different lenses of literary criticism in an attempt to discover what could be signified by this historical and influential text. The novel as a whole is significant, and we tend to use the different forms of criticism to evenly analyze the many different parts of this work, but when I look back at my blog posts, I find that I often chose to focus on the monster’s interactions with the de Lacey family as a central point to my analyses.

In regards to the de Lacey family, a very interesting parallel is occuring. On one side of this are the monster’s violent mood swings that he experiences upon his interactions with the family: just as Safie’s music “at once drew tears of sorrow and delight from my eyes” (107), the observances of the de Laceys “were a mixture of pain and pleasure, such as I had never before experienced” (100). The monster is simultaneously delighted and thrown into a pit of despair by these humans. He worships their values of goodness and kindness, but become wretched when he realizes that he will never be able to become one of them.

On the other side of this parallel (which may perhaps be the manifestation of the conflicting emotions described above), is the transformation of the monster due to his interactions with the de Laceys. The monster says: “I shall relate events, that impressed me with feelings which, from what I had been, have made me what I am” (106), when describing his relations with the family. Initially a benevolent and innocent creature, the monster learns of the ways of humans, and in particular what he perceives to be the extreme kindness of the de Laceys. When he is unable to gain their acceptance, his hopes are crushed and he becomes violent. Just as happiness and despair coincide in the monster, so do the potential for both kindness and violence, emotions manifested in actions.

The conflicts that rage throughout the monster in regards to the de Lacey family eventually cause the monster to snap, and the turning point of the novel to be reached. Prior to his interactions with the family, the monster is naive and benign, a mere nomad, simply satiating his instinctual desires. But following his studies and observances of the family, the monster learns of more than just instinct: he knows what it means to be spurned and rejected, and gives vent to his feelings of anguish, hatred, and vengeance. Without observing the de Laceys, there is the chance that the monster would have remained in the former state, leaving Frankenstein alone, and thus the novel would not be the novel that we have been studying all semester.

The turning point caused by the de Laceys could find its basis in many of the fields of literary criticism, but it has strong connections to ideas of the psychological. The monster’s passionate and varied surges of emotion – euphoria, happiness, sadness, anger, fear, hatred – respresent an unstable base that eventually cause him to snap and hence, the turning point. The de Lacey’s importance is that they create this unstable base, and then allow it to fall. Without them, the monster may not even have formed breakable emotions in the first place. The psychological automatically leads to Freud and his ideas of psychoanalysis: “from a psychoanalytic perspective, boys learn oedipally through identifying with the father and his threat of castration, the threat that originates concepts like honor and law” (Parker 135). This quote demonstrates the origination of higher concepts through the psychological processes of the psychoanalytic, and mirrors the monster’s learning of the higher concepts of emotion and human society through his observances and psychological processes in relation to the de Laceys. The de Laceys teach the monster everything that he knows about humanity and thus model the oedipal stage that the monster must go through in order to learn about these “higher concepts”. Once the monster has learned, the turning point is reached, demonstrating the de Lacey’s intense importance in the novel.

Frankenstein’s Monster and the Ideal-I

According to French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, an infant develops its self-identity through a stage that he calls the “mirror stage”. In this stage, the child, upon seeing its reflection, learns to identify its reflection and the child’s vision becomes the “I”. For Frankenstein’s monster the mirror stage (much like all of the monster’s life) is atypical, which results in his refusal to accept his deformities.

For Lacan, the child develops its sense of “I” as a model of its selfhood during the time of imagination, a period of fullness in psychic development. As the child matures, its physical and mental handicaps prevent the child from reaching the perfect “I” that it has identified with. Therefore the “I” becomes the “Ideal-I”, an unattainable goal of itself, and serves as the basis of the child’s future interactions, as a quest to become its ideal-I. In the creature’s development however, the steps have been reversed. The monster has learned language, which to Lacan was a component of later development, while it was essentially in a state of infancy or imagination. With language and observation of the De Laceys occurring in the imagination phase of development, the creature designates the De Lacey family as the “I” rather than himself. When the monster finally gazes into a pool of water, the stark contrast between himself and the De Laceys becomes apparent, “At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror” (104). When the monster realizes that he does not look at all like the family he had been observing, the monster effectively becomes his own other, in conflict with the ideal-I that he deemed as the De Lacey family. The creature cannot overcome his deformities because he sees himself as the force preventing himself from attaining the lives of the De Laceys. In Lacanian perspective, he has had the roles of development reversed, which results in the creature’s troubled state.