Tag Archive: double consciousness


By: Leena Beddawi

America has been expanding its laws surrounding refugees and immigrants crossing its borders for decades, the most drastic set of expansions being created after the attack on September 11, 2001. Throughout these border security and law expansions, one thing that never changed is the law granting asylum for any refugee seeking protection from a country which defines a refugee as a “person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country, and cannot obtain protection in that country, due to past persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the future ‘on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.’”.

Frankenstein’s creature insists on proving the “truth of my tale” in order to show that there are wildly different perspectives in this world and the means are just as valuable as the ends, how they became who they are, what they overcame to get here, is just as important as their very existence. I could only assume that in giving these letters to Victor, the creature hoped to change his mind about those who he considered being “other”.  One thing we see in many refugee or immigrant story is that they usually perfect models of W. E. B. Du Bois’ double-consciousness.

Double-consciousness is a concept in social philosophy which explains the presence of two apparently unconnected streams of consciousness in one individual, usually having to do with race, ethnicity, or originating country. This is something many refugees go through in order to search for a better life, they learn a whole new language, accustom to another culture, and try to peacefully integrate themselves in a space that is completely foreign to them because this is their only hope.

Safie is a Muslim Arab migrant from Turkey, but very much became a citizen of the world in accordance with Felix’s locations. Wherever he went, she wished to follow, and she made that place her home because they were together. I believe the creature’s pride in “learn[ing] from the views of a developed social life, to admire their virtues, and to deprecate the vices of mankind” helped him to empathize with the conquered native Americans and to see himself in the immigrant or refugee status because they each had felt that same sense of double-consciousness (114).

caravan

The president of the United States of America has chosen to demonize, criminalize, and verbally dehumanize the thousands of asylum seekers currently coming towards the border from Central America, most escaping Honduras, which many news organizations call “The World’s Deadliest Country”. Many of these people are young men, women, children, and elderly. Before they enter, they hope to apply as asylum seekers, which should technically aid them in a legal route of asylum. In the U.S., however, the immigration systems are severely out-of-date and meant to delay asylum to refugees for many small reasons, the main of which is just the subjectivity of opinion which goes with who gets asylum and who doesn’t.

I think if we were somehow able to share each individual story from the thousands of asylum seekers and hardworking individuals looking for a better life, searching for any life, we can actually start changing minds of politicians who see them as nothing but invaders. But if the president was presented with individual stories of the humanitarian crisis the refugees have been running from, one would hope that he would welcome those people with open arms, and allow asylum to those who need it.

In Frankenstein, I believe it was best summed up by Safie when describing why she never want to go back to Asia, where she was “allowed only to occupy herself with infantile amusements, ill-suited to temper her soul, now accustomed to grand ideas and a noble emulation for virtue” (112). This showed not only her desperation to go to another country where she could be herself without constraints, but showed how this alone should be enough to pass through and see if you can make a better life in another country. The very idea of borders exudes a racist, xenophobic ideology which has yet to be updated after many decades of fear mongering anything “other” to us, much like how the creature is treated by everyone they come in contact with, as well. It is no surprise they see themselves in the refugee story since their own double-consciousness must be deafening within themselves.

The Creature’s tale is in many ways Safie’s. Watching the de Lacey family interact is largely how the Creature is socialized to see gender, power dynamics, acceptance, and most importantly truth. His truth specifically. The voyeuristic education the Creature participates in teaches him that the same constraints that apply to Safie apply to him. As someone at an educational disadvantage the Creature must learn a new language like Safie in order to at least be closer to being at the same level. Safie and the Creature both are not native to this language or the culture associated with it so as they are educated they do not take everything with a grain of salt. The Creature’s serious reading of Paradise Lost is a prime example of taking seriously something part of a culture that isn’t as important as an outsider may see it. Immigrants some times believe in certain stereotypes of the country they are immigrating to because of the way these countries choose to portray themselves as and then ultimately come to the realization that this portrayal is a lie. This creates double-consciousness because the immigrants now experience themselves through their own eyes and the eyes of the country they are immigrating to because even if the portrayal is incorrect there will be people who make it seem as if it’s an accurate one.

Here is where the Creature fails to realize double-consciousness exists. He presents someone else’s story as a sort of explanation for his own and in doing so is not only seeing himself through his own eyes but also through the eyes of Safie. Someone who recognizes that she now can see herself through multiple perspectives. Perhaps if the Creature had realized that double-consciousness existed he would not have chosen to use her letters as an explanation for his own life and would have written his own. Instead of using someone else’s story of migration and the life changing moments to make his own story more credible he would have relied on his own storytelling more.

By Diana Lara

Many assumptions and theories alike can be made as to why the creature insisted upon the truth of his tale by giving Victor the letters by Safie, though one reason I found that might warrant this sort of behavior could be of the creature seeking that validation he very much craved from Victor, his creator. During this confrontation, the creature makes note of the ways in which Victor neglected him, “I remembered Adam’s supplication to his creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him,” (Ch.15) and had since mentioned it during his recollection of his life, “no father had watched my infant days,” (Ch.13) and so on. It’s through their relationship that we could even compare it to that of Safie and her father’s. From what the creature collected from her past, her father used her in order to escape, having noticed the way Felix looked at his daughter. When she confronts him, the creature recollects it as “leaving her angrily, reiterating his tyrannical mandate.” (Ch.14). 

The correlation of the creature’s need for Victor’s validation to Safie is that he felt in some way connected to her. Throughout the story, the creature learns French with Safie, and it’s through this that he begins to feel this sort of bond, or rather he feels the all more connected to her and then even more so when he learns of her past. He also relates to her in the sense of wanting to rise in rank, as she had shown interest in this when she was told by her mother and he obviously does not want to remain as the monster the villagers and those around her have put him as. He wants to be seen, to be validated, and to be taken in.  

And it’s through all of this do we also get a sense of double consciousness coming from the creature. W.E.B. Du Bois’ double consciousness describes the sensation of feeling as though your identity is divided into several parts, making it difficult or impossible to have one unified identity. Towards the end of his recollection, the creature questions his existence and goes as far as to compare it to Victor, “God, in pity, made man beautiful . . . but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance,” (Ch.15) and then with the devil, “I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition, for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me,” (Ch.15). He also goes on to mention the other numerous times in which he questions his existence and his origin, “I was not even of the same nature as men,” (Ch.13) and then more so as he talks about how he eventually became cursed with knowledge and left wondering such things about himself the more he learned about the world.

– Lou Flores

Tales from the Borderlands

By: Mary Russell

The creature gives Safie’s letters to Victor in order to, “Prove the truth of [his] tale,” and his time spent with the De Lacey’s (111). This is interesting considering Safie’s letters have nothing to do with what happened in the De Lacey household — the part of the tale that includes the creature — and instead tells her story of immigration and family life. For the letters to represent the creature’s tale, he would have to relate to Safie’s story in some way. The most obvious is that they both suffer oppression from their fathers but that is not enough to make their stories combined. Both the creature and Safie exist in the borderlands, and view themselves from the double-conscious perspective.

The borderlands can be physical or emotional, but either way they are socially created. Obviously Safie struggles with physical borderlands, being afraid of her father sending her back to Turkey. She also experiences social blockades, wherein she would be forced to be, “Immured within the walls of a haram, allowed only to occupy herself with infantile amusements, ill suited to the temper of her soul,” (111-112). Safie was intelligent, and yearned for education however she was barred from pursuing such activities while she lived in Turkey due to her father’s beliefs. She is forced by him to live as he believes a Muslim woman should, keeping her from being a free woman. She is shackled to him through physical boundaries, and oppressed through social institutions. So too does the creature exist in borderlands. He is forced into hiding, a physical border of the walls of the De Lacey household hiding him from their sight. In a way, he too is immured within the walls of their shed. While he does receive an education there, it does not feed his desire for family, only eases his boredom. The social borders preventing him from a family life is his physical appearance and prejudices based on that. He views the De Lacey family as angelic and yet he admits that, “A fatal prejudice clouds their eyes, and where they ought to see a feeling and kind friend, they behold only a detestable monster,” (120). He can not be free as he desires, and instead must hide and trap himself in the darkness.

Besides these boundaries preventing them from being treated as equals, Safie and the creature also view themselves with W.E.B Du Bois double-conscious perspective. Safie’s mother was Christian, and born a free woman. She, “Instructed her daughter in the tenets of her religion, and taught her to aspire to higher powers of intellect,” (111). Safie was a Muslim woman, soon to be forced into servitude by her father. Yet, she viewed herself and her circumstances through the lens of a free Christian. The creature says that her mother’s teachings stuck with her, forever turning her eyes westward in the hopes of education. In reality, Christianity at that time was just as oppressive towards women. Safie’s mother though, viewed the father’s beliefs as unfair and more oppressive. Because of this, Safie too viewed the customs as more oppressive and barbaric. The creature is disgusted by himself, purely because of what social norms he is taught. Through his books the creature learns what is “good” and what is “bad.” The creature states that, “My person was hideous, and my stature gigantic: what did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination?” (115). These questions did not begin to plague the creature until he started reading the books. These books taught him that beauty was good, despite the fact that he knew his soul desired good. He thought himself disgusting purely because that was what everyone else thought. He knew deep down he was good, but buried that with the perceptions of the outside world in a self fulfilling prophecy.

Both Safie and the creature are oppressed for facts they can not change. Her story of suffering and betrayal matches his own. They are physically, emotionally, and socially kept from pursuing what they desire. Of course, eventually Safie gets the life she desires. This cements to the creature that beauty is worthy while his own ugliness is not. Either way, her letters were written during her suffering. The creature does not give them to Victor to prove the truth of his tale. He gives them to Victor to prove the truth of his suffering.

By Alex Luna

The topic of critical race studies brings an interesting perspective into Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. From the works of scholars such W.E.B. Du Bois and Parker, there are an abundance of ideas that could be applied to the characters of the novel, particularly that of the creature and Safie, the adopted member of the De Lacy family, which the creature gains a strong affinity towards. Ultimately, the character of Safie reflects a parallel journey between her and the creature, revealing how the creature is a characterization of colonized subjects.

When the creature tells his creator, Victor, that the letters he took will “prove the truth of my tale” it’s interesting to note how he says “my tale.” The fact that he says this could be an indication that the creature heavily identifies with Safie’s story. The story that he identifies with is that of being a stranger in a strange land, or a foreigner, with no formal education surrounded by mystery and the fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of one’s place in society. Earlier in the novel, Safie is described as not being understood by the other cottagers, similar to the creature’s inability to grasp language at first, and the plights of having to learn. Similar to W.E.B. Du Bois idea of the double consciousness, of seeing yourself through the lens of another person, the creature and Safie both experience this. 

As Safies story unfolded to Victor and the reader, the parallels between her journey and the creature’s become more clear. One interesting takeaway is that of Safie’s mother, who is referenced as having “taught her to aspire to higher powers of intellect and an independence.” Aside from the feminist notion of independence, what’s interesting here is the “intellect” aspirations, which sounds awfully similar to Victor’s own aspirations. And another correlation to colonization, in which imperialists sought to gain intellect and domination by conquering lands and other cultures.

Safie’s relationship with her father also shows some connections between the creature and Victor. Safie’s father has a rather conservative perspective, by not wanting her to be with Felix, which ultimately leads to a heavy strain in their relationship. While she and her father have a much more complex history, their strained relationship is another thing that the creature identifies with, since he feels feelings of disdain toward his creator, or “father,” Victor.

Furthermore, Safie’s journey leads her to be “left alone, unacquainted with the language of the country and utterly ignorant of the customs of the world.” This sounds strikingly similar to the creature. He was abandoned, completely unacquainted with language, and did not understand the customs of the world. While Safie may not be considered a colonized subject, this description of her experience could be attributed to the circumstances surrounding real-life colonized peoples lives. That of separation, language barriers, and being forced to learn new cultural practices that possibly clashed with their own.

Though the circumstances of their lives may have been different when the creature weeps with Safie upon learning about colonized subjects, it is because he not only identifies with Safie herself, upon being a stranger trying to find their way, but they each characterize similar traits of colonized subjects. Just as the image below shows the creature, or the colonized peeking into the world of the imperialistic, this foreign feeling, this travel into the unknown, this cultural clash is all something colonized subjects experienced, albeit in a more amplified way in real life. 

 safie