Tag Archive: duality


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.

The monster’s disgust with himself lies beneath his physical appearance. Although he desires that others look past his physical atrocities, he is “terrified when he views himself in a transparent pool.” (Frankenstein pg. 104) Through Freud’s psychoanalytic perspective, we will see that his reflection is representative of much more than his physical traits and that the text reveals why the monster was at first ” unable to believe that it was indeed  I who was reflected in the mirror (pool).”(Frankenstein pg. 104) We need to identify what the monster actually saw as he looked upon his reflection, and suggest why in fact the monster had feelings of “despondence and mortification.” (Frankenstein pg. 104)

The monster’s unbelief of his own reflection stems from his realization of the “double” effect. As the monster looks upon his reflection,  he realizes what is a representation of the “double,” that which serves as insurance against the destruction of the ego, or symbolically our deaths.(“The Uncanny” pg. 9) It can be represented through many mediums, one of which is a reflection. (“The Uncanny” pg. 9) The monster comes to the unconscious realization that what is framed by the pool is a reflection, or representation, of the double or what has been created to preserve himself.  There is a sense of horror that the monster experiences as he realizes he is the source of the reflection in the pool for two ideas I believe lead to the same conclusion. First, the significance of the “transparent” pool should be explored.(Frankenstein pg. 104) By definition, transparency “allows light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen, easy to perceive or detect.” (Merriam Webster) From this specification, the monster and the reader can trust that what the monster sees in the pool is indeed a reflection of himself. The first of the  two ideas is that the monster cannot touch or feel his reflection as though it were a tangible entity. This must create some confusion due to the idea that he is indeed a living, tangible being, but is capable of creating an intangible image in the pool. And if indeed this reflection is a representation of the double, a safeguard in place to preserve life and counteract the destruction of oneself, how can something so intangible and inanimate accomplish such a feat? The second of the two ideas suggests that the monster may have some difficulty processing the duality of his existence. The monster has unconsciously doubled himself, proved by his “reflection in the transparent pool,” as an insurance against his degeneration. This makes him a living being with, let’s say, a “reinforcement” in place for his survival. However, within this same being is the  “reality of a monster” experiencing “fatal effects of this miserable deformity,” (Frankenstein pg. 104) reason for  the reader to associate him with ideas of “unnatural or extreme ugliness, deformity, wickedness, or cruelty” subjects so opposite the existence and preservation of life. (Merriam Webster) If the creature is in fact a monster, how can he feel assured of the validity or effectiveness of his double, if indeed it is a true reflection of his monstrosity? For these reasons the monster cannot look past his feelings of “despondence and mortification” at the sight of his reflection, despite his desire for others to excuse his physical appearance.

Frankenstein’s monster consciously understands his physical hideousness, yet he still feels he can realize his existence as humanly as possible. He rationalizes it with the idea that the more humanly he behaves, the closer he becomes to realizing a human existence. For example, the creature thinks that were he to pick up language, it would make up for his deformities. The creature’s desire to attain a humanly existence is uncanny; as the desire to learn of society and to fit within its framework are foreign to the creature, yet it poses a familiar desire. This uncanny desire is strongly rooted in a sexual basis. An integral element to fitting in human society is the necessity for a sexual counterpart. To the creature the cottagers fulfill this role. Frankenstein’s monster ascribes qualities indicative of sexual attraction to the cottagers: “their grace, beauty and delicate complexions” (104). These qualities indicate femininity as opposed to the monster’s own masculinity, establishing a duality that is central to sexual counterparts. When the monsters states that he “eagerly longed to discover myself to the cottagers” we see the monster yearns to interact, and be with the cottagers,

However when the monsters sees his reflection, he realizes that the cottagers could not be his sexual counterpart. He contrasts his admiration of the “perfect forms” of the cottagers with the terror of his own appearance, highlighting their incompatibility. The monster realizes that he is there not exists a suitable sexual counterpart, yet uncannily, he still yearns for one, and from this arises the “the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification”. This is further highlighted when he compares his ordeal to that of an Adam without an Eve (118). Despite living in Paradise, Adam also uncannily desires a sexual counterpart, and it is out of his desperation that Eve is created. In parallel, the monster demands Frankenstein make a female counterpart for him. Ultimately, we see that his disgust does not arise from his self-image, but rather the implication that his appearance would not allow him any extant sexual counterpart.

Through critical Marxist techniques and theories of the sublime, the modern cultural duality of the Frankenstein myth may be explicated. This process is initiated by analysis of the main characters in Marxist terms. The creature in Frankenstein serves as the culmination of the bourgeoisie dream, long ago planted in the roots of society. Behind the façade of maintained societal sentiments such as “justice,” the elite have secretly plotted the overthrow of these same ideals. All of their silent manipulations have led up to this moment, in which they have planned to ascend to the helm of civilization as godlike beings, served by the created proletariat. As the manifestation of the bourgeoisie, Victor completes this process as planned, giving life to the monster.

However, something is deeply wrong with this entity. The proletariat and the monster were not naturally conceived in the womb, but in the mind; they have no ancestry, cobbled together from various decaying components, and forced into life by mysterious mechanistic means. Even Victor and the elite recognize the horror in such a filthy fabrication. They flee from their progeny, failing to use it as they intended. The ultimate result of this action is the suffering of all of society, expressed in the violence committed towards and by the creature. The true unnatural bourgeoisie construct is not just the proletariat class, but the hegemony of societal violence. Although they intended to rule their brave new world, all are enslaved instead by a different power, violence, expressed in the unending conflict of the creature and Victor as they hurtle towards their deaths.

The narrative inspires a great sympathetic response in the reader, as they conceive of the existential terror of the creature, and the horror of Victor in the consequences of his work. This sympathy leads to a more superficial level of the sublime, and also a realization of Montag’s “unrepresentability,” in the creature. By sympathizing with the Marxist metaphor presented, the reader perceives the invalidity of the proletariat construct, and the falseness of the capitalist symptom’s hegemony of violence, as it is unnatural and a source of terror and disgust. By understanding this invalidity, the reader also comprehends that the capitalist construct does not represent the societal ideal or even a natural creation process, and therefore leads to “unrepresentability.”

This significant realization of untruth leads to the formation of a fissure in the capitalist symptom. Behind the tattered edge, the deepest source of the sublime can almost be seen: the sublime object of ideology.  The reader begins to perceive that capitalist ideology does not reflect the “object,” which is the nature of reality. There is great awe and fear in realizing an incorrect way of viewing the real, and is therefore a great source of the sublime.

However, the capitalist symptom is not without power, even in the modern world. Like an oyster’s pearl, the ideological irritant is morphed by a smooth outer sheen. It cannot be completely removed because its sublime aspect is inherently attractive. This is the reason for the duality of the myth; it is too powerful to ignore, so it is sterilized into the common form as folk tale, which offers no threat to collapse capitalist ideology.

The novel Frankenstein is plagued by myth and fallacy. At one time, I myself believed Frankenstein to be the monster and not Victor Frankenstein, his creator. The story is an interesting one, to say the least, and if taken at face value and only read to discredit the common myths, one might miss the greater underlying message. After some thought and an analysis of my previous blogs, I have come to the conclusion that Frankenstein is much more than the story of a mad scientist, his creation, and the ruthless murders the monster commits. If Frankenstein is interpreted through the analytical lens of theorists and radicals such as Burke and Montag, I cautiously conclude that Mary Shelley was attempting to portray the human condition embodied in the monster.

Shelley uses the monster to depict what theorists find common throughout humanity. One commonality characteristic of the novel and our human condition is the exclusion of the working class, or in Montag’s terms, the proletariat. Montag says the monster represents the unrepresentability of the working class because of the lack of a tangible proletariat group in the novel, yet this is also analogous to the absence of this same working class in our cultural media and society. By excluding the working class from her piece, Shelley is depicting the humanly, natural desire for success without work or hardship. Secondly, Shelly illustrates another aspect of the human condition: the co-existence of the sublime and beautiful, also seen in the monster. One would say the monster’s physical appearance is of the sublime, supernatural and gigantic in stature, and that the monster commits horrendous crimes in his pursuit of vengeance. However, the monster’s beauty is exemplified in his pursuit of sympathy. The monster seeks acceptance and an understanding from Victor Frankenstein, sympathy that Burke would argue to be natural and logical. The dual nature of the monster mirrors that duality seen in humans. For instance, after hearing Frankenstein’s narration of the monster’s murders, Watson has feelings of indignation towards the monster, yet simultaneously expresses sympathy on behalf of Frankenstein and his loss. One might see the duality of his emotions by categorizing Watson’s indignation as a characteristic of the sublime, and attributing his sympathy to beauty. Here Shelley is proposing that the dual nature of humanity is not atypical, and most certainly that the co-existence of the sublime and beautiful within one entity is a part of the human condition.