Tag Archive: essentialism

Melanney Giron

When you look into the world that isn’t what you are normally used to seeing, you get a sense of immigration from what is called your ‘home’ and comfort. It is important to keep this in mind when you look at the possible reasons as to why the creature in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein insists on proving “the truth of [their] tale” by giving Victor, the main character, a copy of the letters by Safie, a Muslim Arab migrant from Turkey. Although written in 1818, Shelley’s novel brings up controversial themes, one of them being the action of victimization of internal colonization as talked about by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Safie’s character, although an important part of the creature’s knowledge of the world, has limited character description from her own point of view.

Shelley wrote, “Safie related, that her mother was a Christian Arab, seized and made a slave by the Turks; recommended by her beauty, she had won the heart of the father of Safie, who married her. The young girl spoke in high and enthusiastic terms of her mother, who, born in freedom, spurned the bondage to which she was now reduced,” (111). Although a female character, the way the creature expressed Safie’s “story” and her “own fate,” the letters are retold in the eyes of the creature, an apparent male character. The creature is able to understand the isolation felt by Safie as a colonizer which could explain why the creature wanted to explain a tale that was not his.

The letters express Safie’s gratitude for Felix’s efforts on her father’s behalf, while also “gently” deploring Safie’s “own fate.” They are the letters of a young woman who has been promised in marriage to a man she loves but barely knows. In order to make clear her hopes for her own marriage, they recount the story of her mother’s unfortunate experience with men and with marriage. The creature told Victor that Safie lived a life controlled by men and a country who supported this idea. Essentialism could be used to explain the creatures desires to discover the reason for his existence.


Frankenstein’s Abortion

I sat on the swing outside on the patio, relaxing in the pale moon-glow2light of the rising moon, trying to forget for a while the horrible events of the day. It was supposed to be a happy day, the happiest day of my life. Seeing your baby for the first time is supposed to be a magical moment where awe and wonder at the fact that you made that should overwhelm you. Instead all I could think about was that my baby girl might be deformed, physically and possibly mentally. The doctors weren’t certain about the exact nature of her deformity, but she was there was a strong probability that she was going to be different. I was having a child without no conception of how she was going to turn out. She might be the kid no one ever played with, she might be rejected everywhere she went simply for her differences. She would not thank me for her creation. How could she ever have a normal life? She might be full of anger and hate, unable to cope with her situation, and lash out at the world.

Years ago I had made this same mistake and my son had never forgiven the fact that I could never love him the way he wanted me to or give him the life he desired. He wanted me to have the baby. My son wanted someone he could call family. He had sworn to help provide for and take care of her, but the child may not be satisfied with this and might still loathe me. He might also be disgusted with her deformity and reject her. Anything could happen! How could I know, how could I go through with this when there was so much risk?

If she ever wanted children, her condition would be passed on, and they too might lead terrible lives. Did I have a right, simply to satisfy my desire for a baby, to curse my daughter and all the generations that come after her to lives of loneliness, rejection and suffering? I trembled to think of how much they would hate me, the source of all their pain, who would selfishly choose my own wants without a care for the effect on my descendants.

I looked inside the house through the window and saw him sitting in front of the fireplace, the light dancing on his face in hellish flames.  He wanted someone to love and love him. I had felt so sorry for him that I had agreed to have the baby. He had persuaded and threatened me, to extract that promise, but now its selfishness  and immorality burst over me. As I looked at him, I realized that though his impassioned words had swayed me before, this was my decision and I couldn’t let fear or a desire to satisfy someone else’s wants make that decision for me. A shudder wracked my body and I felt a shift somewhere within. A strange sensation came over me and in a wild rush I threw open the door and said, “I can’t do it. I can’t bring that in to the world.  I’m not going through with this baby.”

An Interview with the Author of the Wildly Popular ‘Frankenstein’s Abortion’ 

Interviewer: It’s so nice to meet you! Congratulations on making the New York Time Top 100 Bestsellers’ list! How has the ride been?

MK: Oh its been mind-boggling. When I wrote that story I was just re-reading the scene in Frankenstein where he destroys the female creature, and thinking about how the novel portrays men through what takes place when a man tries to usurp the natural order. I tried to turn that on its head and write what Victor was feeling, but seemingly from the point of view of a pregnant woman. I never expected people to like it so much.

Interviewer: Why do you think its become so popular?

MK: I wrote it to show the gender essentialism and gender roles we propagate, and I think it resonated with people because of the large amount of attention that feminism has been receiving recently. When Victor destroys the female creature in the book one feels horror, fear for the monster’s retribution and pity for the Creature. The selfishness of Victor seems to come to the fore and the reader thinks “After coming all the way here, upsetting everybody, postponing his wedding and working for hours” he just decides to destroy her and doom himself. But when I portrayed the same things Victor says, in an almost stylistically identical manner, but giving the impression that the individual is a pregnant woman who has been persuaded to have a baby, this scene elicits pity for the speaker’s situation and anger that someone is coercing her into having the baby, very different from what it inspired in readers when the person in question was a man. I think people are responding to this subtle demonstration of the essentialist views everyone holds and it shows what we need to take steps toward changing.

Interviewer: I notice that you never explicitly say the word ‘pregnant’ or make clear that the speaker is a woman. Is there some reason for that?

MK: I only wanted to give the impression of a female speaker, to show even simply that is enough to make the reader feel sympathetic towards her, as a helpless victim.

Interviewer: Why did you choose to write about abortion specifically? I mean as I understand it, there are numerous examples of feminine essentialism and objectification of the female body in Frankenstein, embodied in Justine and Elizabeth. Why did you choose this scene and this issue?

MK: Abortion has been a major topic of contention recently with numerous new legislature being passed in different states. I wanted to throw some light on that topic too. The tense that this story is written in is the same as the novel’s and it imparts the idea that could be happening at any time, any place and to anyone.

Interviewer: Is there anything else you would like to say?

MK: Well, I just want to mention how ridiculously easy it was to mould this scene in Frankenstein into one of a pregnant woman deciding to abort, and it is almost as if Mary Shelley was talking about abortion too. Victor says “My labour was already considerably advanced… [but I had] forebodings of evil, that made my heart sicken in my bosom”, which is very similar to a woman who is pretty far along in her pregnancy but dreads the prospect of the baby and does not want it anymore.

Interviewer: Thank you so much for coming, I look forward to reading more of your brilliant work.

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.


Over the course of the semester, I’ve become most interested in the usage of language and communication, both as tools to reach an ideal “I”, and as a way for different literature to communicate with each other. To me, the idea of language as both a tool and a barrier that we use to try to embody the symbolic is deeply fascinating, affecting us not only on a person-to-person scale, but on a cultural scale. There’s some pure form behind Frankenstein, out of the reach of the novel and the films. Words, Lacan reminds us, are just approximations. These works constantly speak to each other, trying to build towards that imago, that idealized pure form they want to be. Kenneth Branagh’s film tried to exceed the novel — and yet his Creature, designed to be sympathetic, came out as little more than a sadistic monster by the end of the movie. The lack of sympathy felt towards the Creature is due to it’s total lack of the novel’s psychodynamic linguistic elements.

Language, and particularly the Creature’s linguistic development, play a key role in the novel. His narration offers a window into his psyche, and it reveals his deep adoration for the De Lacey’s. It displays the nature of his development, showing how the Creature identified the De Lacey’s as his ideal “I”, rather than his own reflection. When the De Lacey’s betray him and he realizes his imago is a lie, he is  submerged in the Real. His violence becomes not just a response to society rejecting him, but a result. In the film, this adoration is made unclear. Branagh removed the narration but failed to compensate for the lost window. The De Lacey’s are never made into his imago, and the Creature’s turn from docile to hostile becomes far more one-dimensional than the complex motivations of the character in the novel.

The film, rather, tries to communicate and outdo the novel by heightening the intensity of the conclusion by including the composite female body. Diverting from the novel after following it (mostly) faithfully for it’s duration is a direct comment on the novel; the film, looking back through time seems to say “Hey! It’s the 20th century! We can give women a choice!” However, this choice falls flat. It essentializes women, instead: it combines two starkly different women–servant Justine and aristocratic Elizabeth–into one body in an attempt to unify all women. The message comes out muddled, and the film seems to say that all women want choice. The novel, however, resists such temptations. Such is the nature of aspiration and competition. While it can lead to profound success, it can also destroy the fine balance of an existing literary work. In the end, Kenneth Branagh’s film shows just how minute of a tight-rope Shelley walked when writing Frankenstein. The story she was trying to reach is within her grasp, so much so that I doubt anyone will ever use language to get closer.