Tag Archive: exploitation

Capitalism creates oppressive conditions for working-class proletariat that belittle their value as individuals and their existence. Warren Montag’s essay, “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein” examines how the the plight of the proletariat by the wealthy bourgeoisie is reflected in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Montang concludes that Frankenstein’s monster is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability” (480). I agree with Montag that the monster is a sign of the proletariat’s unrepresentability, considering the monster’s devaluation and grievances.

Under capitalism, the proletariats, are alienated not only from the products of their labor but also themselves. The poor workers labor and produce but, because of meager wages, they will likely never have the means to afford these products no matter how much they exhaust themselves. The proletariat are also alienated from their sense of self as labor consumes their identity and their individuality is lost. This is reflected in Shelley’s novel when Frankenstein’s monster says, “I discovered also another means through which I was enabled to assist their labors. I found that the young [Felix] spent a great part of each day in collecting wood for the family fire; and, during the night, I often took his tools, the use of which I quickly discovered, and brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days” (102). One could argue that this decision to help the De Lacey family was the creature’s choice and not mandated onto him by the bourgeoisie. However, these actions were taken on as a means of survival the same way the excruciating work of the proletariat is the only way under capitalism, other than a revolution, that they can continue living. The monster’s labor is done in an effort to be recognized by the family as a benevolent being and be accepted into human society instead of being an outcast as he was made by Frankenstein and other humans. The family, who possess social capital, decides what fate the monster receives just as the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, determine how much impoverished workers are compensated. The parties who actually benefit from the labor, however, is the family who does not have to collect their own wood and the capitalists who profit from selling the products produced by the poor, while the creature and the poor continue their exploited lives.

The capitalist, bourgeois society in which Frankenstein’s monster and poor laborers alienate themselves also alienates them from other ranks in society and deprives them of their humanity. Since the proletariat produces all the products and are seen as just means to an end, little importance is placed on their lives or concerns. Montag states that, “Utterly absent from the narrative is any description or explanation of the process by which the monster was created” (477). By having this absence that Montag mentions, there is distance created between the monster and the rest of society and indicates that his origins and existence is not a matter of importance because in the end he is just the lower class who will never reach anything beyond that ranking. Also, just as the bourgeoisie “reduc[ed] the numbers of workers necessary to the production process” in order to make way for technological “industrial developments” (472), the monster is immediately abandoned by Victor Frankenstein as soon as he is dissatisfied with the final result of his creation, alluding to the characterization of worthlessness placed on the working-class that could be disposed and replaced at any moment the bourgeoisie chose. This loss of humanity and commodification, is the “unrepresentability” Montag refers to. Because the proletariat are reduced to machines working for the benefit of the upper and middle classes, they are not supposed to have a voice or have themselves or their concerns represented. The monster’s failed efforts at social mobility and his lack of power and authority not only mirror the proletariat but also marginalize him within the frame of the novel, eliminating his power to represent and voice himself within the novel as well. It is through this unrepresentability that Frankenstein’s monster represents that of the proletariat class under the oppressive conditions and unjust conditions of capitalism.  

The proletariat are monsters because of the monstrous, classist economic system developed by the rich, ruling, capitalists. The bourgeoisie did produce a product…economic servitude and the existence of the impoverished, disenfranchised proletariat. However, unlike the products forced onto the proletariat class, they receive capital that they will continue to use to exploit them, help themselves, and maintain the cycle of capitalism.

– Wendy Gutierrez

Women in Science?

I might just be tired, but I found Mellor’s argument, all in all, fairly reasonable. However, I don’t agree with Mellor in all aspects. I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to say that thinking of science as a challenge to control a “passive and possessable female” will cause research to be self-furthering and “morally insensitive” (Mellor). However, Mellor didn’t touch on the effects of gendering Nature and the sciences on female scientists and researchers. (Or I could’ve missed that because I’m so tired.) Science as a “passive and possessable female” speaks prominently to a male audience and leaves little room for and blocks the progression of women in science. Of course, not to say that women cannot also want to possessively bend Nature to their wills. I think it’s strange that Mellor doesn’t talk about this that much. Maybe she might’ve implied that this language opposes women in science; perhaps she is relying on their omission to speak for them. However, in the 18th-19th centuries (and before, and after), there were still many women in science. A quick Google search takes us to a Wikipedia list of names. I just feel like women could have constituted a more visible part of her argument. All of her sources were from men of science. By ignoring women, Mellor seems to exemplify the very erasure that the gendering Nature causes. How science is thought of–as a woman to be taken rather than what it actually is (the natural world, which is for the most part gender-neutral)–causes the “oppressive sexual politics,” rather than the actual manipulation of nature. If we get rid of all these women comparisons/personifications, then we should be good.

The Dialectic of Marxism Gone Awry

In Frankenstein, the death of Justine Moritz serves as a crucial foil to the monster and plays an important role in the development of the plot. From a Marxist perspective, the monster represents the downtrodden masses, an underclass of proletariats who can only break this cycle of enslavement by revolution. The monster’s self-actualization thus serves as the class-consciousness that can organize and fight for its own interests. Justine’s death figures prominently in Marxist terminology because it challenges the very foundations of such an interpretation, one that rests upon a history of materialism. While Justine is a servant, she grew up with Victor Frankenstein, the scientist, and the Frankenstein family treated her with dignity and respect. Victor’s image, which is that of a ruthless capitalist, is thus shattered when we learn of the relative dignity she grew up with and the lack of exploitation or alienation from society. Her death bedevils the Marxist because according to such an analysis, revolution from below in which the proletariat unites to end the suffering to which they are subjected is the dialectic of history. Justine’s death changes this entire dialectic because she becomes a victim of Marxism, the very ideology that ostensibly claims to liberate her. Her death symbolizes Marxism gone awry, a revolution in which the persecuted end up becoming the persecutors. Edmund Burke, no fervent supporter of the French Revolution, said that such a revolution would only lead to a world “polluted by massacre, and strewed with scattered limbs and mutilated carcasses” (pg. 71). Burke totally rejects the Marxist conception of Justine’s death and instead terms such a philosophy as part of the “great history-piece of the massacre of innocents” (pg. 73). While Marxism was supposed to liberate someone of her status, instead it ended up claiming her life. The monster, which symbolizes a noble proletariat rising up in Marxist terminology, wreaks havoc and destruction to destroy the very people it is seeking to represent. Burke would see Justine’s death as a wrongdoing, which explicates how revolution, initially conceived of favorably to the masses in order to rectify longstanding grievances, becomes increasingly bloody and leads to only more chaos and destruction. While Burke favored the gradual equalization of conditions in society, he would view the death of Justine as total injustice, something that would run counter to the tenets of an esteemed civilization. Perhaps he would best capture her death by saying, “All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination…are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion” (pg. 77). While these ideas promote Marxism might be praiseworthy in theory, in reality they would only lead to unmitigated bloodshed and insane brutality. Justine symbolized an innocent servant, one neither betrothed to capitalism nor Marxism, but a victim of both. While neither a slave nor part of the proletariat, her death ignites the larger dilemma of humanity in the novel. Justine would never have been executed had the monster not killed William, but her death could have equally been averted had Victor spoken out in her defense. Her death marks the death of humanity, something described as “savage and brutal” by Burke, in which the life of an ordinary, innocent citizen is taken away (pg. 80). This spearheads larger questions about the failure of Marxism to provide a remedy to the discontents of the proletariat, and shows the corrupting power of even the proletariat. In Marxist terms, the ruling class was overthrown only to result in a dictatorship of the proletariat, where even moderate, guiltless people are victimized.  

Justine’s public execution must therefore be seen solely as a tragedy. Marx claimed “all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice…the first time as tragedy, the second as farce” (pg. 41). The execution of Justine, an innocent moderate who neither identified with the extremes of capitalism and Marxism, represents the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. During the Reign, opponents of the radical revolutionary government led by Maximilien de Robespierre were summarily executed and purged, ostensibly for being enemies of the revolution. The failure of Victor to defend Justine, and the creature’s conflicted view of Justine in which he realizes he will never have her beauty and that she’d treat him horribly just as Victor did, result in the death of a spotless human being. Because the French revolution, according to both Burke and Marx, was truly unique and the first of its kind, the period of political instability and terror that followed it was also truly unprecedented. While revolutions had indeed occurred before, nothing quite similar to the reign of Terror had ever occurred before. Marx said, “Earlier revolutions required world-historical recollections in order to drug themselves concerning their own content. In order to arrive at its content, the revolution of the nineteenth century must led the dead bury their dead” (pg. 43). The French revolution only brought change because the bourgeoisie was able to deny the dialectic of history, which necessitated that the oppressed class would always rise up against its capitalist persecutors. Because this dialectic had not been established, the capitalists were able to disguise their true intentions. However, the revolutions of the nineteenth century were able to use that dialectic to truly understand the actual intentions of the capitalist ruling class and were historically conscious in that sense. Therefore, the French revolution must be seen as a singular event in history, necessitating that we see Justine’s death as tragedy instead of farce.