Tag Archive: Freud


victor & elizabeth

I haven’t seen Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 film version of Frankenstein, so honestly I’m not too sure what’s going on in that scene up there. I mean, yes, that’s Victor and Elizabeth clearly having a moment. But I wonder, is Elizabeth dead in that picture?

She probably isn’t, but hear me out — the only times Victor shows intense passion for Elizabeth (in Mary Shelley’s 1831 book, at least) is during his particularly vivid dream (which I’ll get to) and after Elizabeth’s dead, when he “rushed towards her, and embraced her with ardour” (168), observing “the deadly languor and coldness of the limbs” (Shelley 168).

Now, that dream. In it, Victor’s walking the streets of Ingolstadt, when suddenly he see Elizabeth “in the bloom of health” (61). He recounts, “Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death, her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms” (61).

Sigmund Freud would have a field day with this one. Believing that dreams were fuzzy windows into the unconscious, Freud analyzed dreams to find repressed bestial desires now made into altered, more acceptable forms. According to Freud, “every emotional affect, whatever its quality, is transformed by repression into morbid anxiety” (Freud 429), and if this repressed object recurs and causes anxiety, then it’s considered uncanny. Yup, Victor’s sure sounds like an uncanny dream.

So why this dream now? Why would Victor think of his dead mother now? Well, this happens just after he’s given life — given birth — to his creation. And remember, one of the biggest reasons he decided to do this whole thing was because he thought, “if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption” (Shelley 58).

Because the death of his mother absolutely wrecked him. In fact, Victor calls it “that most irreparable evil” (50). In describing his mother’s nursing of Elizabeth from scarlet fever (which ultimately kills her), he details, “Elizabeth was saved, but the consequences of this imprudence were fatal to her preserver” (49). Imprudence? Ouch. For every tender word he uses to describe Elizabeth, this speaks volumes. Undoubtedly, Victor has not gotten over the death of Caroline Frankenstein, “this best of women” (49). Worse, Caroline straight-up tells Elizabeth (really, the reason she’s dying in the first place) to replace her, as she says, “Elizabeth my love, you must supply my place to my younger children” (49).

And in a way, Elizabeth does. She is the sole madam and caretaker and ultimately wife of the Frankenstein house. But she’s also inadequate. Victor’s affections clearly remain with his dead mother, shown through Elizabeth transforming into Caroline in his dream as well as his obsession with animating dead matter. Because of Victor’s repressed resentment for Elizabeth, she cannot fully replace Caroline as mother and lover.  And most telling of all, Victor, ever the egomaniac, takes on this pursuit on his own, taking the role of mother in forming the creation. Pretty sure that didn’t work out so well either.

From Victor’s “wildest dreams” it appears that he is deviating from the normal Oedipal development (if any of it can actually be called ‘normal’), and instead of progressing from the infantile Oedipal stage into an adult stage where he is supposed to look for substitutes for his mother, he is regressing back from the substitute, namely Elizabeth, to his mother, as is seen in the dream figure’s transformation. This revival of an infantile stage is a return of the repressed and this which arouses the uncanny, along with the incest taboo that is ingrained in society, causes Victor to be absolutely horrified with his unholy desire, as is seen in the image of the “graveworms crawling”(61) which, according to Freud, could be a safer way to express his horror at his incestuous thoughts, as ‘insects’ is a word similar to ‘incest’. This tension and self-abhorrence in Victor may be the source of all his anguish throughout the novel, and his drive to make the Creature. The Creature can in fact be seen as an expression of this unnatural sexual desire for his mother that is buried in his unconscious; he is the desire made flesh. Victor’s narcissism doesn’t allow him to loathe himself for what he sees as a horrifying unnatural desire, or go harmlessly neurotic like other people do when their repressed drives rise to the surface, so instead he creates a being, a manifestation of this desire, on which he can displace the hatred. This is supported by the fact that the Creature’s biggest grievance is that he is unnatural and doesn’t belong anywhere.

Like his desire for his mother, the Creature is also a literal return from the repressed, as he is put together from parts of dead bodies that were buried in the past. He is Victor’s hidden perversity exposed to whole world, as is exemplified in the image created by “[in the] light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch”(61), where the light invades the dark room, a representation of the inner compartments of Victor’s psyche, and shines on the Creature. This can also explain the description of the Creature’s eyes with “if eyes they may called”(61) which calls into question the legitimacy of his penis, as Victor is afraid that his forbidden desire for his mother means that there is something wrong with him sexually. This is why Victor seems to simultaneously hate the Creature and be obsessed with him. This is why he never tells anyone about the Creature as, to reveal his unconscious desire would be unthinkable, elucidated in how he says, “my tale is not one for the public”(78) and doesn’t even consider telling the truth to save Justine’s life. This is why he feels such strong fear, (“catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse”) and horror towards the Creature, as this is the result of the experience of the uncanny that arises when there is a return of the repressed.

While reading about the uncanny and its definition, as well as Freud’s general theories and theses regarding it, everything started to fall into place with regards to Frankenstein and his monster.  The immediate conclusion that is brought to mind is that Frankenstein is using his creature to put into physical being his double, and through this regressing into his childhood again because he is experiencing the uncanny – he is experiencing his double as an adult.  But I think a large factor is that Frankenstein has experienced his development in a twisted way, and therefore in experiencing the uncanny he sees a return of the repressed material that illustrates the disruption of his natural development, which may be the causation for the need to create his creature.

In a regular trajectory of development, a child would experience their childhood narcissism and create ideas for their double, where it is acceptable since the narcissism has not been overcome.  Then, later on in life, as the narcissism is overcome, encountering the double will end up leading the person to the uncanny and return them to childhood thoughts and memories.  Naturally, we can interpret his creature as his double.  Yet there is something very critical that happens in Victor’s experience of the uncanny: “I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams.   I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt” (61).  According to the Oedipal design of development in relation to the family, a person’s development of feelings of affection towards an individual are based on the interactions with their parents and basically, whether they have fear of castration or penis envy.  The “normal” development of a male child will push them to have affection for their mother, and then transfer that affection to a woman that reminds them of their mother.  Instead Frankenstein has been attached by affection to Elizabeth since so early in his life (since the age of five) that he was not able to properly complete his development with regard to affection of his mother.  With regard to Elizabeth, Frankenstein has this to say early on in the narrative – “Elizabeth Lavenza became the inmate of my parents’ house – more than my sister – the beautiful and adored companion of all my occupations and pleasures” (43).  Victor prematurely transferred his affections from his mother onto his “cousin,” and if this aspect of development was disrupted, is it not also possible other aspects of his development was disrupted?  In particular, what if he never truly overcame his childhood narcissism, and is, instead of mentally, physically creating his double in order to ensure his immortality?

Victor: The Half-formed Man

So in case we weren’t already convinced, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory proves it: Victor is messed up. Based on Freud’s writing, I might also venture to say, it takes one to know one. This is my interpretation for how it all went down:

According to Freud, the “double” may be an external projection of repressed infantile material, that “the quality of uncanniness can only come from the circumstance of the ‘double’ being a creation dating back to a very early mental stage” (426). Victor’s manic obsession with giving life to the monster is then the resurfacing of his repressed infantile psychic, primarily in the form of his castration anxiety. Unlike most boys following “normal” development, Victor never resolved his castration anxiety: he never overcame his affection for his mother, and consequently has remained fearful of his father castrating him for this unnatural attachment. This is evident in his dream, in which Elizabeth, the natural object of his affection, transfigures into “the corpse of my dead mother.” Victor then “started from [his] sleep with horror,” as if realizing he still possesses an attraction for his mother and her appearance in “a shroud” condemns this unnatural affection.

The image of the “dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters” as the means of revealing what is uncanny to Victor (the monster=his double =his repressed castration anxiety) evokes Freud’s idea of the uncanny as the reappearance, the illumination of the familiar, but repressed aspects of infantile development. The uncanny appears in this scene as Victor’s double: the monster. As his double, the monster is then the embodiment of Victor’s castration anxiety. Not coincidentally, the first thing Victor describes is the monster’s eyes, how “his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me.” According to Freud, “that anxiety about one’s eyes, the fear of going blind, is often enough a substitute for the dread of being castrated” (424). Further, the monster appears with “one hand outstretched, seemingly to detain me,” a physical position which represents the penis Victor is afraid of losing. In Victor’s case, the uncanny is the resurfacing of his earlier psychic stages in the form of the double he has created, an unconscious effort to resolve his castration anxiety which actually, to his horror, illuminates it and perpetuates its torment of him. For example, when Victor later refuses to give the monster a mate, he prolongs his unresolved castration anxiety by refusing then to resolve the monster’s anxiety (manifested in his desire for a mate, which would confirm his possession of a penis).

Trapped In The Closet

Victor’s desire to bring life to an inanimate object – to birth life from his own creation – can be likened to what Freud would call a pathological male development. According to Freud, Victor’s obsession with making a ‘baby’ comes from a deep seated desire to find a substitute for his father’s penis. (Pause)

In the ‘normal’ development of the Male Oedipal Complex, Victor would start to identify with his father, and then look for a substitute to satisfy the subconscious infatuation his Id would have with his mother. On a surface level, it looks like Victor has found this in Elizabeth, so it would be easy to say that Victor has experienced a normal development.

But writing a post about that would not push any boundaries, and would surely result in yet another mediocre grade! Instead, we must consider: throughout the story, we see Victor display many narcissistic tendencies, and as we have discussed before in class, it begins to seem like Victor is not attracted to Elizabeth at all – instead, she simply serves as a piece of furniture that completes his grand view of himself. Remember, according to Freud, intense narcissism in adults creates what he calls the ‘doppleganger’. The doppleganger represents the superego’s repression of unwanted traits or feelings that are unacceptable to the ego. In Victor’s case, his doppleganger is what drives him to pursue Elizabeth, repressing his true feelings and desires which his ego has deemed unacceptable in society. 

At the same time, Victor harbors an intense yearning to find a true substitute for what he really wants, even if he doesn’t quite realize it. His obsession with bringing a being to life stems from his pathological development and the lingering attraction that lurks within the deepest recesses of his soul. (Lighting flashes, organ music plays, and I laugh maniacally at my computer in the Blakemore study room which is shrouded in mystery and darkness!)

So much like my relentless pursuit of a good blog grade stems from crushing insecurities and a fear of failure, Victor’s life work actually comes from a desire to find something that could stand alone as a substitute for his father’s penis. Dare I say it – I think Victor is gay!trapped in the closet

Failed Identification

Victor, in his dream, is confronted with both the love (though strange) he felt from and for his own mother (read: creator), and the complete lack of love he has for his own creation. The creature highlights a strange twist in the parent-child relationship of Victor with his mother, and of Victor with his creature.

His parents, specifically his mother, raised him lovingly by his own account, as a child “whose future lot it was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery,” (42). This contrasts heavily with Victor’s own “parenting” of the creature, which he seemingly directs straight toward misery. Freud says that the double can represent “unfulfilled but possible futures to which we still like to cling in phantasy, ” (426). Victor’s fantasy seems to be that he can be a creator (like his idolized mother). “For this” he says, “I had deprived myself of rest and health” (60); this deprivation of personal care is not unlike what a mother does for a newborn. He is the newborn his mother had loved; yet when he himself creates a “newborn,” he is repulsed by it. The creature is the double of the child in this case, of the innocent, yet Victor cannot do what his mother had done.

Not only does Victor fail to identify “correctly” with his father, according to Freud’s model of the Oedipal cycle, he cannot even identify incorrectly with his mother. In the dream he does not find peace with his earlier identification as a Creator like his mother. This does not fit him either. He calls the creature “the miserable monster whom [he] had has created” and “the demonical corpse to which [he] had given life” (61). This is the passage that depicts everything Victor has strived for going wrong. In trying to be a creator, he has seen the failure of his own potential, the death of his own self-image.

A close reading of the passage where Frankenstein’s creature first sees his reflection in the pool reveals that this experience represents the uncanny and Freud’s theory of the double. The creature desperately wants the cottagers to overlook his physical deformity and accept him, however it goes far beyond just that. The creature states that he “should first win their favour, and afterwards their love,” demonstrating that it isn’t just acceptance or assimilation that he desires, but rather love as well (Shelley 105). This is further emphasized when the creature mentions that he yearns for their “protection and kindness,” presenting the possibility of the cottagers serving as a mother figure (Shelley 118).

The creature was aware of his deformity prior to seeing his reflection, but he was suppressing the reality of the harshness of his physical appearance. He was practicing denial as a defense, or the “unconscious repression and refusal to recognize something,” (Parker 130). However, when he does look at his reflection the subconscious reality comes to life in the form of his double. He also becomes aware of the reality that he might never be able to compensate for his physical appearance, and therefore never find love or any sort of sexual pleasure. Evidence that part of what the creature is seeking is sexual pleasure comes from his desire that the cottagers “sweet looks be directed towards (him) with affection,” because of Freud’s belief that the “look” or “gaze is highly erotic (Shelley 118).

The creature goes on to detail that sometimes he allowed his thoughts “unchecked by reason, to ramble in the fields of Paradise, and dared to fancy amiable and lovely creatures sympathizing with (his) feelings, cheering (his) gloom; their angelic countenances breathed smiles of consolation,” indicating that it is only when he discontinues his repression that these feelings come out (Shelley 118). This passage also tells us that it is a female creature he is speaking of, because he continues to say that “no Eve soothed (his) sorrows,” alluding to the female biblical figure of Eve. After discovering the reality of his physical appearance through the vision of his double, the creature realizes that he will never find love and this realization can be described as uncanny. His desires do not match up with his reality, which causes immense frustration and disorder. This disorder is the cause of the uncanny.

While Otto Rank associates the idea of the double with a feeling of preservation and immortality, the monster’s vision of his own “miserable deformity” (104) more likely is associated with the “castration by a doubling or multiplication of the genital symbol” (Freud 425). The monster covets the appearances of the DeLaceys, “the perfect forms of my cottagers – their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions” (104). The DeLaceys serve in Freud’s Oedipal complex as the mother, with the monster being the young son in the stage of polymorphous sexuality and desiring the mother. However, the monster becomes “terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool… unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror” (104). This terror is due to the fact that the monster sees the separation between him and his mother – he has a phallic penis while she does not, and thus he can never be like her, just as he will never have the perfect form of the DeLaceys. This terror stems from his fear of castration; he sees that the DeLaceys are different than himself and worries that his phallic penis will also be taken away. His hatred for himself represents the Oedipal hatred for the father with whom he associates due to the common penis, but whom he believes has stolen the penis of the mother (or created the differences between himself and the DeLaceys). Eventually however, he identifies with the father when he “became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am” (104).
Freud mentions the “unfulfilled but possible features to which we still cling in phantasy, all those strivings of the ego which adverse external circumstances have crushed, and all our suppressed acts of violition which nourish in us the illusion of Free Will” (426). The double is a representation of these unfilfilled and suppressed actions. Even though the monster wants others to overlook his deformity, he can’t help but be disgusted by the unconscious feelings of desire for his mother and hatred for his father. The double is also associated with early ideas of narcissism, rendering “it possible to invest the old idea of a ‘double’ with a new meaning and to ascribe… those things which seem to the new faculty of self-criticism to belong to the old surmounted narcissism of the earliest period of all” (426). Initally the monster is unable to even believe that his own reflection is staring back at him out of the pool, which is a protection provided by his early stages of narcissism. Our senses of self-criticism and the ability to accept ones flaws revert back to narcisssim with the incorporation of the double. When he sees his reflection in the pool, his double reflection prevents him from being able to look at his appearance objectively and he reverts back to the more basic form of narcissism to form his self-image giving him the “bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification” (104).

The creature perceives its reflection differently when its talks about it on different times. However, an interpretation of the Creature’s monologue requires an understanding of the Oedipal dynamics at play in its frame of reference. The Creature wants a union, so to speak, with the isolated bubble of civilization depicted by the DeLacey family. However its desire is repressed by the judgment of Society as a whole that seems to the Creature as the arbiter of its fate. The very same overbearing and judgmental society governs the DeLacey family (as the creature finds out through Felix’s and Safie’s letters). So in the end, all the Creature desires is a severance of the connection between the DeLaceys and society and its judgment (which resonates with the father and the Father’s No), so that it may find its way to fulfillment without hindrance.

When the Creature first sees its reflection (p.104), it has just taken refuge from the overwhelming rejection it faced in the towns. The creature knows that it is undesired, but is in the dark when it comes to the reason. This blindness, so to speak, puts the creature in an uncanny atmosphere. But then over the course of time it observes and so learns the DeLaceys’ perception of beauty (which is the same for the society, for the most part). And then, equipped with some cognizance of aesthetics, when it sees its double in the water, the Creature for the first time realizes the reason behind its rejection. Even though the Creature’s encounter with its “double” is not strictly the Freudian understanding of the concept (that a double embodies unacceptable desires/notions suppressed by the ego), the effect on the Creature’s conscious mind, be it from the resurgence of desires or merely from their apparition, is the same. Thus, the Creature, realizing that it is incompatible for the union it so desires, is filled with “despondence and mortification”. Therefore the creature’s disgust is born of frustration, and not of surrender to the whims of its Uncanny Double.

As the Creature spends time observing the DeLaceys, it matures. It learns to speak and read, and peruses several works on history and philosophy. It is almost as if the creature is in denial. The train of its thoughts stays clear of its depressing deformities for the most part of a year. It lives its life through Agatha, Felix, their father and Safie. However, after reading “Paradise Lost”, the creature is faced with the inequality between itself and another creation: Adam. This comparison, coupled with the creature viewing its reflection forces it in the uncanny position of facing its very recent but infantile past. However, the creature, now indoctrinated in the ways of men, is under the influence of the Super-Ego reserved only for members of society. And so when it labels itself a ” wretched outcast” (p.118), it is because the creature’s biased sources of education have left it no alternative.

In some cases, ignorance is bliss indeed.

I realized this past week that, much to my chagrin, I have been using the word “uncanny” wrong for my entire life. For Sigmund Freud “the uncanny undoubtedly belongs to all that is terrible—to all that arouses dread and creeping horror; it is equally certain, too, that the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with whatever excites dread” (Freud).  Freud likens the uncanny to losing your eyes or fear of castration. In humans both the eyes and the genitals are instruments of categorization and the uncanny relates to the inability to categorize life in the chaotic world. Your eyes categorize the things around you while your genitalia categorizes the self.  The monster has categorized his world through observation but when we sees himself he sees something different from what his observations have taught him about human life.   The moment he looks into himself he realizes that he embodies the destruction of the dichotomy of the familiar versus the unfamiliar. He sees a being that is familiar because it is indeed a reflection of self but simultaneously new and terrifying because he has never seen something like himself before.  This scene of the creature’s self discovery is the very union of heimlich and unheimlich.  The moment is heimlich in the personal nature of self-discovery, yet unheimlich in the idea that his being is radically different and more grotesque than the life he has spent weeks observing.  Upon seeing his reflection the monster experiences the uncanny because he cannot categorize himself as familiar or unfamiliar.