Tag Archive: lower class


Frankenstein’s Rewarding Thematic Depth

From the outset of this class, before I began reading Frankenstein for the first time, my perception of the novel were skewed heavily by modern portrayals of the story as something archaic and camp with little deeper meaning or symbolic qualities. With actual exposure to the novel and with interpretive literary criticism applied in addition, I have found that there are a host of themes, motifs and symbols not are not only directly referenced and observed within the book through close reading, but are also inferred based on an understanding of the historical context.

In my past analyses from the blog posts, I have demonstrated a realization of the sheer literary depth that Frankenstein provides. The fact that a major development within the novel is the development of a human persona with respect to the creature is symbolic of an even broader theme that is concerned with the lack of humanity that society projects towards the downtrodden/lower-class/outcasts. The scene where the creature directly confronts Victor and begs for some understanding towards his own plight was the point where I initially saw the book in a different light. The novel made me switch my perception of Frankenstein and the humans; beforehand, I saw the creature for what it was portrayed to be by pop culture: vicious and soulless. With Victor and all other humans’ total rejection of the creature and lack of much sympathy for its unfortunate state, I came to see the humans as the soulless ones for not even giving the creature a chance.

With the incorporation of broader themes, including literary analysis that referred to historical context, I then saw this implementation of a sense of humanity within the creature as representative of the author’s intent to symbolize the downtrodden/lower-class/outcasts as the creature. The creature represented the unfortunate underclass of society, and the way it is treated in the novel strongly mirrors the way the lower-class was treated in that time period. I felt that it was an unflattering and unfair representation of the lower-class because of just how grotesque it was made to appear through the creature in the novel, as well as the fact that by localizing the lower-class to one creature, its influence in society is diminished significantly. The French Revolution probably had something to do with the marginalization of the lower-class in the novel, as its abject failure in establishing its idealistic ambitions resulted in tyranny and dictatorship. Given that this novel was written two decades after the Revolution’s conclusion, it seems to me that the author was intent on not just portraying the underclass’ downtrodden nature because it was the reality of the time period but also because that is what she believed their role and place in society should be. This kind of textual and thematic depth within the novel took me by complete surprise and made this one of the more personally rewarding readings in a while due to the discovery of such themes, both clear (and emotionally visceral, with respect to the creature’s humanity) and hidden.

In the novel, the creature finds itself with little solace in anyone or anything. From the very start, it is ostracized heavily and shunned by everyone it encounters. Human hostility, and more specifically Victor’s own hostility, to the creature is an example of a deeply entrenched social hierarchy– a group with material possessions; family; friendship; essentially, features that reinforce their status as the dominant class (Victor/humanity) over a weaker group that is much less benefited in society (the creature). The dynamic between Victor and the creature defines this class struggle most clearly, as Victor is a well-educated middle class capitalist with a middle class family he loves and middle class friends, like Henry Clerval, he cherishes (and weeps heavily for when Clerval and several family members are murdered by the creature). Compare this relative assortment of riches to the creature, who unfortunately has absolutely none of what Victor has, not even basic compassion nor respect from anyone. The novel makes a connection between the urban lower-class proletariats of the era and the creature and concurrently devotes little narrative focus and few depictions to the former in order to magnify the grotesque nature of the latter (grotesque features = the lower-class of society). When Warren Montag states that the creature is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability” (395), I agree because of the gross oversimplification the novel makes in caricaturing a whole class of people into a repulsive figure, as well as how it makes the connection and representation through a blatant omission of any focus/attention at all towards that whole class of people. It is unrepresented through what is supposed to be its representation.

As Montag writes in “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein,” the aforementioned dynamic in the novel is driven by how the novel chooses to focus and overlook certain features of society. The urban proletariat underclass of society, as well as lower-class urban life in general, is barely mentioned, and this magnifies the creature’s plight because he most identifies with the disadvantaged urban proletariat lower-class. “Frankenstein’s monster is finally not identified with the working class of Mary Shelley’s time but with its absence” (395), Montag states, and this is reinforced by the novel’s focus on Victor’s middle-class lifestyle, family, love of education, time spent at universities, and “frequent portraits of natural vistas and rural scenes” (394). “No significant descriptions of the urban world” (394) are given, most glaringly concerning London, a city going through “a time of explosive growth and development [but] is not described at all although [Victor] and Clerval passes ‘some months’ there” (394). The fact that these guys spend months in such a booming city with no descriptive imagery, nothing even close to how the novel lushly depicts rural landscapes, indicates that this is an intentional oversight of detailing urban proletariat life. We as readers live in and follow Victor’s bubble of middle class living and the middle class friends, family, aspirations, interests, and lifestyle that are all associated with him. That is, until the creature comes along who, in the midst of our near-total absorption into Victor’s middle-class perspective, is “the sole embodiment of the industrial in an otherwise rural world, and this is the source of his monstrousness” (394). The creature even “makes explicit his identification with the working class” (394) at certain points in the novel to affirm the embodiment. The creature is so monstrous due to how different it is to Victor’s middle class world, which is, as previously stated, the main focus and viewpoint of the novel. Montag couldn’t have said it any better: “The narrative precisely suppresses all that is modern in order to render [the creature] inexplicable and unprecendented” (395). If the urban proletariat underclass was given any significant narrative attention in the novel, it would make the creature less grotesque due to more grotesque ilk like him around; this conclusion is reached purely based on how the novel “links the image of the monster to the industrial proletariat: an unnatural being, singular even in its collective identity, without a genealogy and belonging to no species” (395). The creature is thus almost like a dehumanizing figure with respect to the lower-class proletariats, with it simply representing “the mass [of urban industrial lower-class people] reduced to the absolute singularity of Frankenstein’s creation, which is therefore not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability” (395). The lower class is not truly represented here because of the way it is portrayed.