Tag Archive: Marxist Criticism


Proletariat Perspective

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There exist a connection between the French Revolution and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, yet I do not agree with Montag’s conclusion in “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein” that the creature does not represent the proletariat-laboring class. The creatures connections to the proletariat are made clear throughout the novel. During the French Revolution, the people of France were ruled by a monarchy, which lead the class division by the lower class comprised of “(peasants, workers, and the urban poor) and middle class comprised of “( the rural or urban bourgeoisie: landowners, merchants, and financiers” (471). Montag states this in the French Revolution when the capitalist middle class mobilized the masses, “they found that they conjured up a monster that, once unleashed could not be controlled.” and in the novel after the creature is created, Victor states “ I took refuge in the courtyard” (60) and goes onto describe the physical creature’s appearance. In the process of doing so, he is able to show an example of what the lower classes do when they can not handle advocacy and run headfirst into a riot. A key moment in the novel is the instances were the monsters wants to communicate with the family but is faced by his own belittlement, stating that humans are  “superior,”, “arbiters” and “reception.” The creatures establish himself as inferior to humans, which creates irony because the family is composed of peasants which are referred to as subordinates by higher-ranking individuals. Here we begin to the connection between the creature and the proletariat as they both are unstoppable once released. At the beginning of the novel, it is shown Victor Frankenstein’s ambition to create this creature and awaken him. Once he makes the creature come to life Victor states, “Oh! Mortal could support the horror of that countenance”(60). Victor at this moment express his emotion of discontent and disgust of his creation. Victor creates this creature which he loses control of. This reflects The French Revolution which is comprised of three phases, the Moderate phase 1789-1791, Radical Phase 1791-1794 and Napoleonic Phase 1794-1799. In the novel we see the creature lose of control leads the killings of Henry Clerval, William Frankenstein and Elizabeth Lavenza. Victor first began with this high hope that he would someday contribute something to the world with the creation of the creature, but ultimately gets nowhere and is left in a state of disorder, by the end of the novel he has no friends, no brother and is wireless. In the last phase of the French Revolution the “Napoleonic Phase”, France is left with an authoritarian government. The French did not make progress in the form of government nor did it advance as a civilization, they are left basically in the same position in which they started.

 

-Levit Martinez

By Jade Graham

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There are many lenses and perspectives that readers have discovered through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and with that comes many viewpoints and beliefs. Warren Montag (appears to be around the 1990’s) wrote an essay from a Marxist viewpoint. Titled, “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein” Montag uses quotes and sources to try and prove his idea of how the monster is put in the difficult position of not the proletariat, but not being represented at all. There is the point made of within a divided class society there is labor to be done. With that comes workers in a factory, where parts are assembled. That idea of the Victor creating something does make the creature a part of the classes, but a part of the creation itself. The creature is different body parts made into a walking dead being. Parts together to help improve somehow, like creations with parts at a factory to create a full piece. The monster did not improve anyone’s life, he did not come with directions and was taken for granted.

I agree with Montag’s point after reading. I did not view him to be on the other side because I believed he had experienced both sides at one point. From a baby-like learning state who doesn’t know much, poor, and low skills to intelligent, quick, and ethical the creature is hard to pin down. Because of how different the creature is, he is not a part of society and therefore not a part of any class.

This is shown when the monster encounters the cottagers, he is an outsider. Not of their world or anything like it. He is a supernatural creation, the living dead. He is able to feel though when reflecting on the cottager’s lifestyle and their nature towards each other. That want to belong as he, “felt a sensation of a peculiar and overpowering nature: they were a mixture of pain and pleasure,” when coming with emotions that are not only shocking but rare to experience for him (100). There is ambiguity present due to how everyone can feel emotions, but for the creature to experience them is on another level. He is confused and decides to put those emotions at bay because he does not know how to handle them. The meaning of feeling emotions, what that means for the creature, and more. Acts of kindness, those of which the creature has not been given and is seeing for the first time. So to call the creature classless may be an incorrect term, but he is not upper, middle, or even lower class. He is an outsider because of his background. Created in a lab like a factory and not given any help led the creature to fend for himself and learn emotions. That is what happens when you don’t take care of your creations.

 

By Amber Loper

In Warren Montag’s essay, “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein”, there are many strong correlations made between Mary Shelley’s novel,  “Frankenstein”, and the French Revolution. In order to properly make the connections, a basic understanding of the Revolution is necessary. Montag explains that the elites, or Bourgouise, desired to create a new system by overthrowing the old state. By doing this, the elites were “forced to mobilize the plebian masses…but in doing so they found that they had conjured up a monster that, once unleashed, could not be controlled”(p.471).  Several times throughout Montag’s essay, the working force mobs are referred to as “monsters”. Accurately so, because the proletarians (plebian masses, or  working force) are a product of the elites that they lost control of, just as Victor Frankenstein created his monster with, somewhat, noble intentions, then found he lacked any capability of controlling his creation.

Montag also mentions several instances of real history included in the text of “Frankenstein”, yet Shelley leaves out the French Revolution which would, through speculation, be in full force at the time of Victors visit to England later in the novel. Knowing that Shelley and her husband were both politically outspoken, it is odd that such an important event would be left out entirely. Montag offers two reasons for its absence: “the monster is the proletariat”(p.174), and “the monster equals the proletariat”(p.175).  The first suggests the monster is a metaphor while the latter suggest the monster is an allegory of proletariat’s. At the time of the French Revolution, the uprising was regarded as a monster. Shelley’s novel provides a replacement of the proletariat’s with a real monster. Frankenstein’s monster is one creature but has the strength of many men, and is literally created of many men. This is similar to a mob; a group of many men who work as one entity.  Furthermore, Victor has all the power of an elite. He has money, property, and is welcome by all those he comes by. Despite being responsible for everything, and admitting to his deeds in the end, Walton still admires Frankenstein as “noble and godlike”(p.179). The elites will always have their ill-deeds looked over because of their position in the social hierarchy, and the working class will always be fighting to be listened to because no one wants to listen to those outraged.

The monster states clearly, “make me happy and I shall again be virtuous”(p.93), while begging for Victor to listen to his side of the story. It is a cry for help. He knows what he has done wrong and wants Victor to take some kind of responsibility. Unfortunately, Victor has trouble seeing how he has anything to do with the monster’s actions. The proletarians crying for justice to the Bourgeois are no different. The wrongs they have done, no matter how small, get in the way of change. After all, the creator can not be held accountable for the actions of their creations.

I found myself disagreeing with Montag in regards to why Shelley provided a lack of description to urban scenery. Shelley  went into extraordinary detail for her scenes of nature, yet, even though there are many times Victor resides in urban settings, there is little to no detail of cities and other man-made creations. Montag says, “if the modern…were allowed to appear, the monster would no longer be a monster; no longer alone but part of a ‘race of devils'”(p.480). He believes the lack of urban description is because Shelley wants the monster to take on the roll of all things man-made and therefore all things devilish. By doing this, Shelley is able to make the monster even more isolated than he already is. I disagree. Frankenstein’s monster is a wretched man-made product trapped in a natural world of beauty. This creates a paradox. He, the very definition of man-made, is cast out of a world that relies on everything man-made, weapons, housing, transportaion, etc. Why, then, is he the exception? Stripping the novel of description of everything that the monster was unable to experience is appropriate. Although, the monster is not the narrator, Victor is. This does not change anything. Victor carries the facade of an elite, but he has detached himself entirely from the rest of the world the moment he is consumed with ambition. The monster says to Victor, “you are my creator, but I am your master;–Obey!”(p.146). Even though Victor narrated, the reader is led to believe the story was never his to tell. This is the story of a monster, who despite having the ability to speak, never had a voice. It is at this point that again the story makes a strong correlation to the French Revolution. The elites, like Victor, feign control, but it is the working class, the monster, that are really in control, yet are not the ones who are heard properly. That is why the creation revolts against the creator

The Distortion of the Frame Narrative

When Montag concludes the creature is, “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability,” he means that besides the creature simply symbolizing the proletariat, the creature at the same time reveals the inability to represent the working class as a singular, modern creation. The working class is a faceless, voiceless mass, while the creature most definitely has a face and a voice. I agree with Montag’s conclusion.

It’s easy to see how the creature and the working class equate. The creature’s telling of his story and his negotiations with Victor for a female could be interpreted as analogous to workers discussing their conditions and their desire for improved conditions. What’s harder to see is how that doesn’t exactly equate. The frame narrative offers more insight. The creature doesn’t directly tell his own tale. He relates it to Victor, who in turn relates it to Walton, who finally tells it to the reader. The frame narrative distorts the creature’s voice through the fact that his story is told through essentially his oppressors. As such, some of the creature’s statements and actions don’t quite seem to add up. For example, the creature says, “Boy, you will never see your father again; you must come with me” (126). From prior parts of his tale, we know the creature is eloquent. It doesn’t make sense that, if he’s trying to convince William that he’s not all that bad, the creature would say that. I would think he would continue to say things along the lines of his first statements to William: “I do not intend to hurt you; listen to me” (126). That would have been more convincing and more in-line with the arguments the creature makes to Victor.

However, we also don’t know for sure if that statement really has been distorted by the frame narrative. The creature could have said that because he was stressed, because he hadn’t had any positive experience with society, or because he was tired of the negative reactions. There are many possible explanations. This uncertainty also supports the idea that the creature cannot completely represent the working class. We can say that one explanation of the creature’s actions is more likely than another, however that explanation cannot apply to an entire group because the creature is an individual. A single individual cannot be an accurate depiction of an larger group.

Blog Summary 1: False Justice

As I perused my previous blog posts, I reread one in particular that caught my eye: my post titled “The Bond of Creator and Creation.” In it, I cite a quote from Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful: “”And as our Creator has designed we should be united by the bond of sympathy…”, and then I elaborate on the bond of sympathy between Frankenstein and the Creature when he listens to his progeny’s story. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that moment is the only display of sympathetic connection between this God and his Adam found in the whole novel. Everywhere else, most particularly the execution of Justine, it is absent—but why? There should be a strong bond of love between them like that of a father and son, but no connection or true communication can be found. Understanding this disparity between expectations and reality can be further explored using Marxist analysis.

A preliminary structural analysis reveals that the turning point in the novel is the death of William and the execution of Justine. Before that point, Victor is at peace and the Creature’s location is, for all intents and purposes, held at bay. After the death of Justine, however, everything changes; Victor now lives a life of fear, and the Creature is a broken human with an insatiable desire for vengeance trying to exert control over his creator. The focal point of Marxist analysis also centers on the death of Justine—the symbolic death of justice. Frankenstein, a scientifically and technologically inclined member of the bourgeoisie, created Frankenstein much in the same way that the techno-centric industrial bourgeoisie created the new working class. There is no sympathy between the two emerging classes because their stratification was not created through humanistic demands, but rather socioeconomic demands. The bourgeoisie, despite begetting a whole new “race” of people, could never view them as anything but a means to an end—and the end is money. In the French revolution, they promised the proletariat egalitarianism, but their words were hollow—the proletariat, being naïve and possessing no prior context, were able to be repressed by the bourgeoisie’s bastardization of the ancient ideology of justice. They believed that it was killed during the revolution, but it was killed long before then, when the first factory manager looked down on his newly-minted workers and saw them as a stack of dollar bills. The proletariat never stood a chance, and their mislead sense of justice prevented them from seeing the creator as the true enemy.

The dynamic between Frankenstein and his creation acts in very much the same way. Frankenstein, a disgusting but powerful mass of muscle and sinew, is the large, dirty proletariat; suppressed by their master, they only blame themselves. In the Justine episode, the Creature fails to fully realize it is Frankenstein’s fault for the death of justice, not his—the very act of creating “a new species [that] would bless me as its creator” (Frankenstein 58) killed justice before the starting gun had even fired, for to create a species for the sake of deification is the most unholy of all injustices. The ideology that the Creature follows is a false one, perpetuated by Frankenstein (who knowingly refused to intervene to save justice before her execution at bourgeoisie hands) in order to exert control over his creation. Frankenstein does all of this because his creature was not created for humanistic reasons; it was a means to an end, an attempt to gain power to stay the cold hand of death from those he selfishly wanted to keep forever in this world. In the end, the Creature is unable to see Frankenstein as an enemy. Even after he kills everyone Frankenstein loves, he still cries when his creator is finally subdued by Death and sacrifices himself to the sea. His false ideology will always blind him to his creator’s evil. Unless the proletariat can see what the bourgeoisie’s sense of justice actually is—frail, twisted, and coughing up the blood of innocents—they will never throw off the yoke of oppression.

To Industry!

Bursting forth from the industrial revolution like Athena out of the head of Zeus (and both producing headaches for their progenitors), the proletariat is an undefinable group, and was even more so two hundred years ago when the concept of “factory workers” was new and Marxian theory had yet to be invented. People were once sharecroppers, growing their own food and buying their items from local craftsmen; now, they were assembly line workers, sewing together pieces of garments as their previous self-definitions unraveled, while the flourishing bourgeoisie lorded over them with what I always imagined to be accents like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOt62cT2teY

And while the fat cats toasted “to industry!” the proletariat suffered.

People like Mary Shelley, while not a factory worker herself, were acutely aware of the societal changes and class stratification that was occurring. While Shelley may not have written Frankenstein as an overtly Marxist text, the historical and socioeconomic milieu of the time still finds it’s way into the text. No one writes in a vacuum; surrounded by revolution, class turmoil, and the industrial revolution, her work was informed by this, and Warren Montag’s Marxist interpretation of Shelley’s work brings these influences to light.

Montag concludes his essay by stating that the Creature is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability”, a sentiment that I agree with. The Creature is the inexplicable product of science, not Victor, just as the proletariat is the inexplicable product of industrialization. On page 391 of our text, Montag states that technological innovation will lead to “a new kind of servitude”. What he implies but doesn’t state is that a society governed by unbound scientific progress will stratify into an elite class of technocrats and a lower class of their workers. In the end, it is science that creates and enslaves the Creature, not Victor. Victor was merely a vessel for what would inevitably happen. My mind immediately jumped to the burgeoning technology industry of today — programmers, marketers, and math whizzes making billions of dollars in Silicon Valley through their scientific expertise. They seem to be enlightened, but they too subject workers in Chinese manufacturing plants to horrid conditions just as British textile mill overseers subjected their workers to long hours with little pay. For all their knowledge, it has not given them reason. Workers are still enslaved, obscured by geographic and cultural barriers in the same sense that the Creature is obscured by Frankenstein’s telling of the story. This is reflected at the end of Frankenstein, as even after Victor’s death, the Creature is still his slave, being condemned to a life of solitude and death among the polar ice. In this way, a Marxist reading of Frankenstein gives the text new life, and makes it incredibly relevant to our time.

Montag’s reading of Frankenstein did hold my interest over those 10 pages. As with all good interpretations, it made me nod my head and go “huh, that’s cool.” I liked how Montag went deeper than simply “proletariat vs. middle class,” pinpointing science as the beginnings of the new social era. His reading made me think about other aspects of the book through this lens, and I developed an interpretation of a defining characteristic of the novel.

He referenced the creation of the monster and how that process is completely unexplained, and he offered a very good interpretation of the (at the time of the novel’s publication) emerging working class being the effects of science and technology. But I want to remove the science and history from the discussion and read this hiding through a Marxist worldview. The process of the creature’s creation is hidden. We never know exactly what Frankenstein does to give the creature life, not even a hint of the lightning and such that film versions have presumed. We just have a product and look at it with either horror or compassion. Through this decision to obscure the actual process, the  monster is an example of a fetishized commodity. The means of his production are obscured, so the creature becomes simply a commodity, pushed out into the world by the bourgeois Victor. His rejection of the creature shows that he cannot be the old workers of Marx’s model, as he would not reject something so close to himself if he was a symbol of that worker.

Admittedly, this reading does clash with my own sympathetic views towards the creature. With the Marxist interpretation that I have offered, the horror of the story is amplified. It becomes more of a story about the horror of commodities and guilt that the bourgeoisie, symbolized by Victor, should feel. This amateur attempt at a Marxist reading does seem to sap the pathos from the story, but it is a thrilling idea nevertheless. Montag’s is a more fleshed out interpretation, and probably one that holds to greater scrutiny, but I think this aspect of the novel is one of the more interesting details – one that deserves more attention from any critical perspective.