Tag Archive: psychoanalysis

Just throwing ideas out here

The uncanny seems to be anything that reminds a person of their earlier psychic stages of the unconscious. Victor’s unconscious was definitely reminded, upon the animation of the creature, of his Oedipal psychic stage. On the surface, Victor seems to have progressed normally through that process. However, the dream reveals that isn’t quite the case. Although it seems that Victor is in love with Elizabeth, her image in the dream regresses to that of his dead mother. However, we can’t say that this directly correlates with Victor’s unconscious wanting to get with his mother. According to Freud’s dream interpretation, the forbidden desires of the unconscious are censored in dreams. The explicitness of the dream suggests that what it censors is even more taboo than desiring his mother. What could be more taboo than that?

Warning–I’m gonna say something pretty crazy here: maybe Victor like–I don’t know–didn’t think the creature was so hideous. Maybe he really thought, “damn this guy is fine.” In a weird, weird way he felt attracted to what he had created? I mean, he was set to marry his adoptive sister so already his life is pretty weird. But let’s turn to the text, and talk about my second best friend: Victor’s unreliability as a narrator. “His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast…” (60). Victor may have designed the creature to be beautiful, but it is interesting that, in describing the “monstrosity,” he first paints it as beautiful. Present Victor, the one on Walton’s ship, knows that the creature isn’t beautiful. He knows that the creature becomes a murderer. The Victor of that moment, however, doesn’t know that.

Perhaps that is why Victor carelessly leaves the creature alone, right after it’s birth. He can’t handle the fact that he’s feeling something for a guy-like creature. He lives in a hetero-normative world. His mother literally said to him, on her deathbed, “My children [Elizabeth and Victor]…my firmest hopes of future happiness were placed on the prospect of your union,” and to impress her point she has them hold hands (49). He’s been told that Elizabeth was his since she joined the family. In the dream, Elizabeth’s transformation into his mother seems to be a throwback to his mother’s dying words. To what is expected of him. The norm that he may be–probably is–deviating from. The possibility of not fitting the mold laid out for him was too much for him to take

Stuck in the Middle

As we approach the completion of the course, I look back in awe at the many frameworks through which we have analyzed Frankenstein. My most recent blog posts have discussed the psychoanalytic theories of Freud, and explored Gayatri Spivak’s ideas on colonial discourse. Though these theories are inherently unrelated, they force the critic to assign the novel and characters of Frankenstein to one of two major categories within each theory. By this I mean that Freud’s psychoanalysis forces an identity with the “self” or the “other,” and Spivak’s colonial discourse with the “colonizer” or “subaltern.”

These individual terms and categories are not as important in themselves as compared with what they imply about Frankenstein. I would argue to say that these specific theories, and theories as such, reinforce the idea of the reigning binary throughout the piece and the thought that a character cannot exist outside the constraints of the masculine or the feminine, in which the latter is subordinate. The self versus the other and the colonizer versus the subaltern take on the roles of the masculine versus the feminine respectively. In my post entitled “Failing to See Past His Internal Atrocity,” I examine a passage within the novel in which the creature looks into the pool, sees his reflection, and realizes the existence of his double. He experiences great discomfort at this realization, tension caused by the coexistence and disfunction of the self and the double, the masculine versus the feminine. The significance of this tension is that there is indeed an existing binary that leaves one  to identify with one side or the other, and implies that their coexistence is capable of generating inward conflict.

In my second post, I suggest the idea that the author of the novel is solely able to remove the text from the trappings of the masculine and the feminine. Throughout class and blog discussions we have failed to define an entity as masculine without reference of the feminine and vice versa. By failing to mention her great nation in her novel, I proved that Shelley successfully removed Britain from the binary of the colonizer and the subaltern, the masculine and the feminine, and avoids the subjection of Britain to one or the other.  Shelley seems to give her nation the power and ability to surmount the confines created by the characteristics of the masculine or feminine, as if previously one could not describe an entity outside of these two concepts. The discussion of the creature in my first blog post shows that he, as other characters in the novel, are subject to these concepts. Never have they been proven to exist outside of the masculine and the feminine, proving the malleability of their identity and an inability for them to stand apart from these abstracts. I would conclude that from the ideas examined in the blogs, Shelley acts as the sole individual able to remove an entity from the traps of the masculine and the feminine, proved by her omission of Britain from the novel.

At the surface, many facets of colonialist and psychoanalytical criticism can be compared as ways to justify similar themes of alienation, identity, confusion, and so on.  However, looking through my previous blog posts I would argue that the two are intertwined to the point of being dependent on one another to provide a richer and fuller perspective of the same argument, which is that the text promotes the futility of any binary logic in relation to society and identity.

This is an interesting way of looking at the creature’s vision of himself. The scene on page 104 where the creature sees his reflection in a transparent pool is loaded with latent tensions: “…how was I terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” (104) Perhaps what is so shocking about the creature’s reflection in the water is his confusion with the binary that has been presented to him through the DeLaceys. As I explored in my post “The Power of Ambiguity”, he is presented with a very strong binary in the lessons that Felix delivers to Safie, and has trouble digesting it. I would argue that this is the same type of confusion that characterizes his identification with the image in the pool, because it does not align with the “perfect forms”(104) of humanity that he sees in the DeLaceys. The colonialist perspective provides a deeper understanding of this misalignment, because when we look at how the creature reacts to the history lessons that Felix delivers to Safie, it is clear that he is, at best, confused. The way he digests the information defies the black-and-white worldview he had possessed until that point. He knows that he does not fit squarely into the definition of the colonizer nor the colonized, the powerful nor the powerless, and this causes him to question, subconsciously or consciously, the binary that he has internalized. Indeed, after he receives the lessons, he observes, “The words induced me to turn towards myself.” (109). Looking back at the scene where he observes himself in the pool, the same can be said about his reaction. He had modeled his Ideal-I after the DeLaceys, which to him represented a pure idea of humanity, and this was the foundation of his very ego. Looking at his reflection in the pool and seeing something completely outside of his ego was  necessarily devastating. Because the binary was what preserved the creature’s ego, he initially refused to let go of it. Thus when he abandons his human identity in the face of rejection by the DeLaceys, he becomes the complete opposite: a savage and a brute. It is only as the novel nears the end that the creature tries to pick up the pieces and find a compromise, by appealing to his creator and requesting a spouse. Victor, however, still holding on to his belief in the unbending power of a God over its creation, surrenders control under the illusion of control, because the binary logic simply cannot exist. The novel necessarily ends in the deaths of both creator and creation.

The colonialist discourse is one of the many ways that Shelley reveals the failure of the psychological binary, and vice versa. If the masculine colonial discourse were to be portrayed as unbending and unquestionable in the text, it would contradict all the ambiguity that the creature represents. There would be little reason to suspect the failure of any other binary, and the text would be purposeless.Thus the psychoanalytical and the colonial veins of criticism are more than parts of a critical whole: Together, they paint a greater picture that colours Shelley’s Frankenstein in a larger and more complex light.

Throughout the semster we have viewed Frankenstein through many different lenses of literary criticism in an attempt to discover what could be signified by this historical and influential text. The novel as a whole is significant, and we tend to use the different forms of criticism to evenly analyze the many different parts of this work, but when I look back at my blog posts, I find that I often chose to focus on the monster’s interactions with the de Lacey family as a central point to my analyses.

In regards to the de Lacey family, a very interesting parallel is occuring. On one side of this are the monster’s violent mood swings that he experiences upon his interactions with the family: just as Safie’s music “at once drew tears of sorrow and delight from my eyes” (107), the observances of the de Laceys “were a mixture of pain and pleasure, such as I had never before experienced” (100). The monster is simultaneously delighted and thrown into a pit of despair by these humans. He worships their values of goodness and kindness, but become wretched when he realizes that he will never be able to become one of them.

On the other side of this parallel (which may perhaps be the manifestation of the conflicting emotions described above), is the transformation of the monster due to his interactions with the de Laceys. The monster says: “I shall relate events, that impressed me with feelings which, from what I had been, have made me what I am” (106), when describing his relations with the family. Initially a benevolent and innocent creature, the monster learns of the ways of humans, and in particular what he perceives to be the extreme kindness of the de Laceys. When he is unable to gain their acceptance, his hopes are crushed and he becomes violent. Just as happiness and despair coincide in the monster, so do the potential for both kindness and violence, emotions manifested in actions.

The conflicts that rage throughout the monster in regards to the de Lacey family eventually cause the monster to snap, and the turning point of the novel to be reached. Prior to his interactions with the family, the monster is naive and benign, a mere nomad, simply satiating his instinctual desires. But following his studies and observances of the family, the monster learns of more than just instinct: he knows what it means to be spurned and rejected, and gives vent to his feelings of anguish, hatred, and vengeance. Without observing the de Laceys, there is the chance that the monster would have remained in the former state, leaving Frankenstein alone, and thus the novel would not be the novel that we have been studying all semester.

The turning point caused by the de Laceys could find its basis in many of the fields of literary criticism, but it has strong connections to ideas of the psychological. The monster’s passionate and varied surges of emotion – euphoria, happiness, sadness, anger, fear, hatred – respresent an unstable base that eventually cause him to snap and hence, the turning point. The de Lacey’s importance is that they create this unstable base, and then allow it to fall. Without them, the monster may not even have formed breakable emotions in the first place. The psychological automatically leads to Freud and his ideas of psychoanalysis: “from a psychoanalytic perspective, boys learn oedipally through identifying with the father and his threat of castration, the threat that originates concepts like honor and law” (Parker 135). This quote demonstrates the origination of higher concepts through the psychological processes of the psychoanalytic, and mirrors the monster’s learning of the higher concepts of emotion and human society through his observances and psychological processes in relation to the de Laceys. The de Laceys teach the monster everything that he knows about humanity and thus model the oedipal stage that the monster must go through in order to learn about these “higher concepts”. Once the monster has learned, the turning point is reached, demonstrating the de Lacey’s intense importance in the novel.

The Creature is an infant in the guise of a full-grown man. Like an infant, he undergoes rapid intellectual and linguistic development; but unlike an infant, the process is distorted and changed — a fitting effect of his ignominious birth. In psychoanalytic terms, infants go through what French psychoanalyst Lacan called the  “mirror stage,” in which children between 6 and 18 months old first recognize the image in a mirror as themselves, a representative of their own coherence. Before the Father’s No (either from a true father figure or society at large) brings them crashing into the world of the Symbolic like Icarus falling into the sea, the child lives in the Imaginary, a world where it is perfect being that exists in that mirror. Once the child moves into the symbolic, it realizes it is not the imago in the mirror and spends its life trying to become that imago once more–such is the mechanism that gives us drive and desire.

The Creature is born and abandoned, left without a father figure to give him this “No.” Normally, society would step in to place limits that aid human development, but Frankenstein is ostracized for the first months of his life — living in the woods, he never experiences those limits that will eventually lead to him realizing the image in the mirror is his imago. Without these, when he observes the De Lacey’s , he observes the first people he’s met since becoming 6 months old.  Normal infants do not place other people as their imago because they are constantly exposed to society since birth; but the Creature’s isolation causes his mind to make the De Lacey’s his imago, describing them as “perfect forms” with admirable “grace, beauty, and delicate complexions” (pg. 104). When he looks in the pool, he sees his reflection but does not identify it as his imago, stating that he was “unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror” (pg. 104). After an internal struggle of conflicting mirror images (the De Lacey’s and his own monstrous reflection), he realizes that he can never become the imago he first identified with. Left with nothing but his reflection–an image he identifies as his actual self–the Creature becomes trapped in a permanent state of the Imaginary. To live in the Imaginary is to un-repress thoughts and feelings that should be kept buried. To unbind the Id is to become psychotic; the Creature loses his mind and his postive, imago-seeking drive, killing without mercy because he knows and accepts that he is everything he will ever be.

He is the monster in the water.

For next week’s blog post (Monday 3/18), answer the following questions from a psychoanalytic perspective, using Freud’s idea of the uncanny double or Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage:

What does the creature see when he looks into a reflecting pool of water (p. 104, 118)?  Why is he so disgusted of his self-image if, ultimately, he wants others to overlook his physical deformity?



For inspiration, students can recall my graphic in-class drawing of Victor Frankenstein’s “wildest dream,” what Freud would call an uncanny return to his unconscious childhood desire before the Oedipal stage: to have sex with his phallic mother, an incestuous desire displaced from Elizabeth (his “cousin-sister”), to his dead mother, and finally to the hideous monster (the double).  Wow, this novel has some serious psychological trauma (or maybe this image reflects my disturbed transference!!!).

Students can learn from this image about the importance of taking the time to do a close reading, how to base your interpretation on key words, phrases, images, motifs, and symbols.  Remember, don’t over-intellectualize the novel (that’s a form of repression); instead, think psychoanalytically at the emotional level; in other words, think perversely and pornographically–in the most twisted way–and you will discover the secret of the uncanny.


Here’s my explanation for the image below:

Victor’s dead mother folded in the flannel = the binding of the mother in an idealized “safe” form (repression) kills her, displacing the unconscious desire to kill the father onto the mother instead (an “abnormal” Oedipal cycle)

the graveworm = the penis linked with maternal death, thus the phallic mother.  I see a connection between this image and Victor’s recollection of his childhood: a boy bound to his family by a “silken cord”: the biological umbilical cord.

sweaty forehead = the penis forehead in the act of ejaculation, sexual pleasure prior to castration (the uncircumcised penis)

Victor’s sweaty body and convulsing limbs = the son having sex with the mother or, conversely, the phallic mother having sex with her son; incest is not a taboo before the Oedipal stage, thus Elizabeth, Victor’s lover and sister, reverts to maternal love

the moon shining in from the window = the dark, horrible secret of the uncanny has been revealed in the light; the return of the repressed.

the horrible, nameless monster = the uncanny double that reveals the horror of Victor’s secret unfulfilled wish: to have sex with his mother; but he could also symbolize the missing father figure, the super-ego (external observer) that denies incestuous love.  Thus, the creature is a condensation of the mother-father figure, the embodiment of the phallic mother Victor encounters unconsciously in his dream.

uncanny photo



Here’s an inspiring YouTube video on Oedipus veggies, the story of Oedipus told through vegetable actors.  Be warned: this video contains graphic scenes not suitable for vegetable viewers.