Tag Archive: reflection

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).

Human Ingratitude

The Marxist perspective….hm. I had never considered it, and even if I had, I would never have applied it the way Montag does. I agree with his reading of Victor being the middle class capitalist, that seems fairly self explanatory, but to make the Creature representative of the working class was something I had not considered at all. However, upon further reflection and rereading, it is almost boggling how well the Marxist reading applies to this novel.

Montag makes the point that the Creature, like the working class, was employed by the new elites for their own gain. In creating this force to overthrow the old state, the new elites unwittingly brought destruction down upon themselves when this same force turned upon them. Sound familiar? This initial parallel to the storyline of Frankenstein foreshadows the same outcomes that the revolutions ended with. The Creature, created in service to Victor is scorned and hated by all no matter the good he does for mankind. In one scene, where the Creature recounts his adventures, he mentions saving the life of a small girl and being shot as a result. “This then was the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human from destruction, and, as recompense, I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound…” (125). Discarded after his initial purpose of satisfying Victor’s morbid curiosity, one can understand the resentment and rage the Creature feels at the ingratitude the humans who abuse him for his services. Like the working class, who eventually rebels against the new elites, the Creature also plans his coup against Victor. “‘I, too, can create desolation; my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him.'” (127). This realisation that he, the Creature, is stronger than his Creator is a heady consciousness. The fact that he is able rally for his own devices against someone more “powerful”, his creator, is again a direct reflection to the anarchical situation of the French Revolution, where the bourgeoisie realised they were actually the ones in control.

The Creature being portrayed in the novel as an outcast and a disjointed freak represents the attitudes of the proletariat towards the bourgeoisie. Victor’s changing emotions of initial distaste to hatred and fear when he realises the raw, brute power the Creature holds over him is essentially a mirror to the events of the Revolution.  The moment the Creature realises this and employs it against Victor is the moment Victor’s demise is triggered.

According to Freud, the uncanny encompasses the realm of the unknown, more specifically dealing with humanity’s general trepidation towards the uncovering of certain hidden or concealed things within ourselves, often regarding hidden memories of ours from the past. It is the “revelation of what is private and concealed, of what is hidden” (class notes), confirming the oft-personal nature of the uncanny. What is concealed can even be hidden unintentionally from ourselves: the mind represses certain memories/experiences from the past, so whatever uncovers these experiences, which generally hearken back to our earliest years, represents the uncanny. Such repressed material from our early days, according to Freud, can be reflected through an “uncanny double” (a doppelganger)–its roots springing from our “narcissistic self-love” (class notes) cultivated in our childhood–which is a mental image/projection/persona of ourselves that we form (either intentionally or, more often, unintentionally)–for ourselves in order to define the way we see ourselves. The super-ego is related to this concept as well, projecting “all the things it represses onto this primitive image of the double. Hence the double in later life is experienced as something uncanny because it calls forth all this repressed content” (class notes).

This is what confronts the creature when he looks at a reflection of himself in a pool. He “admired the perfect forms of [the cottagers he had been observing]– their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions: but how was I terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool!” (104). He was at first “unable to believe that it was indeed [him] who was reflected in the mirror,” which is a sign of the uncanny double because this whole time the creature has been yearning for acceptance from the hostile humans around him, and this desire to connect stretches all the way back to its “birth” in Victor Frankenstein’s lab. Victor created the creature in a human image (in Victor’s mind, at least), and of course that did not go as planned, but with the creature’s “eyes… were fixed on [him]” (61). The creature likely saw Victor and saw him, a human and his creator, as the ideal in looks. He associated himself as a human and constantly tried to associate with other humans as well, but he finally confronts his true appearance through the reflection on the pool and sees pure hideousness. He sees himself this way based on his ideal perception of appearance, which he formed way back when he first came alive through Victor and subsequent other humans. This is his now-uncovered “uncanny double,” which was the mental image/projection/persona he created for himself to reflect the way he saw and perceived himself– as a human, like everyone else he saw. This is why he was disgusted by his appearance: because he had a prior, already-crafted self-image of himself that was uprooted by his real, actual self-image in the reflection, uncovering his repressed “uncanny double.” It is also why he still would want others to overlook his physical deformities because at the end of the day, he still wants to be accepted by others, as evidenced by his eventual entry into the cottagers’ house in order to finally gain acceptance from them (which, of course, does not go as planned for him).

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.

The monster’s disgust with himself lies beneath his physical appearance. Although he desires that others look past his physical atrocities, he is “terrified when he views himself in a transparent pool.” (Frankenstein pg. 104) Through Freud’s psychoanalytic perspective, we will see that his reflection is representative of much more than his physical traits and that the text reveals why the monster was at first ” unable to believe that it was indeed  I who was reflected in the mirror (pool).”(Frankenstein pg. 104) We need to identify what the monster actually saw as he looked upon his reflection, and suggest why in fact the monster had feelings of “despondence and mortification.” (Frankenstein pg. 104)

The monster’s unbelief of his own reflection stems from his realization of the “double” effect. As the monster looks upon his reflection,  he realizes what is a representation of the “double,” that which serves as insurance against the destruction of the ego, or symbolically our deaths.(“The Uncanny” pg. 9) It can be represented through many mediums, one of which is a reflection. (“The Uncanny” pg. 9) The monster comes to the unconscious realization that what is framed by the pool is a reflection, or representation, of the double or what has been created to preserve himself.  There is a sense of horror that the monster experiences as he realizes he is the source of the reflection in the pool for two ideas I believe lead to the same conclusion. First, the significance of the “transparent” pool should be explored.(Frankenstein pg. 104) By definition, transparency “allows light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen, easy to perceive or detect.” (Merriam Webster) From this specification, the monster and the reader can trust that what the monster sees in the pool is indeed a reflection of himself. The first of the  two ideas is that the monster cannot touch or feel his reflection as though it were a tangible entity. This must create some confusion due to the idea that he is indeed a living, tangible being, but is capable of creating an intangible image in the pool. And if indeed this reflection is a representation of the double, a safeguard in place to preserve life and counteract the destruction of oneself, how can something so intangible and inanimate accomplish such a feat? The second of the two ideas suggests that the monster may have some difficulty processing the duality of his existence. The monster has unconsciously doubled himself, proved by his “reflection in the transparent pool,” as an insurance against his degeneration. This makes him a living being with, let’s say, a “reinforcement” in place for his survival. However, within this same being is the  “reality of a monster” experiencing “fatal effects of this miserable deformity,” (Frankenstein pg. 104) reason for  the reader to associate him with ideas of “unnatural or extreme ugliness, deformity, wickedness, or cruelty” subjects so opposite the existence and preservation of life. (Merriam Webster) If the creature is in fact a monster, how can he feel assured of the validity or effectiveness of his double, if indeed it is a true reflection of his monstrosity? For these reasons the monster cannot look past his feelings of “despondence and mortification” at the sight of his reflection, despite his desire for others to excuse his physical appearance.