Tag Archive: representation

Capitalism creates oppressive conditions for working-class proletariat that belittle their value as individuals and their existence. Warren Montag’s essay, “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein” examines how the the plight of the proletariat by the wealthy bourgeoisie is reflected in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Montang concludes that Frankenstein’s monster is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability” (480). I agree with Montag that the monster is a sign of the proletariat’s unrepresentability, considering the monster’s devaluation and grievances.

Under capitalism, the proletariats, are alienated not only from the products of their labor but also themselves. The poor workers labor and produce but, because of meager wages, they will likely never have the means to afford these products no matter how much they exhaust themselves. The proletariat are also alienated from their sense of self as labor consumes their identity and their individuality is lost. This is reflected in Shelley’s novel when Frankenstein’s monster says, “I discovered also another means through which I was enabled to assist their labors. I found that the young [Felix] spent a great part of each day in collecting wood for the family fire; and, during the night, I often took his tools, the use of which I quickly discovered, and brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days” (102). One could argue that this decision to help the De Lacey family was the creature’s choice and not mandated onto him by the bourgeoisie. However, these actions were taken on as a means of survival the same way the excruciating work of the proletariat is the only way under capitalism, other than a revolution, that they can continue living. The monster’s labor is done in an effort to be recognized by the family as a benevolent being and be accepted into human society instead of being an outcast as he was made by Frankenstein and other humans. The family, who possess social capital, decides what fate the monster receives just as the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, determine how much impoverished workers are compensated. The parties who actually benefit from the labor, however, is the family who does not have to collect their own wood and the capitalists who profit from selling the products produced by the poor, while the creature and the poor continue their exploited lives.

The capitalist, bourgeois society in which Frankenstein’s monster and poor laborers alienate themselves also alienates them from other ranks in society and deprives them of their humanity. Since the proletariat produces all the products and are seen as just means to an end, little importance is placed on their lives or concerns. Montag states that, “Utterly absent from the narrative is any description or explanation of the process by which the monster was created” (477). By having this absence that Montag mentions, there is distance created between the monster and the rest of society and indicates that his origins and existence is not a matter of importance because in the end he is just the lower class who will never reach anything beyond that ranking. Also, just as the bourgeoisie “reduc[ed] the numbers of workers necessary to the production process” in order to make way for technological “industrial developments” (472), the monster is immediately abandoned by Victor Frankenstein as soon as he is dissatisfied with the final result of his creation, alluding to the characterization of worthlessness placed on the working-class that could be disposed and replaced at any moment the bourgeoisie chose. This loss of humanity and commodification, is the “unrepresentability” Montag refers to. Because the proletariat are reduced to machines working for the benefit of the upper and middle classes, they are not supposed to have a voice or have themselves or their concerns represented. The monster’s failed efforts at social mobility and his lack of power and authority not only mirror the proletariat but also marginalize him within the frame of the novel, eliminating his power to represent and voice himself within the novel as well. It is through this unrepresentability that Frankenstein’s monster represents that of the proletariat class under the oppressive conditions and unjust conditions of capitalism.  

The proletariat are monsters because of the monstrous, classist economic system developed by the rich, ruling, capitalists. The bourgeoisie did produce a product…economic servitude and the existence of the impoverished, disenfranchised proletariat. However, unlike the products forced onto the proletariat class, they receive capital that they will continue to use to exploit them, help themselves, and maintain the cycle of capitalism.

– Wendy Gutierrez


At the end of his essay, “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein”, Warren Montag concludes that in Marry Shelley’s novel the creature is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability” (480). After reading Shelley’s novel and Montag’s essay I have come to disagree with Montag and believe that the creature, in fact, helps show the representation of the proletariats in Shelley’s novel. In Shelley’s novel, the creature gives a grave description of Felix, Agatha and the old man’s living condition in which he discovers that “the cause of the uneasiness of this amiable family: it was poverty; and they suffered that evil in a very distressing degree” (101). This family is a direct representation as told by the creature of the oppressed working class; they live in a little cottage with their blind father and must fend for themselves every day.

The two children, “often suffer the pangs of hunger very poignantly; for several times they placed food before the old man, when they reserved none for themselves,” due to being lower class status, with a blind father the two young cottagers needed to take care of one another and in having so much to do during the day they would not often have enough food for all to eat so let the old man eat because he couldn’t see if they were eating as well (102).

The creature being created by the working class man, Victor Frankenstein, sympathizes with the lower class family because they are isolated to the little cottage and must fend for themselves like he has had to because he has been doing the same thing since he was created. “For the monster is a product rather than a creation, assembled and joined together not so much by a man as by science, technology, and industry, whose overarching logic subsumes and subjects even the greatest geniuses” (Montag 473). Even Victor himself is a brief representation of the proletariats because he was the creator of the creature but once the creature was finished it wasn’t what he wanted it to be and he didn’t care to see the creature.

The creature who was hiding in their cottage took notice of how “their nourishment consisted entirely of vegetables of their garden, and the milk of one cow, which gave very little during the winter, when its masters could scarcely produce food to support it” and how “the youth spent a great part of each day in collecting wood for the family fire” (101-102). Seeing the family struggle just to stay warm at night, the creature, “took his tools and brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days” (102). With the use of the word “home”, the creature is considering himself as part of their family which therefore makes him a representation of the proletariat rather than a non-representation of the proletariat.

-Alina Cantero

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.