Tag Archive: repression


victor & elizabeth

I haven’t seen Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 film version of Frankenstein, so honestly I’m not too sure what’s going on in that scene up there. I mean, yes, that’s Victor and Elizabeth clearly having a moment. But I wonder, is Elizabeth dead in that picture?

She probably isn’t, but hear me out — the only times Victor shows intense passion for Elizabeth (in Mary Shelley’s 1831 book, at least) is during his particularly vivid dream (which I’ll get to) and after Elizabeth’s dead, when he “rushed towards her, and embraced her with ardour” (168), observing “the deadly languor and coldness of the limbs” (Shelley 168).

Now, that dream. In it, Victor’s walking the streets of Ingolstadt, when suddenly he see Elizabeth “in the bloom of health” (61). He recounts, “Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death, her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms” (61).

Sigmund Freud would have a field day with this one. Believing that dreams were fuzzy windows into the unconscious, Freud analyzed dreams to find repressed bestial desires now made into altered, more acceptable forms. According to Freud, “every emotional affect, whatever its quality, is transformed by repression into morbid anxiety” (Freud 429), and if this repressed object recurs and causes anxiety, then it’s considered uncanny. Yup, Victor’s sure sounds like an uncanny dream.

So why this dream now? Why would Victor think of his dead mother now? Well, this happens just after he’s given life — given birth — to his creation. And remember, one of the biggest reasons he decided to do this whole thing was because he thought, “if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption” (Shelley 58).

Because the death of his mother absolutely wrecked him. In fact, Victor calls it “that most irreparable evil” (50). In describing his mother’s nursing of Elizabeth from scarlet fever (which ultimately kills her), he details, “Elizabeth was saved, but the consequences of this imprudence were fatal to her preserver” (49). Imprudence? Ouch. For every tender word he uses to describe Elizabeth, this speaks volumes. Undoubtedly, Victor has not gotten over the death of Caroline Frankenstein, “this best of women” (49). Worse, Caroline straight-up tells Elizabeth (really, the reason she’s dying in the first place) to replace her, as she says, “Elizabeth my love, you must supply my place to my younger children” (49).

And in a way, Elizabeth does. She is the sole madam and caretaker and ultimately wife of the Frankenstein house. But she’s also inadequate. Victor’s affections clearly remain with his dead mother, shown through Elizabeth transforming into Caroline in his dream as well as his obsession with animating dead matter. Because of Victor’s repressed resentment for Elizabeth, she cannot fully replace Caroline as mother and lover.  And most telling of all, Victor, ever the egomaniac, takes on this pursuit on his own, taking the role of mother in forming the creation. Pretty sure that didn’t work out so well either.

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While reading about the uncanny and its definition, as well as Freud’s general theories and theses regarding it, everything started to fall into place with regards to Frankenstein and his monster.  The immediate conclusion that is brought to mind is that Frankenstein is using his creature to put into physical being his double, and through this regressing into his childhood again because he is experiencing the uncanny – he is experiencing his double as an adult.  But I think a large factor is that Frankenstein has experienced his development in a twisted way, and therefore in experiencing the uncanny he sees a return of the repressed material that illustrates the disruption of his natural development, which may be the causation for the need to create his creature.

In a regular trajectory of development, a child would experience their childhood narcissism and create ideas for their double, where it is acceptable since the narcissism has not been overcome.  Then, later on in life, as the narcissism is overcome, encountering the double will end up leading the person to the uncanny and return them to childhood thoughts and memories.  Naturally, we can interpret his creature as his double.  Yet there is something very critical that happens in Victor’s experience of the uncanny: “I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams.   I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt” (61).  According to the Oedipal design of development in relation to the family, a person’s development of feelings of affection towards an individual are based on the interactions with their parents and basically, whether they have fear of castration or penis envy.  The “normal” development of a male child will push them to have affection for their mother, and then transfer that affection to a woman that reminds them of their mother.  Instead Frankenstein has been attached by affection to Elizabeth since so early in his life (since the age of five) that he was not able to properly complete his development with regard to affection of his mother.  With regard to Elizabeth, Frankenstein has this to say early on in the narrative – “Elizabeth Lavenza became the inmate of my parents’ house – more than my sister – the beautiful and adored companion of all my occupations and pleasures” (43).  Victor prematurely transferred his affections from his mother onto his “cousin,” and if this aspect of development was disrupted, is it not also possible other aspects of his development was disrupted?  In particular, what if he never truly overcame his childhood narcissism, and is, instead of mentally, physically creating his double in order to ensure his immortality?

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).

Trapped In The Closet

Victor’s desire to bring life to an inanimate object – to birth life from his own creation – can be likened to what Freud would call a pathological male development. According to Freud, Victor’s obsession with making a ‘baby’ comes from a deep seated desire to find a substitute for his father’s penis. (Pause)

In the ‘normal’ development of the Male Oedipal Complex, Victor would start to identify with his father, and then look for a substitute to satisfy the subconscious infatuation his Id would have with his mother. On a surface level, it looks like Victor has found this in Elizabeth, so it would be easy to say that Victor has experienced a normal development.

But writing a post about that would not push any boundaries, and would surely result in yet another mediocre grade! Instead, we must consider: throughout the story, we see Victor display many narcissistic tendencies, and as we have discussed before in class, it begins to seem like Victor is not attracted to Elizabeth at all – instead, she simply serves as a piece of furniture that completes his grand view of himself. Remember, according to Freud, intense narcissism in adults creates what he calls the ‘doppleganger’. The doppleganger represents the superego’s repression of unwanted traits or feelings that are unacceptable to the ego. In Victor’s case, his doppleganger is what drives him to pursue Elizabeth, repressing his true feelings and desires which his ego has deemed unacceptable in society. 

At the same time, Victor harbors an intense yearning to find a true substitute for what he really wants, even if he doesn’t quite realize it. His obsession with bringing a being to life stems from his pathological development and the lingering attraction that lurks within the deepest recesses of his soul. (Lighting flashes, organ music plays, and I laugh maniacally at my computer in the Blakemore study room which is shrouded in mystery and darkness!)

So much like my relentless pursuit of a good blog grade stems from crushing insecurities and a fear of failure, Victor’s life work actually comes from a desire to find something that could stand alone as a substitute for his father’s penis. Dare I say it – I think Victor is gay!trapped in the closet

Victor’s fear of castration

In Frankenstein, the monster’s feelings when he sees himself reflected in the water are deeply indicative of displacement and social construction. Psychoanalytic criticism emphasizes the role of the unconscious and the hidden repression inherent in the monster seeing himself in the water. The uncanny conjures up a weird, foreign feeling yet strikingly familiar. Freud’s theory of dream distortion explicates this incident because the monster is actually a projection of Victor Frankenstein himself. The monster is how Victor actually sees himself, beneath all the layers of filtering and the repression. Victor “became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am” and it is only with displacement that Victor can transfer all of his genuine thoughts and desires onto the monster, which is in actuality an artificial conjuration (pg. 104). Seeing his repugnant and grotesque form unmasks the primary narcissism present according to psychoanalytic criticism because the monster, or Victor is the center of his entire world. This incident gives us a glimpse into how Victor feels about himself. Because Victor’s recurring thoughts are omnipotent in his dreams, he sees himself in his truest form when he stares into the water because he observes a primordial beast. This primitive form of identification is emblematic of the uncanny. Victor’s observance induces horror because it’s only within his dreams that his fear of being castrated is exposed. He sees himself bare and the “miserable deformity” that he refers to is actually his castrated body exposed by the water (pg. 104).

While the monster certainly wants others to overlook this deformity, he is so disgusted at his image because that’s how he identifies in his unconscious. Victor has repressed these thoughts and fears about himself to the level that they only show up in his dreams, where Victor becomes the monster. This displaces all of his self-hate onto a creature, which is ostensibly detached but actually very real. Victor wants others to overlook his deprivations and in his dreams, the lack of a penis due to infantile fears. His identification as the monster signifies the identification of the child initially with his father in psychoanalytic terminology, but turns completely when he realizes that his father wants to castrate him. Victor, realizing his repulsive nature in his dreams, has already been castrated but longs to be accepted by his mother so he can ultimately have sex with her. The manifest content of this dream reveals itself because Victor has repressed this fear for so long in his unconscious.