Tag Archive: return of the repressed


The Creation: A Rejection “Personified”

Samantha Shapiro

Victor’s “wildest dream” invokes a connotation of disgust and repression from a long-held desire to “infuse life into an inanimate body,” which is seen with the usage of a “double” and a sort of “return of the repressed.” This dream, where Victor embraces and kisses Elizabeth, his cousin/sister figure, only for her to turn into “the corpse of [his] dead mother,” highlights this Oedipal desire for a mother-like substitute, but in a markedly different manner—in his own awareness from his dreams, he brings to light something meant to stay unconscious and ends up rejecting and repressing it. This repression establishes the theme of Victor’s horrible treatment of his creation, as he uses it as a “double,” and his dread from “repression into morbid anxiety” establishes the uncanny within Frankenstein (The Uncanny 429).

The burial “shroud”

The readers are able to interpret Victor Frankenstein’s repression from his own view of his dreams. Frankenstein had dedicated two years to “the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body,” but after having finished, the “beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled [his] heart” (Frankenstein 60). This begins to establish the obsessive nature Victor had originally created, and later goes to become connected to his mother to his dreams, through establishing a “double.” A double, in this instance, refers to an individual “doubling, dividing, and interchanging the self” through the substitution of the foreign, identical self with the individual’s own self (TU 425).

The wedding “shroud,” the “bloom of health” and the “miserable monster whom I had created”

 This double is established seemingly in both Elizabeth, “in the bloom of health,” and his mother’s corpse to attempting to make his desires come to fruition with the creation—in the process of his dream conflating the two with intimate touch, something desired in infants at a young age from their mothers, and lost to Victor with his mother’s death, he associates it with the creation. This is seen with his realization leading to “breathless horror and disgust fill[ing his] heart,” with the knowledge that his desire for his mother was the very “aspect of the being [he] had created” (F 60). The comparison and substitution of Elizabeth, his mother, and the creation highlight his disgust with himself in having this come to light, quite literally, with the “dim and yellow light of the moon” illuminating his repression with the creature staring him down, something that shouldn’t have been desired (F 60). This state begins to highlight his own mentality behind the creature, as he projects onto the creature an uncanniness due to his own repression—the monster’s develops into a return of the things that should remain repressed. 

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.

From Victor’s “wildest dreams” it appears that he is deviating from the normal Oedipal development (if any of it can actually be called ‘normal’), and instead of progressing from the infantile Oedipal stage into an adult stage where he is supposed to look for substitutes for his mother, he is regressing back from the substitute, namely Elizabeth, to his mother, as is seen in the dream figure’s transformation. This revival of an infantile stage is a return of the repressed and this which arouses the uncanny, along with the incest taboo that is ingrained in society, causes Victor to be absolutely horrified with his unholy desire, as is seen in the image of the “graveworms crawling”(61) which, according to Freud, could be a safer way to express his horror at his incestuous thoughts, as ‘insects’ is a word similar to ‘incest’. This tension and self-abhorrence in Victor may be the source of all his anguish throughout the novel, and his drive to make the Creature. The Creature can in fact be seen as an expression of this unnatural sexual desire for his mother that is buried in his unconscious; he is the desire made flesh. Victor’s narcissism doesn’t allow him to loathe himself for what he sees as a horrifying unnatural desire, or go harmlessly neurotic like other people do when their repressed drives rise to the surface, so instead he creates a being, a manifestation of this desire, on which he can displace the hatred. This is supported by the fact that the Creature’s biggest grievance is that he is unnatural and doesn’t belong anywhere.

Like his desire for his mother, the Creature is also a literal return from the repressed, as he is put together from parts of dead bodies that were buried in the past. He is Victor’s hidden perversity exposed to whole world, as is exemplified in the image created by “[in the] light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch”(61), where the light invades the dark room, a representation of the inner compartments of Victor’s psyche, and shines on the Creature. This can also explain the description of the Creature’s eyes with “if eyes they may called”(61) which calls into question the legitimacy of his penis, as Victor is afraid that his forbidden desire for his mother means that there is something wrong with him sexually. This is why Victor seems to simultaneously hate the Creature and be obsessed with him. This is why he never tells anyone about the Creature as, to reveal his unconscious desire would be unthinkable, elucidated in how he says, “my tale is not one for the public”(78) and doesn’t even consider telling the truth to save Justine’s life. This is why he feels such strong fear, (“catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse”) and horror towards the Creature, as this is the result of the experience of the uncanny that arises when there is a return of the repressed.