Tag Archive: stereotype


hojoMad scientists are not about the messy work. What would be the point of killing off innocent people when you have the ability to create something that can do the dirty work for you? This is how I perceived the idea and the creation of the creature in the mind of Victor Frankenstein before reading the book. I believed that, like any normal evil genius, Frankenstein created the large male creature to terrorize Europe through the killing of several individuals. The creature was just a tool for executing the plans that Frankenstein had so carefully planned out. The real story however, crushed every hope I had of Victor becoming the next big villain.

There are so many facets to the story that have collectively destroyed my perception of Frankenstein and his creature. The biggest misconception I had was that Frankenstein and the creature were on the same page as it came to their plans. I waited so patiently for the evil laugh to spill out of Frankenstein’s mouth after his weapon was brought to life but instead I received squeals of panic. The creature and the creator were at no point on the same team and the Victor made sure the creature knew. This created a massive rift in my ideas because the creature was no longer a weapon for Frankenstein in my mind; the creature was a mistake.

The second issue I picked up on as it came to my ideas was that in order to create a killing machine that machine should not have the ability to feel. Feelings like remorse for example, affect those who do things and in this case, negative things. By creating a monster that had the ability to feel emotions, the monster was not designed to be a cold hard killer. While it is true that the monster killed several people, his reasons for those killings were entrenched in his rage for his creator who had neglected him. He did not kill because he was told to but because his emotions, a very human quality, got the most of him. Frankenstein never intended to create an evil monster because he himself was not evil, so the monster was given human emotion. No weapon of destruction should have emotions because they would then feel bad about the destruction and this is how the creature feels at the end of the novel.

Perceptions are made by everyone daily. It is a part of our lives. This example of my shattered reality however, brings to light the saying that one should not judge a book by its cover. In this case of this actual book, I used what I commonly see in other stories to determine the relationship between Frankenstein and his creature and the book proved me otherwise.

Young Frankenstein

Before reading the novel, I thought the story went something like this: a nameless mad scientist works in a lab. His creation lies lifeless, strapped to a metal table. A little, hooded, hunchbacked attendant assists the scientist (Igor, was his name?). “Yes, master. Of course, master,” he says. He pulls a switch, sending volts of electricity through the creation, probably electrocuting himself as well in the process. It is dark and stormy outside. Lightning flashes and thunder clashes. The creature, Frankenstein, rises stiffly from the table, breaking the straps as it moves. “It’s alive! It’s alive!” the mad scientist yells gleefully. His eyes are wide and gleaming as he approaches his creation. More lightning. Before the scientist can speak, or maybe after he gives an order, the creature knocks him aside. Then the creature attacks Igor, or it trashes the lab. Whatever the creature does next, the actions show that the creature is violent and unable to be controlled, and that creating it was a mistake.

Needless to say, that isn’t exactly what happens in the novel. For starters, Victor Frankenstein, before he made the creature, at least, was not a mad scientist. He was a college student. His studies led him to research the cause of life. It was after his discovery of how to create life that he animated the creature. Instead of an insane scientist, the book portrays a relatively rational scientist who genuinely wanted to improve people’s lives. It’s only after the creation scene that his sanity starts to whither.

The creation scene in the novel contrasts starkly with what I thought happened. Victor works alone. Where did Igor come from, anyway? When the creature comes to life, Victor immediately backs away in horror. He is not at all excited or ecstatic like I thought the scientist was. This is what surprised me the most: that Victor was immediately terrified of the creature. I had always thought that the creature had done something fear-worthy. He’d killed some people (which he does later, but at the point of his creation he has done nothing). He had attacked Victor; he burned some buildings, destroyed some property (which, again, he does do later). I didn’t think that some green guy with bolts in his neck who moved like his arms and legs were stiff planks was all that scary. The moment the creature opens his eyes, however, Victor high-tails it out of there. The creature’s mere appearance inspired fear and hate. The creature hadn’t had a moment to act, to reveal his nature, and already he was judged.

Before reading, I also thought that the creature was mindless, mindlessly bent towards violence. However, the creature is intelligent. He becomes proficient in a language in a month or two. He has his own hopes and desires. He wanted to be able to be a part of society, at one point. Reading the novel has shown me that Frankenstein is about much more than a mad scientist’s experiment.

(photo from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dropoutart/4925278873/in/photolist-8vekPg-5heH3d-dct2ri-9REANm-6NbU1-ptSGH-2TrnH-4r5xa9-2QEuT-2SJiLF-4XYkoH-886onX-pWE1SP-94Wr3-5vxo8B-gtaKNf-4BsYjC-pWE3Nn-dtoAzJ-diQ3NM-4W7t9b-avKTWW-53p1uu-asyk3U-joN4R3-fZT2tE-c6KF4m-4fjZCP-77D9bU-8xSnvd-cjmzAS-8XXRYc-8Ltk6w-9STrEQ-eEnycr-fmYueU-fqLsrA-5qVdsH-pEpe4X-6NbTY-5vBjGZ-pEuoyu-qKv9Vc-qBGvo9-6NbTX-abyuPf-pWDN6X-pNJ6pr-nZqFVy-4W7toN/ )

Stereotypes are a by-product of our tendencies to try to group ourselves into different categories, typically based on certain recognizable features that are generally associated towards a person/group. Perceptions, either positive or negative, result from such features, and in Frankenstein, it is the Creature’s outward physical appearance which is his most prominent feature. His revolting appearance, which fosters negative perceptions and stereotypes, bars him from being accepted by anyone, including I the reader, but a humanizing conversation with his creator changes my perception of him completely.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always assumed several things regarding this novel; one of which was that the Creature had a name and it was Frankenstein and another being that the Creature was ugly, evil, and monstrous. Pop culture (hello, Halloween season!) has infused within me the typical routine stereotypes regarding the Creature, which made him pretty one-dimensional to me, due to a lack of any deeper insight into his true personality. Well, regardless of such insight, the Creature is horrifyingly hideous, with its “yellow skin [which] scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath [as well as] his shriveled complexion and straight black lips” (Shelley 60). The sheer ugliness causes Victor to immediately form a strongly negative perception of the Creature as one to be fearful of, and the stereotype that he is a potential killing machine grips Victor. In fact, after he finds out that William was murdered, he comes across the Creature lurking in the area very close to where the murder took place. Victor’s stereotype towards the Creature is instantly validated, even without the presence of any hard proof.

In Victor’s mind, the Creature is devoid of emotion and any semblance of humanity, and is continually focused on wreaking havoc and horror. This dehumanization sprang forth through the initial perceptions that Victor developed based on the Creature’s outward physical appearance, but the Creature eventually has a powerful conversation with Victor that displays the former’s humanity and makes the latter look cold and unfeeling. The Creature confides to Victor that he is miserable due to his isolation and that, at the very least, all he wants is acceptance from Victor, his creator. Still stuck on his firmly ingrained stereotype, Victor rejects the Creature several times while the Creature never gets violent nor develops a temper of any sort; rather, it is Victor who gets livid and threatens violence towards his creation. Perception, as evidenced by the above scene in the novel, does not always equal reality, and the stereotypes that result from certain perceptions can be downright inaccurate, hurtful and harmful. I really felt bad for the Creature during his conversation with his creator and my views on him changed in a heartbeat. Despite his repulsive appearance, captured effectively (yet stereotypically) by this picture:

Boris Karloff Frankenstein (1931)

A true reflection of the kind of danger the Creature really poses is likely pictured here:

The above picture is the Creature in doll form. Here, while it still looks hideous, it is reduced to a minor, harmless (minus the arms and legs on its feet) little plaything. It is obviously someone’s creation and its outstretched arms can be symbolic of a desire to be accepted. This desire, which was clearly articulated by the Creature in the novel, displayed a very human side of him that I never thought existed due to prior stereotypes.

Before even even ordering Mary Shelley’s gothic classic Frankenstein fromt the Vanderbilt bookstore, I had several preconceived notions about the book and its characters. The most prominent of these ideas revolved around Dr. Frankenstein himself. I had imagined him as a sort of mad scientist, driven to create a new life out of loneliness.

This image of Dr. Frankenstein as portrayed by Gene Wilder in the 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein permeated my thoughts about the novel. I saw the character as a man driven into madness by loneliness. As I read however, I learned that Dr. Frankenstein was not driven by madness or loneliness but by a thirst for knowledge.

Another notion I had before actually reading the novel was that it wasn’t actually scary or terrifying in any way. I saw the story as something meant to frighten small children on halloween, nothing that an adult would fear.  However, after reading parts of the novel i have come to realize just how terrifying the underlying ideas within the novel really are. Dr. Frankenstein isnt simply a mad man, he repreesents an entire of sector of enlightenment thinking. His attitude embodies a purely scientific view that sees humans as merely collections of moving parts that form a machine . A view that discounts the soul and all other immaterial parts of human life.

It is almost unavoidable while interpreting literature to lace its contents with the biases of the age. Imagine how Sherlock Holmes’s depictions have changed over the years. Or better yet, imagine how a Harry Potter novel written in Edwardian England would have played out. Similarly, the Creature in Frankenstein, I think, basically represents the anti-thesis of man. And this representation, perhaps the result of the Creature’s tabooed origins, has been portrayed differently with civilization’s mercurial mood swings. Therefore each portrayal, because it is a ‘portrayal’, initiates or conforms to the reigning stereotype of what it is to be the opposite of man. But the essential premise of the Creature remains the same. However exercising a religious fidelity to the literal description of the creature would be analogous to studying Sun Tzu just for planning battles with pointy sticks.

My reading of the novel showed me that Frankenstein’s creature is not a shallow character, but the author’s incarnation of a general idea. And being such, it is susceptible to evolve in its interpretation.Ever since its conception, Frankenstein’s monster has been depicted differently over time, and so allows us to see how society perceived itself through the decades.

The Creature in the novel is described as a tall muscular being with translucent yellow skin and black hair. But more importantly, the creature is described as being alone. At that time (the early 19th century), Western society was experiencing an ever increasing level of participation in governmental affairs. Nationalism was a popular philosophy and Europe was finding its identity. Opposed to all this social integration of mankind was Frankenstein’s monster: Shunned by its creator, spurned by society, it was an amalgam of random parts stumbling through wilderness in search of its identity and its place in the scheme of things.

Early in the 20th century (in 1910) came the first film adaption of Frankenstein. The creature in the movie was very different from its depiction in the novel:

The Creature in its 1910 incarnation.

The Creature in its 1910 incarnation.

The monster.

The monster.

A clip from the 1910 adaption showing the climax of the film.

Apart from its appearance, even in its behavior,the creature appears to be different from its actual description and modern popular perception. The creature is highly expressive, and equally savage in appearance. It is timid until provoked, an almost beastly trait. And if period dramas can be taken even slightly seriously as representations of Edwardian society, this disheveled, blunt and violent creature can very well be the epitome of un-manliness.

At last comes the modern stereotype associated with the Creature: that of a numb green beast hell-bent on the mute destruction of its creator.

Boris Karloff Frankenstein (1931)

The modern age is the age of expression. How we communicate defines us. The media have a monopoly over our culture. The way the world judges civility is by one’s ability to convey thoughts. Freedom of expression and censorship are the debates of our age, and everyone striving to prove his/her weight has got something to say.

The new Frankenstein’s creature (above) looks like he hasn’t. Neither have I, apparently, not anymore.

Something_other_than_Frankenstein

One of the most glaring stereotypes of the Frankenstein myth is that the moster itself is named Frankenstein, when in fact the monster was created by a man named Victor Frankenstein and in reality has no title other than the occassional reference to it as “the creature” or “the monster”. This stereotype is exhibited both in the images attached to the initial post and in the image provided above in which Dr. Frankenstein’s monstrous creation scowls down from above its misplaced label. The stereotype that the monster is named Frankenstein has been propagated by decades of references to the monster itself as Frankenstein by those who have not read the novel or perhaps by the shortening of “Dr. Frankenstein’s monster” to just “Frankenstein”.

Another stereotype involves the image of the wide-foreheaded green monster depicted in all of the above photos; this image originated in the 1931 film, Frankenstein, directed by James Whale, and has become the figurehead of Halloween lollipops and children’s ghosts stories since then. Obviously, when translating a novel to film, the visual interpretation of the novel can be somewhat skewed based on the preferences of those creating the movie. However, in the novel Dr. Frankenstein describes his monster: “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…” (page 60). This description is more accurately linked to an image such as this:

Frontispiece to Mary Shelley, Frankenstein published by Colburn and Bentley, London 1831

Frontispiece to Mary Shelley, Frankenstein published by Colburn and Bentley, London 1831

In this instance the monster is depicted in its true form, of giant human-like stature with its long black hair and incredible muscle which renders it “capable of scaling the overhanging sides of Mont Salève” (page 76). The above picture not only shows a physical rendition of Frankenstein that is much closer to the novel’s interpretation than that of the 1931 film interpretation, but it brings into question yet another stereotype about the monster’s disposition. Modern references to the monster depict it as an evil being, bent upon the violent destruction of mankind, however the monster is in innately benign and benevolent being that sincerely wants to learn about and be accepted into human society. The painting above depicts the monster’s bewildered and confused facial expression upon its introduction into life, rather than a hateful and vengeful expression of one who has a thirst for blood.

Thus, there is a multitude of stereotypes about the novel that can only arise and be propogated by those who do not know the true story of Victor Frankenstein’s “hideous progeny”. Indeed, I did not even know that Frankenstein was a novel until I began to take classes that expanded my literary knowledge; I merely thought that it was just another figure to celebrate on Halloween. It is important to distinguish the differences between the novel and the myth to fully understand the social commentary that underlies the plot, and which we are sure to learn about in the coming months.