Tag Archive: subaltern

The First Step Toward Neocolonialism (https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/the-first-step-to-neocolonialism/) poses a good argument for the ambiguity of the Creature’s status as the subaltern or the oppressor, and I think it can be extended to say that this ambiguity defies the imperialistic essentialism of the colonized being completely separate and different from the colonizer, and so destabilizes imperialism.

The Creature is oppressed, or subaltern, because he is under the power of humans with relation to language, knowledge and progress.This is seen in how he says that he “should not have understood the purport of this book had not Felix, in reading it, given very minute explanations.” (108) Felix as a representative of the Western colonizer, holds power over the Creature because without him the Creature has no access to language and information. The “minute explanations” also tints this instruction with a sense of belittlement, as if the subaltern Creature and Safie are so grievously unintelligent and uninformed that they need the smallest item explained. His identification with Safie, with their joint instruction and his weeping “with Safie” (109), also support his subaltern-ness. Additionally, the Creature is despised mostly for his appearance, as a “figure hideously deformed and loathsome” (109), and it is on this basis that Victor justifies hating and wishing to destroy the product of his science. This has a strong parallel to various colonizing events all over the world, where the native people were thought of as primitive and backward simply because they looked different, as in Africa, such that the colonizers could justify their taking over and oppression of the people as a favor to this poor, undeveloped society.

But as the teaching continues, the Creature appears to begin to be instilled with colonialist ideologies and stereotypes. The author of this post observantly notes that the use of the word “hapless” to describe the Native Americans has connotations of it-was-going-to-happen and sounds very close to ‘helpless’, taking the power and voice away from them. I would say that this does not just uphold colonial ideas but his weeping may be an expression of ‘imperialist nostalgia’ which Parker describes as when “colonizing people often mourn for the past of the colonized cultures they have tried to destroy” (Parker 285) . The Creature goes on to gain great command over language and in effect he learns the colonizing culture better than most of the colonizers. He takes on the status of the colonizer, as is evidenced by how he plans to go to the “vast wilds of South America” and probably start a family there, in effect colonizing it. His shift in perspective to colonizer can clearly be seen here in his description of South America as wild simply because its indigenous people live differently. After this he begins to oppress Victor, as he sets him to labor and punishes him for not doing what he was told by killing his loved ones.

But this position as colonizer is never solidified either, as the Creature notes that the education he receives from Felix gives him “a view” of the empires of the world, and as he recognizes that this may be just one of many perspective, he does not fully embody the essentialism of the colonizer who is certain of the absolute characteristics of different peoples. Also he plans on dying by self-immolation when he learns that Victor is dead, which recalls the practice of sati when a widow steps into the funeral pile of her dead husband, and this identification with the subaltern woman confuses things.

This ambiguity about whether the Creature is a colonizer or part of the colonized raises great tension in the novel and in this passage, and undermines imperialistic essentialist views and so imperialism itself, which was so central to the Western culture of the time, and this may be the reason why he is the victim of such rejection and hatred.


Responding to The Power of Ambiguity: https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/the-power-of-ambiguity/

In this post, the student argues that the ambiguity of the language and relationship between the colonizer and the subaltern gives the Creature, one of the subalterns, a voice. I am greatly intrigued by the question of whether ambiguity, of which much exists in Frankenstein, allows for the formation of identity independent of social structures, or whether ambiguity simply reinforces the sense of “other.”

In the passage on page 108-9, the creature reflects on the stories from Ruins of Empire after Felix has read them to him and Safie. He struggles with the dichotomy of how man could be “at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?” (109). The problem, for the creature, is that both the good and the bad qualities in the stories of fallen empires are embodied by the same people. On the smaller scale, then, might Felix both be acting as colonizer, but also as something far less proprietary and more actually beneficial to Safie? After all, Felix is not teaching Safie in Turkey, is not teaching her the glory of the West while in another part of the world. She chose to come to the West, unhappy with the ways of her culture, and there he is teaching her about the part of the world she has come to.

The ambiguity in all of this, for I will not say that Felix cannot be seen as a colonizer, nor that he can only be seen as such, does not allow so much for the formation of the Creature’s own identity, in my mind, as for the Creature to accept that the model his identity is formed after is flawed. He says “For a long time I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow” (109), and yet, even recognizing that this is part of the “vicious and base” (109) aspect of man, this is what the creature goes on to do. Excepting the fact that the people he kills are not “his fellow[s].” The creature, no matter how much he might forge a path between colonizer and colonized is still other, still subaltern, and when he speaks, or rather kills, it is with the rage of the colonized rebelling against the colonizers. He does not kill his fellows, he kills the fellows of the species who created his situation, thus reinforcing, not subverting, the colonizer/colonized relationship.

Thoughts on “The creature leaves the subaltern hierarchy”

A deep thought has surfaced after reading this post. So far we have talked about why the creature is the representation of the subaltern and have used evidence to prove that. What if the creature is not subaltern however and is actually the failed representation of the subaltern? During his last line the blogger states, “While Safie remains silent, the monster is able to relate his tale to his creator and, in turn, to Walton, removing his status as a voiceless other.” The creature cannot represent the subaltern because in speaking, he is no longer voiceless.

I agree with the points that the blogger has made to show that the creature is not a member of the subaltern and I would like to add one more important point to that. When the blogger mentions that the creature has accepted a higher rule set my mind jumped to an interesting observation. Of all the people in the story, the creature is the only one that transcends the frame narrative of the story. Walton, Victor and Felix/Safie stay in their respective frame narratives for the most part. The creature plays by a different set of rules however.The creature does stay in his frame when he is retelling his story but when he talks to old De Lacey, he has jumped into the Felix/Safie frame. When he visits Frankenstein on several occasions and talks to Victor he jumps into that frame. Even in the frame that is farthest removed from him, the creature ends up speaking to Walton himself meaning he jumps into that frame as well. According to Spivak, the creature even has the ability to jump completely out of the frames of the book. She states that, “The frame is thus simultaneously not a frame, and the monster can step “beyond the text” and be “lost in darkness” (Spivak 851). The monster is not subaltern. He is portrayed that way but I think that could be deliberate in an attempt to hide the real power that he seems to posses over everyone else in the novel.


If not for Frankenstein I probably never would’ve heard of Constantin François de Chassebœuf, comte de Volney, let alone his seminal work, Ruins of Empires.

It’s not a widely read book these days, but remember, it’s the exact one from which the creation “obtained a cursory knowledge of history” (Shelley 108). Listing the “different nations of the earth” (108), he talks about Asiatics, Grecians, Romans, Christian kings and even Native Americans — but never explicitly the British.

I never noticed this, but the student gfeldtx did, and in “Powerful Omission,” claims, “Through omission, Shelley has rendered the most powerful nation on earth voiceless. This is the same voicelessness that categorizes [Gayatri Chakravorty] Spivak’s idea of the subaltern.”

A commenter added: “Felix is French, and Volney is French, yet there is no mention of anything regarding Napoleon and his French empire, or honestly just anything regarding France in general.”

No mention of Britain. No mention of France. What’s up that?

I contend that this omission of the British and French empires does not render these empires voiceless. In fact, I think the omission calls more attention to these nations, which cannot be confined within a “cursory knowledge of history” but are at large within the novel through the manifestation of the creation as the revolutionary working class.

Based on the despairingly great lengths I took to actually understand what Volney’s 1791 book is about (you can find a pretty decent summary here), I wish I could articulate it better. Here’s my attempt: Volney highlights the constant dispute between the higher and lower class as the source of all social conflict, and he proposes that through the progress of science, all people will become enlightened and will then work for one another’s interests. Now, I know, we’ve commented at length about the creation as proletariat, but lend me your ear real quick.

I hesitate to paint broad strokes, but the creation embodies the mob. He is the lower class, the French revolutionaries, the British revolutionaries. He cannot be contained in Felix’s teachings because he is present history, the people who “possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property” (109) and have the collective capacity to

Throughout Frankenstein lies this tension. While there may be no mention of France and Britain in relation to Ruins, remember Elizabeth’s letter to Victor: “The republican institutions of our country have produced simpler and happier manners than those which prevail in the great monarchies that surround it. […] A servant in Geneva does not mean the same thing as a servant in France and England” (66). But what happens to Justine?

If I had more time, I’d go further than this. Remember the very first words of the novel? “To Mrs. Saville, England” (28). And when the novel closes, where is Walton returning? “I am returning to England” (183). Everything we’ve read has come through the lens of the English. They’re on the outside of this confined text. And so is the monster.

Blog Post: “The creature leaves the subaltern hierarchy” at https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/the-creature-breaks-the-subaltern/

Real talk: I picked this post because it was shortest. To summarize the poster’s argument, the creature disrupts the relationship between the colonizer (Felix) and the “subaltern” (Safie) because the creature sympathizes both with and against Safie, and because the creature gains a voice.

The connection between the title and the post doesn’t seem very clear. Therefore, we’ll start by defining the “subaltern hierarchy.” I’m going to take a wild stab and say that in the “subaltern hierarchy,” the colonizer is above the subaltern. Where does the creature fall on this hierarchy? The colonizer? Maybe. The creature does eventually desire to “go to the vast wilds of South America,” with a mate, and I suppose that would be a colony of sorts (129). How about the subaltern, the people with less power? The creature seems to lack power, as he is powerless to change people’s rejection of him. However, if Safie, a Muslim-Christan woman, is one of the subaltern, can the creature really be on the same level as her? She has the power to reject him as well. The creature doesn’t lie below the subaltern. He has some power over nature, and he has superhuman attributes, as seen when he bounds over the ice. He doesn’t go above the colonizers either. Victor still has more power than him in denying him a female creature. Therefore, I propose that the creature was never a part of this “subaltern hierarchy” in the first place. He has always been the other.

But what of the connection between the creature and Safie? The creature once again mirrors a woman, just as Justine mirrored his monstrosity during her trial (“I almost began to think I was the monster that he said I was” [83]). This adds to more ambiguity of the creatures status. He is referred to as male, but more parallels appear between him and the women of the story than any of the men besides Victor. The creature’s ambiguity is what shatters the relationship between Felix as the colonizer and Safie as the subaltern. The balance of power is uncertain.

In the final point about the creature removing his status as a voiceless other, I’d argue that that isn’t quite true. Just because the creature’s story is in first person doesn’t mean it isn’t as indirect as Safie’s story. Victor tells the creature’s story. By doing so, he removes the creature’s voice and replaces it with his own. Although the creature’s story is told through his perspective, Victor’s unreliable narrative makes it questionable how much of the story was Victor and how much of the story was the creature.

“Ambiguity in the Subaltern’ https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/ambiguity-in-the-subaltern/

In this post, the author analyses the relationship between two groups: Felix, and the monster and Safie. The author relates Felix to the imperial power, the coloniser, while assigning Safie and the Creature the subordinate group of the colonised. The author shows the power that Felix wields over his “subjects”, influencing their thoughts and behaviour. However, far from casting imperialism in a positive light, Frankenstein actually hones in on the negative aspects that the imperialist mould has forced on the native people. In fact the novel shows the insidious nature of imperialism, where it promotes movements such as feminism and yet at the same time disparages it too.

As the author presents, the monster is an intelligent being, able to differentiate and make his own judgements. Through listening to Felix, who is very pro-colonisation, he gains a rough idea of the social status that the colonised people occupy. He identifies with this colonised people and is affected with pity and sorrow for their “hapless fate”. In this feeling of sorrow for the colonised, we see the first seeds of defiance against imperialism. The clear disapproval in the disruption of lives is a trespass that even a monster is able to sympathise with. The second challenge to the idyllic representation of imperialism common in the time is seen through Safie. Here we see Safie, a colonised Eastern woman, learned in the language and principles of the Western sphere. She is the burgeoning feminist; strong and independent. Feminism is actually a direct consequence of imperialism, where values such as independence, tolerance and innovation are held at the forefront. Yet, the effects of imperialism on Safie seem to vanish when she encounters the monster. “Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the cottage.” (114). These high handed values of tolerance and compassion for the Other disappear under the first instance of confrontation, giving lie to the effectiveness of imperialism on human nature.

The effect of imperialism on the characters in the novel do not exactly promote the efficacy of the movement. In fact, although benefits such as language and education are touted, the overall impairing effects and the negative reactions of the ‘colonised’ within the novel expose its weaknesses.

For the blog post this Thursday (4/2), students will write a post that builds on a student’s previous post on the blog prompt below (choose only one).  Try to improve the student’s close reading of the assigned passage or, if you prefer, include other related passages in the novel that help expand the argument.  Students could also respond to a previous student comment on one of these posts.  Whatever students choose to do, they should write their own post and include a link within it to the previous student’s post (or comment).  Please categorize it under “The Subaltern Monster Speaks” and don’t forget to create specific tags.


Past blog prompt: do a close reading of the last paragraph on page 108-109 based on Spivak’s postcolonial perspective.  What are the ideologies instilled through Felix’s western education, and why did the creature weep with Safie over the demise of the Native American population?  Does this strong identification between the creature and Safie imply that he is like a foreign colonized woman?  Take the time to introduce, explain, and contextualize the quoted passage, word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, always alert to images, themes, and motifs that seem slightly odd or out-of-place and to significant omissions.

See student responses to this post under this link:



A common theme of my previous blog posts is the creature’s position as the other. Being born in this role and being physically designed for it with his deformity inhibits his attempts to find his identity, since the society he is not a part of monopolizes identity.

When the monster is first born, he is an infant, with little memory of his original birth and a keen eye on the world. He watches the De Lacey family to find his own imago to project upon and identify with in my blog post “The False Imago”; with an imago, he can improve himself through presenting a more idealized self-image to look up to. Sadly, the De Lacey family differs too much from the creature’s natural appearance to effectively serve as an imago. He finds himself lacking in comparison to their forms when he sees himself in a puddle, and unlike the ideal Lacanian imago he cannot overcome this inferiority because his natural deformity sets him back.

Unable to pass the veil of human society, the creature asks for a companion in a defeatist manner: “Man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me,” (128). The monster accepts that he will always remain the outsider thanks to his hideous inhumanity, effectively denying himself the experiences he witnessed while watching the De Lacey household. He tries to compromise and still find an identity through requesting a female companion in a parody of the human family, but even then he sees himself as naturally wretched and unfit for a more beautiful companion. Effectively, he is trying to go with an approach that is “good enough”. This is also expressed in his desire to live somewhere else, far away; now that the creature knows he cannot find an identity through human society, he hopes to create one in a separate manner that does not tread on the toes of those who consider him other.

Frankenstein’s greatest fear that prevents him from finishing the female counterpart is that the pair of creatures will parent a race of monsters to doom the world. Having children normally requires the company of another human being; to deny it to the creature is to deny one of those basic rights human society takes for granted. It is an expression of identity through the creation of a new one. Frankenstein restricts the monster’s freedoms because he fears its hypothetical progeny, yet the only reason such a race of monsters would raise such concern is that they were inhuman. Because the creature is an outsider, Frankenstein bars the door to him from having children and leaving the prescribed role of the outsider, stifling the monster’s development of his identity.

The creature never had a choice in what it could become. Any attempt to escape his role as the outsider was flawed; he could not use humans as his ideal image, and when he attempted a different approach that merely copied the human approach, Frankenstein became fearful and betrayed his creation because he could not separate the creature from the role of the outsider.

Through critical psychoanalytic and post-colonial critical techniques, the highly violent nature of the creature in Frankenstein may be explicated. This movement may be accomplished first through an analysis of the characters in Lacanian terms. Like any other human individual, the creature undergoes interaction with an evolutionary set of psychological realms, initiated by the infantile mirror stage. This developmental state is characterized by an idealized recognition of bodily coherence and fullness, described singularly as the “imaginary.”

However, there is something subtly abnormal and perverted about this process within the narrative, resulting in highly unusual implications. In his intellectual infancy, the creature attaches his sense of self-definition not to his own body, but to the collective whole of the De Lacey family. His ego or “I,” finds a strange substitute in the contextual relations of the group, rather than his personal sense of bodily coherence. This state is able to maintain itself as long as the creature can inhabit a position of outside observation, free of linguistic structure or interaction with the De Laceys.

The necessary and inevitable rise of the symbolic state eventually comes to overturn the peace of the imaginary. The creature realizes his own faculty for linguistic representation and abstract symbolism, introducing the concept of intellectual lack through the inability of language to completely invoke a form, and subsequently forcing the full sense of ego to retreat into the form of “ideal-I.” Only after this process has been completed, does the creature perceive his true form in a pool of water. By seeing himself after he has moved into the symbolic state, his ideal-I has been completely broken or fractured. He comes to a realization that his ego is deeply fissured, and that it is totally inconsistent with his true nature. The fundamental human drive towards the coherence of the ideal-I is stolen from him, and he is left only with inner contention and conflict.

However, there is some hope for the creature. It may be possible for him to repair his imaginary self-definition by gaining acceptance with the De Laceys, as his idealized sense of self was based upon their family as a collective whole. Accordingly, he adopts a role parallel to the feminine subaltern place of Safie within the household. In this debased role, he receives the second half of his lesson in linguistics. The creature is fed and accepts the nuanced language of colonial discourse, adopting the sense of ideological subjugation. However, there is a flaw here as well. Instead of maintaining the superficial wholeness expressed by Safie, the creature is a maelstrom of discord. His loss of ideal-I has rendered him unable to mask the conflicting elements of the colonial discourse. Accordingly, his attempt at integration fails, and his ideal-I completely vanishes.

Here, the literary critic may perceive that the two linguistic educations, and the two failures, expose the true nature of the colonial symptom. The De Lacey family served as a microcosm for western European dominance and colonization. Through his first failure at drawing an ideal-I from the cumulative whole, the creature destroys the concept that colonial society is full, whole, natural, and free of conflict. Through his second failure in his inability to adopt the subaltern role, the creature shows that each socially striated placement is wrought with ideological tumult, and that this societal system is not legitimate. The creature is the physical manifestation of the latent violence hidden behind the colonial façade, the corporeal avatar of a fissured reality. He is now marked with discord, and will not stop in his quest to subvert the stability of colonial discourse, revealing a form of violence present everywhere.

Blog Summary 2

The creature’s character is shaped around his feelings of inferiority that is shown through his ugliness and enhanced through a post-colonial understanding of the novel and the creature’s embodiment of the colonized. The creature is constantly being outcast from society based on his appearance. For example, when the cottagers first see him he recalls that “Agatha fainted; and Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the cottage,” due to the sheer horror that his appearance provoked (Shelley 121). The creature desperately wants the cottagers and others around him to overlook his deformity but no one is able to. No one wants to be around the creature or associate with  him. The creature’s hideous appearance causes him to be treated as inferior to others.

By analyzing the creature’s character from a post-colonial critical perspective, he is viewed as the colonized subaltern. He is created under Frankenstein’s own will and is given very few choices in his life. . The lack of sympathy for the creature parallels the lack of sympathy that colonizers feel for the colonized. The creature learns about the world through hearing about other people’s experiences rather than living his own. Before telling his story he prefaces it with the words, “I shall relate events, that impressed me with feelings which, from what I had been, have made me what I am,” (Shelley 106). This indicates the creature’s realization that he has been shaped from the experiences of others. His position as symbolic of the colonized further emphasizes the feelings of inferiority that he is faced with. Then, the creature “wept with Safie,” implying his ability to sympathise with the “hapless fate” of the colonized. This suggests that the creature is able to relate to the colonized, presenting him as a symbol of the colonized and the subaltern.

            In the end, once the creature has realized his inferiority, the creature rebels and becomes extremely violent, causing multiple deaths. Dr. Frankenstein describes the creature’s delights as in “death and wretchedness,” (Shelley 146). He does this as a reaction to feeling powerless and judged. This serves as a critique of leading others to believe that they are inferior, based both off of their appearances or their position as the colonized. The creature’s feelings of inferiority and their negative consequences not only for him but for people around him critiques both physical judgment and colonization.