Tag Archive: upper class


by Steven Gonzalez

In “The Workshop of Filthy Creation: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein by Warren Montag, Montag draws parallels from the French and English Revolution to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  One of the most compelling comparisons I found in Montag’s essay is the comparison of the “new elites” having to mobilize the “plebian” masses in the attempt to overthrow absolutist monarchies and Victor Frankenstein’s creation of the creature in the novel. Eventually, Montag comes to the conclusion that “Frankenstein’s creation, is therefore not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability.” Ultimately, I agree with Montag’s Marxist reading of the novel as throughout the novel that there are undeniable similarities between Frankenstein’s monster and the proletariat.

Frankenstein’s monsters’ similarity to the proletariat and their “unrepresentability” is best depicted in the passage on page 109 beginning with ” I learned that…” and ending with “… all men fled and whom all men disowned?” Initially, the monster describes the possessions that humans find “most esteemed” and in the following sentence discusses how without either of the two possessions he describes (high unsullied descent and riches) men are seen as a “vagabond or slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profits of the chosen few!”(Shelley 109). This statement clearly carries an allusion to the proletariat through the lack of socio-economic status and the arduous and forever-lasting journey to obtain it; The exclamation point following the last statement as well as the choice of words of like vagabond and slave carry some sort of resentful tone further showing the monster’s self-identification with the proletariat. In the following sentence, the monster depicts himself as being innocent and ignorant creating a sort of  sympathetic mood much like one would expect the proletariat would do stating, “Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant, I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property.”(Shelley 109). Then, the monster uses loaded words associated self-hatred and pity mirroring the mindset of people with nothing to lose like the proletariat often experience; the phrases the monster used to describe himself being ” hideously deformed”, “loathsome”, and ” I was not even the same nature of man.”Next, is perhaps the most significant line relating to Warren Montag’s argument of the creature representing the proletariat’s unrepresentability in the novel; After describing himself as this poor, ignorant, disfigured creature and being less than man, he notices, “When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me.”(Shelley 109). Why would Shelley intentionally exclude peasants and people who would be classified as proletariats from the novel? Is it perhaps to exemplify the incongruence of proletariats in a society ruled by the new elites? Warren Montag seems to think so, So I ask, why would Mary Shelley have the creature acknowledge that omission of the proletariat class in this paragraph? Finally, the paragraph ends with the creature’s use of a rhetorical question to emphasize his low self-worth, questioning, ” Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?”(Shelley 109). This question is peculiar because it not only feels like it is a questioning of the creature’s self-worth but it almost seems as if this portrays the struggle between the upper and lower classes by mirroring  the upper class’ perspective of the proletariats thinking of them as simply “a blot upon the earth.”

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Historical Context and Marxist Literary Criticism

Marxism, simply put, is the perpetual struggle between antagonistic social forces. But, as Montag points out, the struggle “is not the same throughout history, it takes many forms… follows no rules and obeys no logic” (389). Literary works express a specific form of the struggle, and in the case of Frankenstein the struggle is, ostensibly, between the upper class, personified by Frankenstein, and the lower working class, personified by the monster. When considering the historical context on a basic level, this notion is well supported and reinforced.

In my opinion the two major historical events that are intrinsic to this novel are the French Revolution and Industrial Revolution, with each constructing and molding the character of Frankenstein and the character of the monster. The French Revolution was supposed to be the emergence of the elite land-owning/monied class over the monarchy, an emergence made possible by the working class masses. However, this turned out to be an idyllic, since in reality the masses became uncontrollable, and in fact in many ways blocked the emergence of the land-owning/monied class. This strongly parallels the novel: Frankenstein in an attempt to create a race of humanoids that would allow him to surpass his own societal and scientific constraints, he creates Frankenstein, a creature that Montag notes, ironically reverses “Frankenstein’s position…clearest when his creation, far more powerful than he, calls him slave” (390). The monster not only stymies Frankenstein’s progress, but in fact reverses it in many aspects, as Frankenstein witnesses his creation kill intermittently, and wield his strength to control and extort Frankenstein himself.

The context of the Industrial Revolution reveals much about the working lower class construct of the monster. The Industrial Revolution led the extinction of the rural working class, which enjoyed a relatively peaceful and unperturbed existence. But science and rapid industrialization led to the existence of a new working class: the industrial working class. This new class did not enjoy the few privileges afforded by the rural class, and instead became locked in a terrible cycle of unemployment and higher cost of living that coincided with the technological progress and the prosperity of the upper classes. The creature, much like the industrial working class was borne from the labors of science, and that very science has trapped it in a cycle of misery and alienation. Its very existence is an affront, and the propagation of its race (the creature’s desire for a female counterpart) is something the creature feels is necessary. The propagation can only be carried out by the one element, Frankenstein that refuses to further destroy infringe on nature, or to put it in the context of the upper class construct, preserve the status quo.

Montag claims that “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability”. Montag however claims that this antagonism takes a different form. Rather than the active representation of working class by Frankenstein, Montag claims that Frankenstein really represents the absence of the working class. This is an attempt by Montag to reconcile the fact that the monster has no voice and the very depiction of him as a monster reduces his ability to represent the proletariat. This might be true if the above historical context is not taken into consideration, and the character of Frankenstein is examined as a stand-alone. However, when taking historical context and the monster’s relation to Frankenstein into consideration, the novel presents a clear cut and active antagonism between the upper class and the working lower class, as presented by the struggle between Frankenstein and his monster.