Tag Archive: Warren Montag


After spending a large portion of his essay speaking on how Frankenstein’s creature is the embodiment of the proletariat, Warren Montag at the end of his ideas states that the creature actually represents the unrepresentability of the proletariat. I don’t fully agree with this change because the representation of the all of the proletariat in one powerful monster has meaning.

The monster has an incredible amount of power and strength. All his power however is channeled into avenging himself and this happens when he states, “No: from that moment I declared everlasting war against the species, and, more than all, against him who had formed me, and sent me forth to this insupportable misery” (122). The creature is a representation of the proletariat because although the proletariat had immense amount of power because of their numbers, their power was not used to change how the machine worked. They used their power to change how their cogs in the machine worked, and this reoccurs in almost every working-class revolt to date. Much like the working class, the monster, rather than changing the machine that views him the way it does, focuses instead on the immediate “issue” which he thinks would help to change his circumstances the most. His circumstances however would not change because he gained control of, or killed Victor. He would have still been seen as an ugly creature who could never amount to anything and only terrorized regular people.

With an overwhelming population like that of the proletariat, almost any law could be changed to suit their needs. This group almost always never uses that power however, because they focus on the short goal at hand, which normally is to change their current work situations. The monster in the same way, channels immense power into changing only one aspect of his life which in the long run, changes nothing.

I didn’t expect to see extreme class struggle in this novel, but looking at it closely, it now seems hard to miss. According to Warren Montag in his essay “The Workshop of Filthy Creation,” the unrepresentability of the proletariat is what the creature really  represents, not the actual proletariat itself. I agree that the only reason the monster “would no longer be a monster” (395) if the proletariat was present in the novel outside of the creature, but I don’t agree that he does not represent the presence of the proletariat in a significant way. Both the bourgeois and the proletariate are boiled down to one main entity: Victor as the bourgeois, and the creature as the proletariat. While Victor’s and Clerval’s families can all be seen as representing the bourgeois as well, they do so in such a passive manner as to be fairly negligible in the comparison. Victor, on the other hand, aggressively embodies all that is bourgeoisie.

When the creature entreats Victor to create for him a mate, Victor feels first compassion, and “sometimes felt a wish to console him,” but soon his “feelings were altered to those of hatred” (130). These are the same feelings as those of Montag’s “new elites” who found it necessary to utilize the proletariat to overthrow old regimes. At first perhaps sympathetic, they quickly grew to be resentful of the lower class who would block the new elites’ rise to power. The creature, on the other hand, is asking for similar things to the proletariat: “I shall…become linked to the chain of existence and events, from which I am now excluded” (130). Both characters mirror their respective class well, and in this passage at the very least, the creature represents the entire proletariat infused into one being, arguing for equality, acting as almost a spokesperson.

In a Marxist interpretation of Frankenstein, the monster is often akin too the lower class, pointing to its abused nature and its ability to overthrow its producer. Montag’s essay “The Workshop of Filthy Creation: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein” claims that the text deliberately ignores the implications of the toiling lower class and the industrial revolution, rendering the creature a “representation of the unrepresentable”. However, Montag’s argument ignores how the first-person narration of Frankenstein is flawed and can be picked apart by both the reader and the observing character Walton, demonstrating a cynicism of Frankenstein’s viewpoint and, by extension, his ignorance of the industrial revolution and lower class in general.

Montag brings up the “Hear him not” (178) line to indicate that Shelley would rather deny the lower class of a voice or presence. Upon seeing the creature, Walton is at first impressed by the creature’s tender response to Frankenstein’s corpse, but he then remembers the man’s words; tellingly, Frankenstein is mentioned directly in his thought: “I called to mind what Frankenstein had said of his powers and eloquence and persuasion,” (187). Walter’s reaction to the creature is not something naturally developed, but an artificial parroting of Frankenstein’s hateful words. Instead of being gagged by the text, however, the monster interrupts the explorer and begins speaking, not stopping until finished. For all his bluster, Walton is unable to stop listening to, and the reader is unable to deny the opinion of the creature, because it holds just as much legitimacy as Frankenstein’s ever did.

The creature’s narration actually addresses the current reality of Shelley’s day. The creature criticizes Walton’s perspective by comparing his own qualities with Felix the “rustic”, or a person from rural areas (188). Such a term only makes sense if the creature thinks of himself as different from rustic, as urban. Montag claimed that the urban is unnaturally absent from the text, but the creature is able to see it because of his status as a symbol of the proletariat. He is also attuned to the matter of capital. There is no mention of monetary obligations in Victor’s side of the story, but in the monster’s narration, Felix’s companion tells Felix about how he will be required to pay three weeks rent or lose his garden (123). As an embodiment of the those who have to fear such things as debt, the creature understands that such details cannot be excised from life. The use of these more worldly observations demonstrates that Shelley is aware of them and willing to use them in her text. She gives them to the creature instead of Frankenstein because Victor’s perspective is deliberately askew, emphasizing the conflict between the two.

Walton’s narration also indicates a disparity. At the beginning of the novel, he wishes to “satisfy my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited,” (28). He does not wish to remain in the dark about this class conflict at the center of the Marxist interpretation; rather, he wants to explore this relatively new conflict. This enthusiasm for new territories is combined with his desperate need for a friend or companion. Tellingly, he wants “a man who could sympathize with me,” (31). In other words, Walton wants a person who can tell him what he wants to hear rather than someone who can tell him something distinct. Frankenstein fills that gap with his incomplete narrative and Walter believes him when he encounters the creature, yet the explorer is still rendered silent by the monster’s honesty, demonstrating the superior perspective of Victor’s progeny. A reassuring lie like the one Montag suggests Shelley’s novel to be is let down before truth.

A Marxist interpretation must take into account a story’s context as Montag’s essay did, but in a novel with multiple narrative voices like Frankenstein, it can’t take the viewpoint of one character as the viewpoint of the author. His “unrepresentable” monster is only in Victor’s flawed mind; the monster, and the lower class it represents, is a real and significant factor that can’t be undermined.

To a significant segment of modern society, the concept of Marxism is perceived as nothing more than a political buzzword, a failed governmental system and a relic of vicious totalitarian regimes. However, with deeper analysis, one can see that the true roots of Marxist thought are embedded in the intellectual and theoretical, rather than the practical or the mundane. This quality is exposed through Montag’s adroit Marxist analysis of Frankenstein. The text serves both to represent the structure of capitalistic society in the interactions between Frankenstein and the creature, and also to expose the deeper composition of ideology itself.

The parallels between the Marxist understanding of modern society and the events of the story are numerous and glaring. Victor Frankenstein acts as a manifestation of the newly formed bourgeoisie. He is descended from neither the serfs nor the lords, instead inhabiting the middle class. As the events of the text progress, he ideologically overturns and destroys the ancient social system by transcending the traditional means of control, such as religion or violence, instead embracing science. This knowledge is powerful enough to allow the ascension of the middle class as the new social elite, who champion industrial capitalism and doom the feudal agrarianism of the past. Victor’s study of biology and anatomy can be equated with the subjects of mechanical engineering or factory construction.

The subsequent product of the rise of enlightenment and scientific discourse is the creation of another social class. This is the proletariat, fabricated by the demand of the new elite rather than rising out of the natural structure of the world, and manifested in the creature. It and Victor, and also the workers and the owners, are inexorably linked. The principles of the bourgeoisie demand the formation of the proletariat, and the proletariat arises solely from the capitalist context. In order for the bourgeoisie to implement their new vision of the world, they had to manipulate the strength of the working classes. Frankenstein’s creation of the monster functions in the same way. Victor never questions the reasoning or implications of his work, uses the creature’s birth to validate the respect for his scientific field, and accepts a sense of natural providence or fate.

Once the proletariat has been created, a very strong sense of tension appears. A great amount of material wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of the elite, only through capitalistic societal mechanism. If the matrix of the bourgeoisie were to collapse, nothing would prevent their destruction by the masses. This results in a latent fear. In the same way, Frankenstein recognizes the significant bodily and mental power wielded by his creature, giving it life and attempting to control it although he knows of the risks. There is also a sense of pity, in that even the elites recognize the suffering at the bottom of society, and a sense of disgust, through the rejection and debasement of those given less worth. Both of these ideas can be seen in the interaction of Frankenstein and the monster, as Victor pities the creatures ignorance and loneliness, yet is revolted by its natural form.

The creature also bears some meaning towards the nature of ideology itself. Transcending superficial allegory for the proletariat, “the mass is reduced to the absolute singularity of Frankenstein’s creation, which is therefore not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability” (Montag 395). The monster not only expresses the superficial characteristics of the proletariat and the capitalistic social structure, it signifies the deepest and most important aspect: its falsehood. This sense is derived through Montag’s emphasis of the unnatural and unexplained origin of the monster, and its singular uniqueness in the world. Without these themes, the reader would not recognize anything unusual, and embrace the capitalist ideology present as allegory in the text. With these themes, however, this cultural bias is avoided. By concentrating the metaphor into a single entity, it seems grotesque and strange, rather than acceptable. The creature appears as a fissure in the symptom of capitalism, which exposes the inconsistency of the ideology with reality. The monster acts as a portal to what some might call “the sublime object of ideology,” which is by nature impossible and incomprehensible. This is the origin of unrepresentability; just like the creature, the very concepts of proletariat and the capitalist social structure are mysteriously constructed by man instead of being discovered, and posses no inherent truth or natural validity. Because of this lack of inherent or natural truth, the monster does not invoke a defined meaning in “proletariat,” but a lack of meaning in “unrepresentability.”

I find that I thoroughly agree with Montag’s analysis of the text. The allegory that he denotes is logically discovered and processed. However, what I truly agree with and find interesting is his idea of “unrepresentability.” This explains greater questions such as the horror present in the novel or the creature’s sublime aspect, which Montag would derive from the terror in the collapse of ideological symptoms and exposure to the incomprehensible kernel of reality.

At first I wasn’t sure I agreed entirely with Warren Montag’s assertion in “The Workshop of Filthy Creation” that the creature is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability.” (395) It seemed to me that the purposely ambiguous narrative structure of the novel was the principal catalyst of much of his interpretation: For instance, Montag cites the absence of science and technology throughout the narrative, and especially at the creation scene, as evidence of the creature’s total isolation and thus the reduction of all modernity “to the absolute singularity of Frankenstein’s creation.”(395)  But since the creature’s perspective is veiled by Victor’s narration, I wondered if perhaps the inevitable bias, the degree of separation between speaker and subject, creator and creation, is what makes the creature and everything it represents impossible to define. This bias, to me, seemed to serve mainly to emphasize the bourgeoisie, and I did not identify immediately with Montag’s employment of many of the same ambiguities to make a point about the proletariat.

This initial confusion, however, is in itself a product of the “unrepresentability” of the proletariat – while it is a single entity, represented by the creature, the contradictions of the character make it impossible to assign to it a single identity. The creature is, in Montag’s words, “monstrous by virtue of its being artificial rather than natural; lacking the unity of a natural organism, the monster is a factitious totality assembled from the parts of a multitude of different individuals, in particular, the “poor”, the urban mass that, because it is a multitude rather than an individual, is itself as nameless as Frankenstein’s creation.”  (387)

An important implication of the enigmatic nature of the proletariat is the bourgeoisie’s lack of the total control they desire and demand: What cannot be defined cannot be controlled, and history sees the manifestation of this lack of control, in one form or another, as the eruption of class struggles that Marxism asserts is the essence of human history itself. At the center of this conflict is a rejection by the upper class of their own powerlessness, and we see throughout the narrative that, from the moment of creation, Frankenstein denies his own lack of power, acting according to his needs and trying but failing to assert his authority as creator over the creature, his creation. By assuming the role of master, he alienates himself from his creation, and it is not until death that he realizes otherwise: “Although he once dreamed of creating a race that would worship him as master, he realizes as he lies dying that his relation to science ought rather to be described as a state of servitude. The ironic reversal of Frankenstein’s position is perhaps clearest when his creation, far more powerful than he, calls him ‘slave’.” (390)

Based on my limited knowledge of Marxism, it seems that the ideology defends the inevitable rise and victory of the proletariat:  “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable” (from the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx). I wondered, then, who would be considered the conqueror of this tale, if there were one at all. And it seems to me that the lack of control that comes with lack of identity is an unfortunate side effect not only for the creator, but for the creature, and as such there doesn’t seem to be one true champion. Once Frankenstein dies, the creature follows – a chilling reflection of history, as noted by Montag: “It was widely felt, even by those sympathetic to such experiments, that the mass mobilizations necessary to destroy the old order effectively blocked the creation of the new.” (386)

Warren Montag’s interpretation thus illuminates a different dimension to the text, one that both reflects the sociopolitical climate of Shelley’s time, and is easily understood in the context of our own time. The narrative structure that at first distorted my understanding of Montag’s argument actually reinforces it, as it is necessary to emphasize the enigma that is the creature and everything it represents.

Before taking class, the idea of a Marxist interpretation of Frankenstein would have seemed ridiculous to me, but in reality, many of the ideas that Warren Montag presents in his essay “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein” are nothing short of intriguing. One of Montag’s main arguments is that the creature is a sign of the proletariat’s unrepresentability, meaning that Frankenstein’s monster is the symbol for the vastness of the masses and their diverse nature.

The creature is a collection of body parts that Dr. Frankenstein assembled from dissecting rooms and slaughter houses, a creation of the wealthy (of which Frankenstein is a part) which embodies the Marxist notion of capitalism creating a lesser class through the current economic system. In real life, that class is the proletariat or working class, but for Frankenstein the lesser class is his own sub-human creation. Montag’s argument raises the interesting point that despite being an amalgamation of man, the creature is not entirely human. This idea partly reflects Enlightenment ideas of the time; philosophes across Europe and North America called for a radical expansion of human rights for all people, including members of the so-called proletariat, while at the same time keeping those people subjugated. The proletariat, much like Frankenstein’s monster, was not treated as “equally human” despite their origins in mankind. The most poignant example of the Enlightenment hypocrisy was the continuation of slavery and the slave trade, the clearest violation of many Enlightenment ideals. The monster is also composed of the pieces of many people, possibly emphasizing how large the proletariat, this one mass of people really is. The monster represents this conflict and the difficulty in describing the proletariat in the era of the novel, the creature and the proletariat in the Enlightenment era raise the loaded question:

Are they deserving of the same rights as people?

Though both Karl Marx and Mary Shelley both died more than a century ago their work lives today and will continue to do so well into the future. Though one is a gothic novel and the other is a publication about how the nature of politics, society, and class shape economic systems, both play on two of the strongest human emotions: pity and fear. Both the creature in Frankenstein, and the poor working class in The Communist Manifesto evoke these to primal emotions.  In his Marxist criticism Warren Montag concedes this point, but argues that more than the creature representing the poor, working class proletariat, he represents their unrepresentability.

Pity: As readers we pity the creature because of his extreme solitude. Just like humans, he had no say in his own creation, however he is unlike humans and therefore readers in the fact that he will never be able to join a community because he is the only one of his kind. This is the same pity readers have for the poor working class that Marx describes in his writings. Just like the monster the poor are trying to find a place in a society that was not built their survival. They have been used for economic progress by the elite just as the monster is used for scientific progess by Frankenstein.

Fear: The monster it just that, a monster. He is an uncontrollable other of unimaginable horridness, strength and size. This is another way in which the monster is just like the working class. Just as we fear what the monster will do next, so do we fear the power of the working class when banded together. Both the monster and the proletariat represent an uncontrollable mass of moving parts that has the power to overthrow their creators.

More than both fear and pity however, the creature most closely mirrors the sheer unrepresentability of the proletariat. Both are uniquely alone in their existence and therefore are impossible to fully represent. We struggled as a class to visualize the creature with interpretations that ranged from a veggie tale to a shadow figure. Similarly, if the class were asked to draw the working class many different images would crowd the whiteboard. Overall, I agree with Montag in his assessment that more than representing the working class with the and pity he evokes, the creature represents how the proletariat cannot be represented.

Montag’s reading of Frankenstein did hold my interest over those 10 pages. As with all good interpretations, it made me nod my head and go “huh, that’s cool.” I liked how Montag went deeper than simply “proletariat vs. middle class,” pinpointing science as the beginnings of the new social era. His reading made me think about other aspects of the book through this lens, and I developed an interpretation of a defining characteristic of the novel.

He referenced the creation of the monster and how that process is completely unexplained, and he offered a very good interpretation of the (at the time of the novel’s publication) emerging working class being the effects of science and technology. But I want to remove the science and history from the discussion and read this hiding through a Marxist worldview. The process of the creature’s creation is hidden. We never know exactly what Frankenstein does to give the creature life, not even a hint of the lightning and such that film versions have presumed. We just have a product and look at it with either horror or compassion. Through this decision to obscure the actual process, the  monster is an example of a fetishized commodity. The means of his production are obscured, so the creature becomes simply a commodity, pushed out into the world by the bourgeois Victor. His rejection of the creature shows that he cannot be the old workers of Marx’s model, as he would not reject something so close to himself if he was a symbol of that worker.

Admittedly, this reading does clash with my own sympathetic views towards the creature. With the Marxist interpretation that I have offered, the horror of the story is amplified. It becomes more of a story about the horror of commodities and guilt that the bourgeoisie, symbolized by Victor, should feel. This amateur attempt at a Marxist reading does seem to sap the pathos from the story, but it is a thrilling idea nevertheless. Montag’s is a more fleshed out interpretation, and probably one that holds to greater scrutiny, but I think this aspect of the novel is one of the more interesting details – one that deserves more attention from any critical perspective.

From what I gather from Warren Montag’s essay, the proletariat are the unwanted by-product of an industrial revolution lead by the middle-class entrepreneurial bourgeois. Considering the historical context of the novel, Victor Frankenstein and his creation can very well be considered representatives of the elite and the working classes. However, in the Creature’s case, it happens to be the sole embodiment of the proletariat, as it exclaims “I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property…[and] When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me.” (page 109). From a Marxist point of view, this total overlap of representation lends another dimension to the connection between the Creature and the proletariat. Now every single one of the Creature’s attributes becomes applicable to the working class of that age, and vice versa. And it is this exclusive relationship that allows Montag to label the Creature as “not so much the sign of the proletariat”  (page 395) but as something more.

That “something more”, according to Warren Montag, is the Creature being the sign of the proletariat’s “unrepresentability”. This attribute, I think can be derived from two sources: the obscurities in the novel, and the Creature’s absolute solitude. As Montag himself points out, the reader is never privy to the science involved in the Creature’s birth. The narrative simply skips forward. Similarly the novel is very descriptive when speaking of nature, but never once does it make any mention of the manifestations of the industrial revolution. Montag very aptly observes that “technology and science […] are present only in their effects.” (page 392). This glaring set of omissions means that the Creature’s world  is always incomplete and its very existence seems “incongruous” (page 394). So the reader is always left wanting when the narrative focuses on the Creature. Thus, the Creature’s embodiment of the proletariat notwithstanding, its connection to the world and the scheme of things becomes tenuous and almost unrepresentable.

Furthermore, like the proletariat, the Creature is unprecedented in its existence. It is unique, and therefore alone. Like the proletariat who were the bane of the bourgeois and also the instruments of their will, the Creature “far from being simply the object of horror,[…] also elicits pity.” (page 388). This contradictory nature, this uncertainty in the dominant attribute of the two is what makes them so hard to portray and therefore supports Montag’s conclusion: the Creature more aptly represents about the working class that which cannot be represented.

For this week (2/19), you will write a blog post that examines the class struggle between Victor, the middle class capitalist, and the creature, the oppressed working class, based on your reading of Warren Montag’s essay, “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein.”  What does Montag mean when he concludes that the creature is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability”? (395)  Do you agree with this interpretation?  Why or why not?  In answering this question, please focus on a close reading of a specific passage or scene in Shelley’s novel.

Include your post under the category “Labor, Alienation, and (re)production” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.