Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Monster as Human--in a Heightened Sense

We already know that Frankenstein fashioned his monster in the likeness of a man. We also know that the monster was created with superhuman traits. He was larger, more agile, faster, stronger, able to absorb intellectual information more quickly than the average human. The list goes on and on.

Wilson refers to the human condition as being "defined to a large extent by our most intense emotions: enthusiasm and a sharpening of the senses from exploration; exaltation from discovery; triumph in battle...; the restful satisfaction from an altruistic act well and truly placed;...the strength from family ties" (199).
Now, in the argument whether the monster is human or not hinges on this definition of human nature. In the first part of his tale, the monster has experienced the "enthusiasm and a sharpening of the senses from exploration" as he explores the lives of the DeLacys unnoticed. His senses are sharpened in the night when he leaves his hovel to collect food. The gathering of wood and clearing of snow that he also does at night results in "the restful satisfaction from an altruistic act well and truly placed".

As the monster continues to learn and progress in his grasp of the French language, he experiences the "exaltation from discovery". The most prominent way this is shown is when he discovers and studies the three books (Paradise Lost, Plutarch's Lives, and Sorrows of Werter) which he found in the woods. "As I read, however" says the monster. "I applied much personally to my own feelings and condition. I found myself similar, yet at the same time strangely unlike the beings concerning whom I read, and to whose conversation I was a listener" (142). The monster himself even recognizes his differences, but these differences were more of appearance than of actual disposition. The monster, until his rejection by the DeLacys, possessed a pleasant and unassuming demeanor. Realizing he had been spurned both by his creator, and the only others he considered family, became upset and vengeful. Wilson speaks of family ties as giving strength, as they do for the DeLacys and Frankensteins, but the lack of these family ties as in the monster's case can have the opposite effects. Whereas the acceptance of him into the DeLacy household would have strengthened the monster, the rejection has him withering away in sorrow and anger.

Wilson also speaks of a feeling of "triumph in battle". After the monster's rejection, he enters into a war with his creator, Victor Frankenstein. In a rage, he murders Victor's brother William. He won that battle and feels a sense of triumph, but then again remorse, which, although Wilson does not mention it specifically, is another indication of humanity. As the monster continues on killing people, Henry, Elizabeth, he wins successive battles over Victor, stealing from him his family ties that give him strength.

When the monster expresses his ultimate remorse to Walton at the end, exclaiming, "what does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst" (254), the remorse accentuates his humanity.
Wilson explains that these emotions that we as humans feel is controlled in the mind, stating that "the mind fights to retain a certain level of order and emotional reward" (200). The monster laments that he "was the slave, not the master, of an impulse which I detested, yet could not disobey" (255). Perhaps the argument is not whether or not the monster is human, but to what extent he is human. As we know, the rest of the monster is built to superhuman capacity: his brain, his body, his reactions. His emotions are also superhuman. He struggles to keep his feelings in check, but since his emotions are so strong, he is unable to control or resist them.

The monster feels and experiences the same things as any normal human under Wilson's definition of emotional human nature, so it follows that the monster is a human emotionally, only in a heightened state.


  1. Erika-

    I think you have a good start to a paper here. You discuss a very dense book with authority and this was easy to follow and understand. In terms of some suggestions, I think that the main drawback to this blog at this point is that although you chose some great moments in the text to cite, and tied Wilson in very well (that quote is a solid way to start this off), I would like to see more of your own conclusions drawn from these moments in the book. There are points of this that seem to be mostly summary without answering the "so what?" questions papers are supposed to. Also when you state that "Perhaps the argument is not whether or not the monster is human, but to what extent he is human."--this is an interesting (albiet complicated) road to go down, but you haven't really explained that concept completely. If you want that idea about the monster's degree of human-ness to be the thrust of your revision (if you decide to revise this blog) then I think it needs to be established earlier and grounded with more of your own conclusions based on the text.

  2. To follow on Alison's comments - through most of the paper, I thought you were analyzing the novel intelligently without really giving us any clear indication of where you were going, or why your approach was one worth taking. In other words, the "so what" wasn't there, as Alison pointed out. Incidentally, I think this could have been greatly mitigated, although not necessarily eliminated entirely, if you had done something to explain why you think this is *the* definition of humanity in Wilson - why it is interesting, worth exploring, and worth applying to the novel. Don't get me wrong - I think you use this moment in Wilson very effectively. It's just totally unclear to me why you have chosen it, or what it means to you. Returning to Alison's commentary - the end of the essay, where you begin to argue that the monster is human but more so, specifically in his emotional life, is fascinating, even if you're really only gesturing at the idea, rather than developing it.

    One thing I'd love to see in a revision is you beginning with *that* premise - that the monster is a further development or extension of some aspects of human nature, focusing on our emotions - which you would then justify (perhaps through Wilson applied as you do now, just with more clarity re: your motives and approach) in detail.

    As it stands, this is very interesting, but your goals/reasoning is unclear in the introduction, and the essay is cut short at precisely the point when it's getting really interesting