Monday, January 23, 2012

The Soul

“’Clerval! Beloved friend! ... His wild and enthusiastic imagination was chastened by the sensibility of his heart. His soul overflowed with ardent affections, and his friendship was of that devoted and wondrous nature… But even human sympathies were not sufficient to satisfy his eager mind.’”(Shelley 139-140). 

                Frankenstein’s description of Clerval seems to embody what Shelley was conveying as ‘human’ in Frankenstein. This statement is in stark contrast with Wilson in On Human Nature. He states, “But granted that our deepest feelings are about ourselves, can this pre-occupation account for the innermost self – the soul – in mechanistic terms?”(Wilson, 75). The major disagreement here is that, in Shelley’s eyes, there is a soul. This soul is full of affection not just for self as Wilson would like us to believe, but overflowing with affection for friends and nature. These ‘human sympathies’ are found in every one of Shelley’s characters. Even Frankenstein in his periods of strife marveled at the country side, and felt love for his intended wife. These abilities of love and marvel had the ability to bring him back to his senses. Wilson does not explain these human capabilities in his book. The theories of sex, aggression, heredity, and brain development through evolution discussed in Wilson may be the frame work of the human condition, but as Wilson describes these are characteristics shared with other creatures. The ‘soul’ Shelley speaks of, in my opinion, is what sets humans apart from other creatures.

                Frankenstein’s monster also shared the characteristics of a human soul. Initially we see this through the monster’s love for the cottagers. “It was a lovely sight, even to me, poor wretch who had never beheld aught beautiful before… I felt sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature; they were a mixture of pain and pleasure, such as I had never experienced…”(Shelley, 93). The first encounter with the people of the cottage results in an intense emotion of love from the monster. Though he is unaware of his feelings being new to the world his automatic reaction to others is that of love and care. One could argue that other creatures also feel affection for families and like the monster crave affection from a companion. However, it seems clear to me that the human desire is far more over powering. In the search for affection the monster is empowered to learn a new language, and even in the end hurt people though it hurts him to do so. This is what Shelley describes as ‘overflowing with ardent affection’.

                The monster also is entirely capable of admiring nature. As spring arrives the monster states, “My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature…”(Shelley, 100). The monster is not the only character who uses nature to lift his spirits. Frankenstein regularly ventures out into nature in order to ward off his melancholy attitude. We too can relate with this situation. I believe Shelley is using this comparison to show the human qualities shared between both the monster and a clearly human counterpart. It is easy to see this is a human characteristic. Never do you see an animal staring off into the sky or the mountains with a love for nature in their eyes.

                The passion of the monster’s soul is most ardently shown in the last paragraphs of the novel. It is clear that he feels the full extent of the horrors he caused. He is so torn apart by what he has done, he means to commit suicide. “I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery… There he lies, white and cold in death. You hate me, but your abhorrence cannot equal that which I regard myself.”(Shelley, 199). This reaction is very similar to Frankenstein’s reaction after the deaths of William and Justine. This could further the parallels between Frankenstein and his monster to further establish their shared ‘human’ characteristics.

It may not be the type of overflowing affection initially regarded as found in souls, but both hate and love are extreme feelings held within it. It is very clear that the passions of the human soul are what Shelley intended to be considered as a human. Though Wilson would disagree of its existence, these affections are what distinguish humans from the other creatures on the Earth. Its presence within the monster clearly characterizes him as equally human as you and I.


  1. This is actually a pretty interesting way to determine if the monster is actually human or not. Analyzing the monster and whether or not it has a soul is an approach that I never would have thought to take. Claiming that the monster has a soul, a human soul, and that it shows the characteristics of a human soul, is a pretty sound way of proving his humanity. I think you do a good job of showing that the monster has a soul and that its is analogous to a human one. The only really criticism I would have is that you could have used Wilson more in your argument, to contrast from or connect with your argument. Other than that I was really intrigued by your thought process, you had a lot of interesting ideas and valid points here.

  2. One response to your opening paragraphs that Wilson would clearly argue that all of the "human" attributes which Shelley refers to can and should be explained by reference to evolutionary history - although the most relevant material here (on altruism and religion) are in the readings for this week, not the ones for last week.

    I love the approach of focusing on Clerval here, by the way. It's clear, concise, and includes the understanding that the human includes the obsessive desire for knowledge (exploration, conquest) as well as domestic affections - all the contradictions of Victor and Walton are present in Clerval, although Clerval is more precisely presented.

    Reading through rest of your essay, I don't have any objections to your point of view that human passions are deeply important in Frankenstein - moreover, they're an important thing to discuss when asking whether the monster is human (is he more than human? Less than human? Precisely human? We can get at all of these things, if we wish, though analyzing his passions as such). But I object to, though, is a very important slippage.

    Wilson would clearly *agree* with you that passions are human, and that to understand human nature we need to understand human passions. The point of disagreement regards the soul - but you never said what you meant by soul! If you mean that passions *are* the soul, then there's no disagreement, really - he is very interested in passion, he just wants to explain passions through evolutionary biology. If you are interested in the soul itself, though (as an abstract concept, rather than a way of bundling emotions together) you need to define it and make some kind of argument in favor of its existence - in other words, although you're good on the topic of passion in Frankenstein, you say nothing coherent about the central idea in your essay. Wilson, incidentally, would probably say that concept of soul is incoherent, and thus dismiss your argument. *I'm* not dismissing it - but we need to understand what you (or Shelley) mean by the soul, and how that sets you (or Shelley) apart from Wilson.