Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Dominance of Love in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

As one of the first science fiction novels in the English language, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein embodies several themes pertaining to its genre. These include the dangers and capacity of human knowledge, the consequences of the advancement of technology, and the quantification of human nature. While these concepts are vital to the plot-line and critical analysis of Frankenstein, the theme of love within the book, while less methodical, also plays a highly significant role in the shaping of the story. This is because while there are many events that influence the choices of Frankenstein’s main antagonist, the most basic element of the monster’s motivation hinders upon his search for love. Because of these notions, the argument can be made that the presence and absence of love in the monster’s life is critical to the outcomes and understanding of the novel. It can also be asserted that it is not his supernatural physical and mental abilities, nor his abnormal appearance, that dominates the monster’s consciousness, but instead it is the universally human want for love that is most central to his character.

Since the moment of his creation, the monster faces isolation, rejection, and condemnation from both his creator and from society. Because of this, and despite the incongruities that define his very nature, the monster yearns for a feeling and sentiment that is fundamentally human: love. As Wilson discusses in On Human Nature “a single tribe that is united through a common ancestor—even if he is remote…love one another, help one another, and have pity on one another; and the attainment of these things is the greatest purpose of the Law” (126). Although this aspect of the monster’s psyche is present throughout the entire book, a specific passage that encapsulates his preoccupation with love can be found when the monster confronts Victor Frankenstein. This interaction includes the monster making allusions to the Bible, stating “Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom though drivest from joy for no misdeed” (Shelley 107). These statements made by the monster make reference to the fact that the notion of God’s love is the crux of Christianity. This is epitomized by John 3:16 which famously states, “For God so loved the world the He gave his only begotten Son”. Therefore, in this instance the monster is comparing Frankenstein, his creator, to Christian dogma’s version of God, which is based heavily on the concept of God loving his creations. Thus, this passage solidifies to the reader that the monster’s ultimate goal is to attain some kind of understanding and experience with love.

Although this passage gives credibility to the interpretation that the monster feels love towards his creator, the brutality of his actions towards Victor, and the people in Victor’s life, are ubiquitously villainous and could thus counteract that statement, or at least apply substantial complication to it. However, the monster’s violence and cruelty actually solidifies the way in which love factors into his choices in that it is the absence of love that emboldens the monster to commit murder. This is particularly significant in the relationship the monster has with De Lacey and his family. As the monster spends time studying the peasants’ social constructs, he becomes fascinated by the fact that “they loved, and sympathized with one another; and their joys depending on each other, were not interrupted by the casualties that took place around them” (Shelley 146). By learning the basic nature of human interaction, the monster’s obsession with the family quickly epitomizes the monster’s entire personal mission to this point in the story: to find love. “The more I saw of them,” he says “the greater became my desire to claim their protection and kindness; my heart yearned to be known and loved by these amiable creatures: to see their sweet looks directed towards me with affection was the utmost limit of my ambition” (Shelley 146-147). In fact, it is through witnessing the lives of De Lacey and his family that the monster begins to believe that he himself, despite his physical appearance and outrageous nature, is not unworthy of receiving sympathy and kindness, which is an attitude that is based in the constructs love.

Continually, when the monster’s expectation of acceptance and love is upset by the family’s violent reaction to him, he represses his instinct to tear Felix “limb from lib, as a lion rends the antelope” (Shelley 151). This is because in that moment, despite being physically assaulted, the monster still feels love towards his attackers, as established when he states that “my heart sunk within me as with bitter sickness, and I refrained” (Shelley 151). Edward O. Wilson illustrates this selflessness on the monster’s part when he discusses the concept of altruism, a notion that is closely connected to the idea of love. Wilson writes “all human altruism is shaped by powerful emotional controls of the kind intuitively expected to occur in its hardest forms”, adding that “human altruism appears substantially hard-core when directed at closest relatives”, which is arguably how the monster felt towards these people (159). However, when some time has passed after the conflict with the De Laceys, the focus of the monster begins to shift from love to revenge. Thus, the harsh disappointment of being isolated by society fuels his streak of violence. This is quickly enacted in the proceeding chapter when the monster strangles Victor’s younger brother, stating, “you belong to my enemy—to him towards whom I have sworn eternal revenge; you shall be my first victim” (Shelley 160). Despite the heinous nature of the monster’s actions, which is heightened by the young age of William Frankenstein, they are still influenced by love in that it is the monster’s intention to make his creator feel the same despair he himself felt when being denied love by society, the De Laceys, and Victor himself. Thus, it is the absence of love that is the most fundamental influence on the actions of the monster in a majority of the book.

Furthermore, the monster’s essential need for a loving interaction is further illustrated when he asks Victor to create another monster to be his companion (Shelley 163). His need to “demand a creature of another sex” so that he can “indulge in dreams of bliss that cannot be realized” further establishes that monster’s basic human instinct towards love overrides the supernatural aspects of his character (Shelley 164). Wilson elaborates the significance of romantic partnership and how essential it is to society by saying that a sexual bond is “served by pleasure, and it fulfills other roles in turn…these multiple functions and complex chains of causations are the deeper reason why sexual awareness permeates so much of human existence” (137-138). Therefore, the monster’s desire for Victor to make another creature to be his companion epitomizes the monster’s want for love, which for a time overrules his desire for revenge.

Interestingly, the monster’s desire is particularly significant when one considers that Frankenstein features nontraditional instances of love. In the case of Walton and Victor, Walton uses particularly erotic language when describing his friend Victor, allowing for a homoerotic interpretation of the text which would have been extremely nontraditional in Shelley’s time. Additionally, Victor’s regard toward Elizabeth could be categorized as being based in function and expectation, lacking the level of companionship that is critical to the nature of romantic love. Thus, by having the monster plead for a companion that will encompass the traditional aspects of a human relationship relative to the era of the book, Shelley adds another interesting layer to the psychological makeup of the monster. This is because despite his non-human nature, the monster wishes to have a functional relationship in a story that contains many dysfunctional relationships being personified by actual humans.

In conclusion, although Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein divulges into complicated theories concerning the boundaries of knowledge, morality, science, and technology, there are ways in which basic human emotions command the plotline and character development of the novel. Specifically the presence and absence of love, particularly in the life of the monster, adds a level of grounded realism to this classic example of horror fiction. To summarize, it is not his supreme athletic skills or superhuman language and intellectual abilities that most define the monster, but rather the innately human emotion of love that dictates his every action.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publication, Inc. 2009. Print.
Wilson, Edward. On Human Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2004. Print.

1 comment:

  1. I mostly like your approach in the intro, although the passive voice is a big potential problem - you want to claim an argument as your own. If your're reluctant to do so, pick an argument you like better!

    Are you concerned principally with divine or human love? They aren't the same - and your discussion of John makes it seem like you want to talk about divine love, but you aren't terribly explicit about it.

    Does the monster love the De Lacey family, or want to be loved by them (as an infant might), or both? The differences are important, especially if we are to understand what you mean by love...

    The transition to discussing the monster's first murder is awkward; I wanted to hear more about his emotional relationship with the De Laceys.

    To add another blurring: is the monster demanding love, companionship, or sex? The three might be related, but they're not the same - just as divine and human love aren't necessarily the same, and love isn't necessarily the same as the need to *be* loved. You want to be more precise, and to think through the implications of your topic a little more. "Love" is a big concept; you need to find a space within it.

    The discussion of Frankenstein, Elizabeth, etc., seems like a detour, although it could be potentially very relevant.

    You end rather vaguely - with no more precision than you began.

    Important note: no research! This is a problem.

    Overall: I am 100% on board with analyzing the monster in terms of his love for the DLs, or his desperate need to be loved by them and/or Victor. I'm on board with an analysis of the role of homosexual vs. heterosexual love in the novel. I'm on board with the (challenging) attempt to find a quest for divine love within the novel.

    But while all of this has potential, you aren't making an argument about the role of love in the novel - you're exploring a *theme*, without doing very much with it. You want to try to convince me of something about love and what it means in the novel, show me why I should care, then prove it. I'm not even sure how you'd define love, or what types of love you're interested in, or whether you'd make any attempt to distinguish between all the categories I've talked about - this is too vague throughout (which is exacerbated by the lack of research).