Thursday, February 16, 2012

Monster to Man

           In the novel Frankenstein, the author Mary Shelley presents the reader a conundrum, how should we regard Frankenstein’s Creation?  Initially the answer appears to be obvious; Victor Frankenstein narrates the majority of the novel; he is the protagonist, and it is through his eyes that we see the Creation.  By Victor’s account, the Creation is a “fiend” “devil” and an “abhorred monster.”  (Shelley, 88)  Thus the Creation is seemingly cast into the role of the antagonist whose apparent goal is to murder Frankenstein’s loved ones.  On the surface, the novel appears to be Victor Frankenstein’s journey to destroy the very monster that he himself brought to life.  To Frankenstein, his grisly task of destroying the Creation is perfectly justified.   After all, the Creation isn’t human, in fact, he’s something that ideally should never have existed in the first place; an idea that is shared by many other characters in the novel, who also attempt to destroy and abuse the Creation.  However, in Chapters 11-16, the reader is thrust inside of the Creation’s mind, and through this he appears to be something more than an evil monster motivated only by hate, but instead appears to be familiarly human.  It is clear that Frankenstein’s views on the Creation’s humanity are skewed.  Thus, there is a need for an objective source on the subject of humanity.  In Edward O. Wilson’s On Human Nature, Wilson makes an important distinction between what constitutes a “human being” versus a “human.”  If through this distinction the Creation could be regarded as human, then it is clear that perhaps his maltreatment by all is not nearly as justified as it may initially appear.  After all, being a human makes one a possessor of human rights; namely, rights to live, and to live life freely and in the way in which makes you the happiest.  Diana Reese, author of A Troubled Legacy:  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Inheritance of Human Rights makes the argument that the Creation’s human rights are violated, marking him as a much of a victim as he is a perpetrator.  If this is true, then the tone of the novel shifts; the Creation is no longer a monster who lumbers around murdering the innocent and tormenting the protagonist; instead, he is a fellow man, struggling with his unsolicited existence.    
However, this argument is null if it isn’t possible to determine whether or not the Creation can be considered to be human.  Although Edward O. Wilson’s On Human Nature is largely about biological determinism, he also goes in depth on what it means to be human; and his views on the latter appear to be especially relevant when attempting to unravel the question of Creation’s possible humanity.  Typically, when defining a “human being,” the first and most obvious qualifier is the way in which human beings are created, from conception to birth.  According to Wilson’s On Human Nature, “The newly fertilized egg, a corpuscle one two-hundredth of an inch in diameter, is not a human being.” He later explains, “In nine months a human being has been created.”  (Wilson, 53)  Wilson is stating that a “human being” is not a cluster of cells, but rather, a fetus that has fully developed during the period of gestation.  It is obvious that his definition of the creation a human being in no way correlates with the way in which the Creation was made. When making the Creation, Frankenstein states that “The dissecting room and the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials.”   (Shelley, 43) This seemingly suggests that the quest for the Creation’s humanity is over.
However, in the same chapter on “Human Development” in Wilson’s On Human Nature Wilson calls the same human infant, a “marvelous robot,” after describing how the newborn infant is “wired with awesome precision.”  (Wilson, 54)  This quote suggests that whereas an infant is biologically and genetically a human being, there is something missing that has yet to distinguish it from an organic robot to something considered to be “human.”  This something is human development.   In order to fully understand biological determinism, and how it expresses itself, Wilson strongly focuses throughout the text on giving the reader an understanding of human nature.  Although one cannot argue that throughout the majority of the text Wilson is plainly arguing that human nature may be caused by biology, Wilson himself states that it takes a certain amount of development of maturation of said biology to cause human nature to become expressed.  Before this development takes place, we may be “human beings” but we are little more than an organic robot.  However, this robot’s “rapidly accumulating experience will soon transform it into an independently thinking and feeling individual.  Then the essential components of social behavior will be added—language, pair bonding, rage at ego injury, love, tribalism, and all the remainder of the human-specific repertory.”   (Wilson, 55)  Through the acquirement of these characteristics, the organic robot may become “human.”  One can be a “human being,” a biological bi-pedal creature who has a certain genome and a specific type of nervous system, without possessing qualities that make them “human.”
The Creation was by no means created in a natural or conventional way so as for him to be considered to be a “human being” by Wilson’s or anyone else’s standard.   However, throughout the course the novel, the Creation develops many if not all of the characteristics that the same infant child will come to eventually possess throughout their life.  Much of his development takes place when he is living in his hovel and observing the DeLacey’s; where he begins to understand language,  “I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds…By great application…I discovered the names that were given to some of the most familiar objects of discourse…” in addition to closely watching the DeLacey’s socially interact with each other.  (Shelley, 102)  It is through this careful observation that the Creation develops the ability to comprehend the complex emotions that the DeLacey’s express at various times.  The reader also comes to understand that even before the Creation acquires the ability to understand and produce language, the Creation immediately empathizes with the DeLacey’s, and compares their sadness with his own.  “They were not entirely happy.  The young man and his companion often went apart, and appeared to weep…I was deeply affected by it.  If such lovely creatures were miserable, it was less strange that I, an imperfect and solitary being, should be wretched.”  (Shelley, 100)  These hardly seem to be the words of a monster hell bent on the destruction of his maker—instead, they are the words of a sad and lonely man, who was doomed to be an outsider from the moment he took his first breath; a theme in which many people can identify with.
To state it simply, the creation is a “human” despite the fact that he does not meet the requirement for being a “human being.”   His humanity comes not from the way in which he was constructed, but rather the way in which he developed.  It is evident that the creation is deeply wounded by Frankenstein’s immediate abandonment and rejection of him.  This coupled with the rejection experienced when making himself known to the DeLacey’s, and his subsequent destruction of their cottage and the murder of Frankenstein’s loved ones are examples of what Wilson calls “rage at ego injury.”  “Cursed, cursed creator!  Why did I live?  …my feelings were those of rage and revenge.  I could have with pleasure have destroyed the cottage…and have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery.”  (Shelley, 126)  The feelings in which the creation is expressing in this quote, although they have negative connotations, are undeniably human.  Perhaps even more telling, is that over the course of time, the Creation’s rage becomes something else; the desire for a companion (or rather the desire for “pair bonding” as Wilson calls it).  It is through this companion the Creation hopes that he will finally achieve the love and acceptance that he has always desired. “You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.”  (Shelley, 135) 
Through securing the validation of the Creation’s humanity, the Creation is entitled to human rights.   Although the article A Troubled Legacy:  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Inheritance of Human Rights by Diana Reese does not acquiesce that the Creation is fully human, the author does regard him as a “humanly embodied object” (Resse, 54) Thus, Reese acquiesces that he deserves the “inherit the rights of man and the citizen: he is possessed of sensibility and can reason on his own behalf.”   (Reese, 53).  Through this, Reese is stating that it is through the Creation’s ability to reason that the Creation gains these rights; and it can be said that without his human development, the Creation would not be able to have this capacity for reason.  Through this, Reese is stating that one does not have to be an explicitly a “human being” in order to have human rights; instead, one must simply be able to use reason and have a degree of sensibility, which the well-articulated and deeply philosophical Creation undoubtedly possess. 
These human rights that the Creation as a human being possesses are clearly and repeatedly violated throughout the novel.  The first offense being Victor Frankenstein’s total and utter abandonment of the very thing in which he, through vague and unholy means, has brought to life.  “He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs.”  (Shelley, 46)  Victor Frankenstein’s abandonment of the Creation is similar to when a person abandons a child and leaves them to fend for themselves.  The Creation later recounts his harrowing first days of life, “I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat and wept.”  The Creation at this early stage in his life, despite his hulking physique and massive strength, is as he states, completely helpless and utterly vulnerable.  Only when he finds the DeLacey’s hovel is he guaranteed any kind of safety and comfort.   However, the repercussions of Frankenstein’s abandonment go far deeper than physical pain.  The Creation is scarred by the disgust with which Frankenstein regards him; poisoning the Creation with anger and rage.  In light of the circumstances, this anger is justified, and it also lays down groundwork for sympathy for the Creation.  He never asked to be brought to life, and yet he suffers for it.  This abandonment is in violation of the Creation’s human rights, in that it hinders the Creation from becoming a member of society; if Frankenstein would have taken care of him, perhaps the Creation could have lived out his life in peace.  It is doubtful whether or not the Creation would have ever been accepted by society, but that doesn’t mean  he couldn’t have lived a tranquil and productive life in one of the Frankenstein family’s numerous country estates.  Although it may not have worked out, Victor Frankenstein shouldn’t have denied the Creation the chance to live a peaceful life by abandoning him so early on.
Perhaps a graver offense than the abandonment of the Creation is Frankenstein’s determination to kill him.  Victor Frankenstein makes it no secret that he fully intends to destroy the Creation and as the novel progresses, the quest to kill the Creation consumes Frankenstein’s life.  Even on his wedding night, Frankenstein sends his bride Elizabeth off to bed so that he may, for what he hopes is the last time, go confront and kill the Creation.  “I was anxious and watchful, while my right hand grasped a pistol which was hidden in my bosom; every sound terrified me, but I resolved that I would sell my life dearly and not shrink from the conflict until my own life or that of my adversary was extinguished.”  (Shelley, 131)   In addition to Victor Frankenstein’s quest to kill him, upon the Creation finally making himself known to his beloved DeLacey’s , “Felix darted forward, and with supernatural force tore me from his father, to whose knees I clung; in a transport of fury, he dashed me to the ground and struck me violently with a stick.”  (Shelley, 125)   Shortly after burning down the cottage and fleeing the DeLacey’s, the Creation stumbles upon a little girl drowning and saves her.   However, his thanks for rescuing her is less than warm, “I hardly knew why, but when the man saw me draw near, he aimed a gun, which he carried at my body, and fired.  I sunk to the ground, and my injurer, with increased swiftness, escaped into the wood.”  (Shelley, 131)  Whereas his abandonment violated the Creation’s life to live happily, the constant man-hunt and abuse the Creation faces is a threat to his right to live in general.   If the Creation was a monster these actions that are meant to subdue and destroy him are seemly justified.  However, due the Creation’s humanity, this is not the case. “…he [the Creation] finds himself to be outside of the protection of the law: though a murderer subject to “human laws,” the destruction of his own being would not be comprehended murder under those same laws.”  (Reese, 54)  Although it cannot be argued that the Creation is completely innocent, and it would be a mistake to label him as such, one cannot contest that the Creation is as much of a victim as he is a perpetrator.  However, since the Creation is not considered to be human within the realm of then novel, and he is afforded no protection; for he is given no rights.
The fact that the Creation is a human whose rights have been denied to him, as opposed to a monster whose very existence deserves to be punished, makes his plight vastly sympathetic to the reader.  The Creation’s humanity is apparent throughout the novel,  in the way in which he reacts to the injustices that has been plagued upon him.  Even after Frankenstein’s death, the death of the very man who hated him so fully throughout the novel, the Creation laments over his death and their tragic relationship, “Farewell Frankenstein!  If thou wert yet alive, and yet cherished a desire of revenge against me, it would be better satiated in my life than in my destruction.”   It is here that the Frankenstein perhaps displays  the complex emotions distinct to humans; he is depressed at seeing his creator dead, angry with the way in which he was treated by Frankenstein, but at the same time, contemplative at the way in which things may have been.  With the distinction between “human” and “human being” clarified by Wilson in On Human Nature and thus validating the Creations humanity, one can comprehend the injustices he has suffered by the denial of his human rights, as is discussed in Diana Reese’s A Troubled Legacy:  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Inheritance of Human Rights.  With this knowledge reader must now regard the monster as a victim; a tragic figure whose entire life has been tormented with judgment, ostracism, and abuse; causing an undeniable shift in the tone of the novel, that perhaps makes the reader question which characters are the monsters, and which are the men. 

Works Cited.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Mumbai: Wilco Publishing House, 2002. Print.

Wilson, Edward O. On Human Nature. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 2004

Reese, Diana. "A Troubled Legacy: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the Inheritance of Human Rights."      University of California Press 96.1 (2006): 48-72. JSTOR. Web. 3 Feb. 2012.      <>.

1 comment:

  1. There are quite a few things to like in the first paragraph - for instance, I like the wording of the final sentence, and the complexity of the ideas. However, it would still benefit from a clear, simple statement of your argument.

    I'm a little uncertain on what has changed and what has remained in the next few paragraphs. I continue to see strengths and subtleties in your reading of Wilson, but I'm still bothered by the casual way in which you move between understanding "human" in biological, developmental, and political terms. I'm not saying that all this can't be reconciled - it might not even be all that hard - but more up-front clarity about what you mean by human could and should have emerged in the revision process. This isn't to say that you're doing bad work - this is to say that the flow of your argument often lacks clarity.

    How could more clarity emerge? You write briefly and intelligently about he monster's development of language as a human (humanizing?) process. I wonder, reading this, why you didn't begin the essay by tying together "human", "human rights," and language: that is, you might argue that spoken or written communication is a sufficient basis to accord any creature humanity and human rights.

    Maybe you don't agree with that formulation - my point is that something like it could focus and streamline the essay greatly.

    Reese's argument, as you present it, at least, seems almost incoherent in the way she categorizes the creature. Focusing upon human development (and possibly language within human development) would give you a way of clarifying *her* work. If it develops as a human (example: learns language like a human) that's a sufficient (but maybe not necessary) condition to grant it human status and rights.

    Note that the monster's first encounter with Victor already shows infantile tendencies toward language - making faces, gesturing, etc... You even quote a line in which Victor thinks the creature might have spoken...

    Are you confident that it *cannot* be argued that the creature was an innocent? That seems like an unnecessary tangent.

    Overall: there's some good writing and good use of all three texts without. I have one major objection and one major question. The objection, obviously, is that I think your argument began and remains somewhat unfocused, but in a way that could easily have been remedied by organizing things more around human development (or language) as the (or a) basis of human rights. Doing that, I think you could have said more, possibly needing to write less in the process.

    The question is: what consequences should it have (I mean to us, the readers) the monster is continually denied his rights. Does it have political consequences? Social ones? Philosophical ones? Should the monster help us articulate our ideas of who/what we consider human, for instance?