Frankenstein’s Liminality & The Inheritance of His Creature

Throughout Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein is shown to understand the world in terms of in-between-ness—as both a world of reality and of “dreams…undisturbed by reality.” This is due to the fact that some of Frankenstein’s most striking character traits—such as being observant, quiet, and an overall genius —allows for him to be placed in a perpetual liminal consciousness and inspiration. Specifically, Frankenstein produces thoughts that are precariously and intermediately grounded on reality and his own interpretation of reality. Therefore, an important question to consider is how does Frankenstein understand life? He does not try to understand the origin of creation via classical methods by starting with live organisms. Rather, he focuses on the process of decay. Therefore it seems that his understanding comes from thinking about life in a backwards yet scientifically based method. Frankenstein relishes in his amalgamation of reality and science when it comes to enjoying knowledge as he as always “urged by application.” For instance, this duality is clearly demonstrated in Frankenstein’s physical description of the creature before and after it’s animation.

The setting itself is imbued with an in-between dream-like quality as it opens on a “dreary night of November” with the “rain pattering dismally against the panes” that is lit “by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light…” Frankenstein’s reaction to the creature that he had tried to make “beautiful” becomes monstrous as the “luxuriances” he had tried to include “formed a more horrid contrast.” Frankenstein fully recognizes that his initial thinking that his labor of love being “beautiful” is actually something he is “unable to endure,” and this cognition is what places Frankenstein in a dual conscious state. It is this clashing of perceptions that make his revelation terrifying. Frankenstein is more interested in attempting to understand the world around him in terms that is blinded by his attempt to stay purely science based instead of checking to see if the anticipated reactions of his actions is true (or rather, if it can truly fit into actual reality). This unique combination of longing to understand without the desire to know if what he is doing can function within society is what places Frankenstein in a liminal consciousness.

            As the novel progresses, this liminality is inherited by Frankenstein’s creature and consequently brings up interesting nuances. Frankenstein is horrified by the life he created and consequently has a revelation that he was acting dysfunctionally within society. His creature experiences many calamities and horrors as it interacts with society, but has no placement in it because of its otherness. Therefore, the question to wonder is what makes any creature’s life valuable within society? What makes the creature “monstrous” society’s eyes? Is it because it exists in a state between life and death or because it simple lives outside of society? How does the monster understand life therefore in comparison to his creator?


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6 Responses to Frankenstein’s Liminality & The Inheritance of His Creature

  1. h0p3d1am0nd says:

    I think you raise some really interesting questions. I agree with you about Frankenstein existing in a constant state of liminality. I think that the creature indeed inherits some of Frankenstein’s in-betweenness. Because Frankenstein is his creator (and in some way, his father), this inheriting makes sense. Frankenstein spends a good chunk of the book in a passion that falls somewhere between brilliance and insanity; he has moments of great joy and moments of great anguish, and sometimes readers can’t quite tell what he’s feeling because the binaries play tug’o’war with him.

    Likewise, the creature is a passionate thing–one moment, thrilled about the world (people, language, books, flowers, nature etc.) and excited to love and belong, and the next moment, he exists in a vengeful, burn-a-house down sort of rage. These binaries too tug at him, and it seems that he’s often on the verge of complete happiness and complete desolation. He knows, though, whence this comes. He tells Frankenstein, “This passion is detrimental to me; for you do not reflect that you are the cause of its excess” (157). How exactly does he mean Frankenstein is the cause? Does he mean Frankenstein’s abandonment caused the excess of passion? Or does he mean that Frankenstein caused it more directly, by passing it down to the creature, as characteristics travel from father to son?

    You ask what makes the creature “monstrous” to society. Perhaps, as you say, the awkward state between life and death that he inhabits makes people uncomfortable. I think this speaks about the social construct of binaries. People like categorizing things, putting them into neat boxes. I read somewhere that mothers automatically make snap judgements about people they meet so that they can protect their children better (this, of course, is based off Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest concept). So human brains are wired to categorize. That’s why they like binaries so much; they make categorization easier. However, when something like Schrödinger’s cat appears, it bothers people. Perhaps, the creature inhabits a similar state that innately makes people nervous. Also, often times, snap judgements are based on physical appearances. This may be why Frankenstein (who is equally as liminal as his creature but better looking) has an easier time being accepted by society.

    • ahhcoffee says:

      Your comment about binaries made me consider the role of society labeling the creature as “monstrous.” After you point it out, it seems to me that the fact the monster can exist between conventional labelings of natural things gives it an element of monstrosity, as society cannot place a value on it.

      But now I’m considering the implication of society having the power to make sentient organisms irrelevant. Why do we (as a society) care more about the existence of one living creature over another? No one bats an eye when you kill the fly that buzzes around your ear, but there is an intense outcry when we see animals in zoos.

      Do we care more about the more complex organisms in nature because they show intelligence? Perhaps because on a biological level, it takes more effort to produce one offspring of a complex body than that of a simple one? But then society is being hypocritical in consideration of the creature. Also, like you said, he can function with the blind man in the cottage without problems. That functionality only crumbles when it’s physical appearance is taken into consideration. In this case, the creature’s “monstrosity” is only manifested once it was triggered by circumstance.

      Maybe this is why the creature says Frankenstein is the cause of his plight. Frankenstein made the creature too sentient, too human, while at the same time too detached from conventionalities of society to work. In a literal way, Frankenstein was the parent of the creature—he passed down his humanity and the genetic “organic mass” of mankind and consequently made those characteristics the reason the creature can’t be accepted. He was created with the “excess” of humanity. The creature recognizes that it should be able to have value in the world, but society fails it.

  2. writinginmy says:

    I suppose this kind of plays into whether or not we are able to integrate new pieces of information into our own categories of thought, that Humean mindset of expanding our knowledge instead of binding it up and keeping out things that don’t fit in quite so naturally. I guess that also calls into question whether or not Frankenstein’s monster is something we can call ‘natural,’ or even a force of ‘nature.’

    You can note that when the creature approaches the cottage of the family he wishes to befriend, his exchange with the blind father goes rather well – probably because he is blind. The creature’s appearance is exactly something of being in between life and death, yet now I suppose I’m more interested in what you bring up as to whether or not the disposition of the creature is something between life and death. In the sense, I mean is there anything inherently demented or misshaped about the creature’s mind? His body is clearly malformed and ‘off,’ but the feelings of isolation he experiences seem very normal. He is able to digest literature easily, communicates well enough, has the same longing for acceptance and company that any human experiences, etc.

  3. I think it’s interesting the emphasis you place on dreams and the dream-like quality of the monster’s first waking moments. One of the key moments that really stuck with me from the text was the dream that Frankenstein has after passing out in this scene. When he sees Elizabeth “in the full bloom of health” and then rushes to embrace her, only to have her transform into the corpse of their dead mother. I think it’s very difficult to include actual, sleeping dreams in books without it seeming like either an exercise in nonsensical stream-of-consciousness, or else very heavy-handed foreshadowing. I guess a case could be made that this dream falls into the latter category (does that spoil the end of the novel in some way?) But I’m not so sure that’s all there is to it. Why, when Frankenstein first sees the monster, does his subconscious immediately go to Elizabeth and his mother? And what’s to be made of the equivalency between the two women? Is there some sort of transfer of feelings between Frankenstein and his family and Frankenstein of his monster? I’m not sure just what’s going on in that moment, but it seems pertinent to the discussion of dreams and conceptions of reality in Frankenstein.

  4. “What makes the creature ‘monstrous’ [in] society’s eyes?”
    In society’s eyes—on a purely visual level—the monster isn’t scoring any points. Throughout the novel, appearance reflects true disposition. Walton discovers Victor, pale and emaciated, but with a kindly glint in his eye, and Victor has indeed, at this point in the tale, all but withered away within, though he maintains still a kindly—though hardly cheerful—disposition. The lively spark of Elizabeth’s eye also reflects her continence. “Her hazel eyes, although as lively as a bird’s, [possess] an attractive softness,” and she’s, of course, as lively as a bird, but with an attractive softness. It’s not surprising, then, that Victor panics when he sees the “watery eyes” of the monster, “almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set.” If the eyes are windows to the soul, what sort of soul could hide behind those “dull yellow eye[s]”? Victor clearly has his doubts, as does everyone else the creature comes upon. They react, almost involuntarily, to the monster’s appearance, and gradually, the monster comes to fill—to flesh out—that appearance. He becomes the monster he’s been made out to be, and he comes to create that very soul reflected in his watery eyes.

  5. “Frankenstein is more interested in attempting to understand the world around him in terms that is blinded by his attempt to stay purely science based instead of checking to see if the anticipated reactions of his actions is true (or rather, if it can truly fit into actual reality).”

    Just as I was reading this, I thought of how Frankenstein’s monster does the same thing. Then I noticed you mentioned that briefly in your final thoughts.

    Frankenstein follows science without really knowing the real-life consequences science can have in society. Then his monster does a similar thing, following the few books he has access to, and almost scientifically applying what he knows in those books (including Frankenstein’s journal) to his understanding of how both life and society work. There’s this interesting commonality between Frankenstein and his monster: they both understand life in terms that may not really be applicable to life because they don’t know enough yet. The literature the monster has access to serve as his own form of science, which he expects to apply to life. Perhaps this is what makes him so monstrous, that he hasn’t done enough “research” to know what life is truly like. Frankenstein also didn’t do enough research, because his monster turned out much more monstrous than beautiful, which was his original intention.

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