Freud and Frankenstein

Frankenstein, as we discussed in lecture this week, has many strange elements in regards to reproduction and family. Victor Frankenstein as a character is a bit of an eccentric oddball.  After our in class discussion about him and his oddities, I went to the wonderful Internet to find out more. My search didn’t disappoint me.

 After all, who doesn’t love reading analyses based on Freud? The article I found is six pages long and discusses more than just the psyche of the story. It also spends pages discussing the romance and the double. Though these sections were equally interesting, for the sake of time, I’ll focus on the Freudian analysis provided.

 For a brief summary, this piece of writing argues that Frankenstein is an example of Freud’s famous Id-Ego-Super-Ego. The Super-Ego is Clerval or Frankenstein’s father, both of whom represent what is “good, proper, and socially desirable.” Frankenstein is the Ego—waffling between selfish desires and doing what is morally good. Of course, the creature is the Id with all of his passions and “libidinal energy.”

The article argues that the reason for this three-way division is a combination of Oedipal rivalry and sexual fear and guilt. This mostly comes from Frankenstein’s family. There may be rivalry between father and son for sexual potency and for Frankenstein’s mother’s attention. Of course, as we mentioned in class, there is also a weird relationship between Frankenstein and Elizabeth, his sister/cousin/more than sister/fiancé. She is the one who gives Frankenstein’s mother scarlet fever so Frankenstein may be subconsciously angry with her for killing off someone for whom he had sexual desire.

As a result, the article argues that Frankenstein has “subconscious reasons for every one of the murders which follow”: William, his father, Clerval, and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is the most complex because she not only represents the killer of his mother but also a sexual desire that he fears and knows is forbidden.

Additionally, the article says that Frankenstein neglects his friends and family, though he knows he shouldn’t, in order to go off and “create life” on his own. This leads to, of course, the most anticipated quote of the whole article: “The Monster is thus…a phallic image.”

As I stated earlier, this summary is only for one sixth of this entire resource, and I’d encourage people to glance over the rest of it. This one sixth, though, was very interesting to me. It paralleled closely with what we discussed in lecture (the wacky relationship between Frankenstein and reproduction and his family), and it took our discussion a little further.

A classic Id-Ego-Super-Ego breakdown is always intriguing. While I can see the argument for this, there are some parts of the article that were sort of ridiculous in my mind. I know that it is Freudian fashion to discuss the Oedipus complex—but I’m not so sure Elizabeth fatally infecting Frankenstein’s mother with scarlet fever would allow Frankenstein to feel she deserved her own death (even subconsciously). I can, however, believe that Elizabeth represents sexual fear and forbidden desire (as his sister/cousin).

 I also have a hard time stomaching the idea that the creature is a phallic representation. Yes, I can follow the article up until this point—the creature is his Id, full of passions and desires—but a straight up phallic representation? I don’t know. Perhaps, more loosely, the creature represents Frankenstein’s attempt at creating life without his family or a female. However, the way the article explains it feels like a stretch:

“It is not difficult to see the Monster as an image of Frankenstein’s secret sexuality: ‘it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs’ – especially when the description of the Monster itself is suggestively close to what might be the implement of Frankenstein’s sexuality, complete with its appurtenances and products:

‘Beautiful! – Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath: his hair was of lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness.’”

I’d be interested to see what others think. Overall, though, I enjoyed the article in its entirety and would recommend it to others if they were at all interested by the conversations we had this past week in lecture about Frankenstein’s reproductive and familial qualities. 

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4 Responses to Freud and Frankenstein

  1. I like the Freudian angle. I was getting a Freudian vibe with Elizabeth and Frankenstein’s dad (if you accept that he’s pretty much a father figure.) When she was writing to Frankenstein, she was talking about how much more youthful and vigorous he was and all I could think of was how sexual and Freudian it is. Then, of course, there’s the obvious angle where she literally takes the place of his wife after her death and she looks after his children as a mother. Without Frankenstein in the picture, they just seem like this creepy little family with Elizabeth as his dad’s replacement wife… Am I the only one getting these vibes?

  2. elephantusk says:

    Thanks for posting, this is super interesting. While I agree that the Freudian angle is intriguing, I also have a hard time buying the monster as a phallic symbol– it seems a bit far-fetched. And I feel a similar skepticism towards the the claim that Victor may have subconsciously felt Elizabeth deserved her own death for indirectly killing his mother (and the object of his sexual desire?). But clearly this family is strange and creepy– as was Freud, some might argue– and I think if nothing else it simply adds to the creepiness that pervades the entire novel.

    • h0p3d1am0nd says:

      Agreed. I like the way you added that Freud, as some might argue, was also strange and creepy. There seems to be a trend here. Thanks for your response.

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