Monstrosity in Frankenstein

For me personally, the idea of monstrosity in Frankenstein is something I find particularly interesting. What makes something or someone a monster? How does the novel portray monstrosity, and what is at stake in its interpretation? In lecture we talked briefly about the creature being “monstrous” in the sense that it reveals the inner machinery of our physical bodies – watery eyes, barely concealed arteries etc. – creating a sort of excess sense of life that evokes terror. But more interestingly, we discussed a bit about the monster’s freakish strength and intelligence, and the prodigal traits that distance it from human beings and isolate it from society.

I would like to posit that the novel focuses on alienation as the key element for monstrosity, and that it explores this notion through examining Victor’s self-imposed exclusion and the way he arguably becomes just as “monstrous” as his creation. We can think of the term “monster” as describing something that is inhuman. So monstrosity can include estrangement – Humans are meant to be social creatures, and so isolation is an “inhuman” – or a lack of a human code of morality.

Even from the start of the novel, there are many instances when Victor appears to be just as much of an outcast as the creature – the difference being that his isolation is often self-imposed, whereas the creature cannot control its estrangement. When Victor struggles to animate the creature, he essentially shuts himself from the world for years as “winter, spring, and summer, passed away” and he “did not watch the blossom or the expanding leaves” (Shelley, 82). His body also physically deteriorates, growing “pale with study” and “emaciated with confinement” (Shelley, 81).

Fast forward to chapter VII, and Victor seems to have become completed detached from humanity, wandering in “deserts and barbarous countries,” with “failing limbs,” driven by revenge that made him “calculating and calm, at periods when otherwise delirium or death would have been (his) portion” (Shelley, 202). Victor’s estrangement and his subsequent abandonment of human morality – he embraces his capacity to commit murder – arguably make him almost just as much of a “monster” as his creation.

So that’s a perspective on monstrosity that I think could be explored more. To what extent can we see Victor develop “monstrous” elements, and how does his “monstrosity” contrast to that of the creatures? Is there anyway to overcome monstrosity, or is it something that is inherent in all of us that only manifests itself when triggered by certain circumstances?”

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5 Responses to Monstrosity in Frankenstein

  1. Thanks for posting about this. I’m really interested in the idea of monstrosity in the novel, as well, especially since I feel like it has a very negative connotation today– I’m not sure how negative the connotation was in the period.

    What I think is really interesting here is intent– you talked about how monstrosity could come from isolation, and how Victor’s is self-imposed, and the monster’s forced upon him. I think you’re on to something with that isolation making them monstrous, especially since I feel like the monster becomes more threatening as isolation is imposed on him further.

    You asked if there is any way to overcome monstrosity– and I think it depends. For Victor, it’s very easy to overcome; spending time with Henry makes him healthier again quite quickly. Even near the end of the novel, he has the guy on the ship for company and friendship. However, I think for me he still appears to be a monster because of how he has treated his creation. On the other hand, there is no way to for the monster to overcome his monstrosity because he cannot live in society.

    Alternatively, I wonder if it’s something inherent about being apart from nature that makes one monstrous. Obviously, the monster is unnatural simply in the way that he exists, since he was created in a laboratory. The quote you brought up about Victor “not [watching] the blossom or the expanding leaves” made me think that perhaps he had become a sort of monster because he had so completely cut off not only society, but the natural world, while he was in his laboratory.

  2. kristy0715 says:

    I agree that Victor himself portrays monstrosity as opposed to the creation that he makes. Realize, I use the term “creation” instead of the term, “monster,” that Victor coins him. Although, the creation has killed and has grotesque features, he is brought that way due to the hate and malice that other people have shown him. He even says, “I should return them an hundred and an hundred fold; for that one creatures sake, I would make peace with the whole kind” (157). This shows his willingness to make peace and become accepted within society, if only people may return the favor. “My vices are the children of a forced solitude that I abhor; and my virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being, and become linked to the chain of existence and events, from which I am now excluded” (158). Having said this, the reader can only sympathize with the creation, whereas in the beginning, when they would have probably abhorred and been afraid of its violence. This explanation provides a reason as to almost why he is not a monster, but rather a victim.

    The creation and Shelley, instead portray Victor as the real monster in the story. Interestingly, the creation is only coined as a monster by no one else but Victor, who uses derogatory and disgusted adjectives to describe the creation. Victor even describes the creation as an “unearthed ugliness it rendered almost too horrible for human eyes” (118). He seems more as a monster as compared to his creation due to his open disgust with the being he has created, his senseless disregard for his family while cooped up at school, and his deteriorating appearance while he was creating the being. Victor has no humanlike sympathy for the creation he has made, making sure to neglect it with is lack of nurture. As described by his creation, Victor would “accuse me [him] of murder; and yet you [he] would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your [his] own creature” (119). Having heard the creations point of view, the reader can more likely see Victor as the real monster due to his lack of responsibility and sympathy for the being he has created.

  3. fearthefin says:

    So this is kind of similar to the idea of monstrosity, but answers more to the question of whether or not an inherit deficit (say, monstrosity) is something a being can overcome.

    In Friday’s class we mentioned briefly the idea of the mark of Cain, and I’d like to explore that a little further. Chapter Four of Genesis is also known as “the Cain and Abel story;” that is, the story of how Cain comes to murder his brother. But it’s also a story of how one person is inexplicably spurned by his creator and the disastrous consequences that ensue.

    In the story, Cain and Abel — the first human-born mortals, the sons of Adam and Eve — grow up to become farmers and shepherds, respectively. When they bring gifts to the Lord, He looks upon Abel’s offering of the “choice firstlings of his flock” with favor. However, the Lord does not regard Cain’s offering of crops. The haunting part is the fact that the Old Testament does not offer an explanation for this at all; Cain’s creator simply decides to disregard him.

    I kind of see a similarity here with Frankenstein and his monster, insofar as Frankenstein literally flees from his creation. Cue the dark irony in the fact that Victor initially embarked upon this process of creation in order to have a species “bless me as its creator and source.” Yet, as the monster later asserts, Frankenstein “could tear [the monster] to pieces, and triumph.” For no other reason save repulsion, Frankenstein rejects his own creation.

    After the Lord rejects Cain, the latter “grows incensed” and his face falls. God notices and demands an explanation, saying that “whether you offer well, or whether you do not, at the tent flap sin crouches and for you it is longing. But you will rule over it.” So basically, as the Lord predicts, Cain’s rejection will lead to sin.

    But for Cain, there’s a silver lining in the point when God states that Cain “will rule over” his sin. That’s not technically a correct translation of the original Hewbrew word, timshel. Timshel essentially means “thou mayest.” It’s not so much a command from God that Cain will overcome his predestined sinning but rather a choice on Cain’s part. Cain may or can rule over his own sin, should he choose to.

    The monster is essentially given this same choice when Frankenstein first rejects him. He can accept it and become the better for it, or he can let it overpower him. The monster chooses to descend deeper into sin. He murders William and Elizabeth; he kills those whom his creator favors out of jealousy and revenge.

    Similarly, Cain grows so jealous of his brother — of the fact that his brother is favored by God while he is shunned — that he murders him. In this sense, Cain’s own monstrosity (the murder of Abel) is predestined by God; he can’t overcome it.

  4. I agree with your assertion that isolation is linked to the “monstrosity” that is developed throughout in Victor and his monster. I want to respond to a question asked in the first comment, “I wonder if it’s something inherent about being apart from nature that makes one monstrous”. I agree with your comments about that, but I think it goes beyond that. For Victor, his monstrosity goes along with his separation from the natural world, and from society. I would argue though that this separation not only made him a monster in this sense of his physical appearance, but also because it created the environment where he could not see what was monstrous about the decisions he made. Victor removed himself from nature and society, and in this separation he began to resemble a monster, both in action and appearance. But for the monster (creation, creature, being, ect.), his appearance was prescribed from the moment of his creation. By definition, he exists outside of the natural order. Yet, he was constantly in the natural world. He was limited to the most extreme aspects of it, so his experience of it was more limited. He cannot however, be a part of the order of society, due to his appearance. This raises an interesting question for me, is the monster inherently monstrous because of his creation or because of the isolation that resulted from it? The monster certainly presents himself sympathetically at times, but so does Victor. This comment got away from me a bit, but I think that the key thing for me is that the separation from the natural world did not function the same way in each case. Separation from the natural world becomes more of a symptom for Victor, than an underlying cause.For the monster, he was born outside of any connection, so separation from the natural world reflects the solitary nature of his creation.

  5. writinginmy says:

    When I think of monstrosity within Frankenstien, something immediately comes into mind: uncanny valley, which is basically where something is almost very humanlike but not quite, and this encroaching (yet failed) humanness sparks revulsion and disgust within us. This might not be exactly in the same vein of this conversation, but hear me out.

    When we were talking about the creature and how Frankenstein seemed to be freaked out by its eyes, I thought it had something to do with how humanlike those eyes were (since eyes are frequently associated with life, having a soul, etc.)

    So I’d say it is not so much inhumanness that sparks our disgust but an almost humanness that irks us the most, repels us. We have no problem dealing with animals, machines, inanimate things, but we have a problem dealing with things that bear a resemblance to us – monkeys and apes, our children, etc. Of course, this goes into the question of what it means to be “human,” which is something the novel explores quite wonderfully already.

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