Monday, 27 May 2013

A2 English Literature: Frankenstein Example Essay (Monstrosity)

Another one mainly for the people on TSR - this is an essay I did back before Christmas on Frankenstein. It received a middle band 6 mark (I wasn't told what mark exactly, just that it was mid-band 6) and wasn't done in timed conditions:

To what extent do you agree with the view that the humans in Frankenstein are more monstrous than the ‘monster’?

Mary Shelley’s ‘monster’, presented through the eyes of Victor Frankenstein as a “miserable wretch”, is arguably not as monstrous as the presentation of humans in the novel. The word ‘monster’ itself has Latin roots, referring to the verb to ‘demonstrate’ or ‘warn’. In this respect, the creature may stand as a warning outside of humanity following Victor’s monstrous act of assembling the creature from human corpses. The journey the creature embarks sees influences through art, culture and literature, and while the creature may initially appear monstrous, it is fair to deduce that the cruelty and barbarity of humans within the novel present them as more monstrous than the ‘monster’ first appears to be.
From his conception, the creature comes across many humans who act barbarously towards him, but none more so than Victor, his creator. Victor’s initial idea for such an experiment can be viewed as monstrous in itself; the act of taking body parts from the dead in order to assemble a brand new creature is from the outset a horrific and very Gothic image, as well as an example of a Gothic protagonist going to extreme lengths to achieve a certain goal or aim. However, it is Victor’s rejection of his own creation that presents him as such a monstrous character. Upon seeing the creature, animated for the first time, Victor notes that “a breathless horror and disgust filled my heart”. It is interesting to note that Victor’s disgust comes purely from the physical appearance of the creature. Shelley juxtaposes a sense of ugliness and beauty in the form of the creature; while it possesses a “shrivelled complexion”, Victor still notes “lustrous black” hair and “teeth of a pearly whiteness”. Victor’s conflicted use of language may suggest that the creature is physically repellent as a liminal stage not only between life and death, but between beauty and monstrosity. It is possible to view Victor’s rejection of his creature as being a comment made upon society by Mary Shelley; the creature is beaten, fled from and rejected simply for what it looks like. In life, this is often the case for those who are presented as physical outsiders, something which Shelley may be criticising.
Developing the potential critique on society, it is interesting to view the ‘humanity’ of the creature in the novel. Despite being initially violent and clumsy, the creature picks up certain aspects of culture and the arts in order to fashion himself into a character who is far more human than first suspected. As the creature recounts his tale in the embedded narrative, the story of his discovery of fire is told. He ponders the contrasts of the warmth and pain that the fire offers: “how strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!” This may be interpreted as a ‘rediscovery’ of fire and it is arguable that the creature is similarly presented as a new version of humanity, presenting him as more uniquely human as opposed to the barbarity of humans in the novel. The fire may also represent the myth of Prometheus, especially considering the novel was originally referred to as ‘The Modern Prometheus’. The myth tells the story of Prometheus, a Titan who steals fire from the Gods in order to create life. Despite this sounding as if humanity is presented as God-like, the character of Prometheus has been famed for his cunning intelligence and is punished cruelly by the Gods, just as the creature is punished and preyed upon by humanity throughout the novel. It is also interesting to note that in Western classical tradition, Prometheus is often viewed as representative of a desperate quest for knowledge. Although this could also be applied to the efforts of Victor Frankenstein to further his scientific knowledge beyond the realms of apparent possibility, the character of Prometheus may also be relevant to the creature, considering the thirst for knowledge he has throughout his journeys in the novel.
The knowledge the creatures strives and acquires throughout the novel may also suggest that he is more virtuous and humane than any of the humans in the story. Upon observing the lives of the De Lacey family, the creature begins to acquire a thirst for literature, which leads to his interest in texts such as Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, to which he notes “I often referred the situations (…) to my own…” This adds further weight to the interpretation that the creature is viewed as a new and innocent being who is subject to the evils and torment of the world around him. Similarly, after reading Volney’s ‘Ruins of Empires’, the creature ponders how humanity is “at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?” The creature’s interest in literature suggests there is a cultured element to his character, and the questions that arise from what he reads presents the humans around him as “vicious”, which reinforces the notion that the humans in the novel are more monstrous than the creature appears to be. The matter of the creature being ‘virtuous’ ties in with the philosophical ideas that William Godwin spoke of. As Shelley’s father, it is possible that Godwin’s work had some influence on her own; Godwin referred to “universal benevolence”, and suggested that humanity was inherently benevolent, yet corrupted by government and its effects upon society. This suggests that the creature is presented as a virtuous and innocent creature, new into the corrupted world in which the monstrous humans are living in. Before the initial creation, Victor even refers to his creation as pouring “a torrent of light into this dark world”. The Gothic oppositions of light and dark often refer to rationality and irrationality respectively, which may suggest that the creature is representative of rationality and knowledge in an otherwise corrupt and clouded world. Furthermore, the creature says of knowledge “of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock”. Shelley’s use of simile here shows the strength of which knowledge imprints itself on the creature’s character; his inspired reaction to literature suggests he is more cultured than any of the humans in the novel.
However, it is fair to argue conversely that Victor is also greatly affected by texts, and refers to Agrippa, Magnus and Paracelsus as “the lords of my imagination”. Victor’s passion for the issues surrounding the works he reads is what leads to his creation of the ‘monster’. It is arguable to deduce that Victor’s treatment of his own creation is what leads to the creature being branded as a ‘monster’ to some extent; the creature is born alone and confused into an alien world, and shunned by his own creator. To an extent, the reader may be able to forgive some of the creature’s monstrous acts (such as killing William) due to the fact that the creature has both little understanding of the world and a desire to be treated fairly by the man who created him. The fact that both Victor and the creature show such devotion to texts and literature may suggest an element of Gothic doubling between the two, as if they are two sides of one ‘being’. When looking for the creature, Victor states that he sees his creation as “nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave”. The Gothic language alone suggests that there is an irrational element to Victor, and it is arguable that the creature represents the more rational and perhaps even more human side to Frankenstein’s persona, whereas Victor is portrayed as the monstrous character; the nature of the quote could also suggest that Victor is referring to himself when he speaks of a “depraved wretch”, which furthers the interpretation that he and the creature are more alike than first thought. The language used by both Victor and the creature also suggests a sense of duality between them; in chapter ten, Victor’s language appears extreme and melodramatic, whereas the creature’s language seems composed and collected. Victor states “the tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil!” and threatens the creature with “the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head”. Victor’s extreme and inflammatory language, speaking of ‘hell’ and ‘vengeance’, may present him as something of a vengeful God, who appears enraged at his own creation. This links to the notion of the creature being an ‘updated’ version of humanity akin to Adam and Eve’s story in ‘Paradise Lost’, victim to an angry God who has brought the creation into a corrupt and monstrous world. The creature’s language, in contrast, is eloquently phrased and constructed: “Everywhere I see bliss from which I alone am irrevocably excluded”. Shelley’s use of contrasting language between the creature and Victor strongly suggests that Victor is far more vengeful and ‘monstrous’ than the creature.
In conclusion, the humans in Frankenstein definitely appear more monstrous than the creature. Despite the creature’s initial monstrous acts, and his connections to animalism and the wilderness due to his association with sublime settings, it must be noted that he is a brand new creature in the world, and shunned by the only man who can answer his questions. As the creature grows from an incoherent beast into a cultured being who respects literature and the arts, he appears to rise above the humans in the novel. Victor’s language and the act of his creation present him as a monstrous being in the novel, and as one interpretation suggests as a vengeful God who has unfairly bestowed the innocent creature upon a world populated by unforgiving and in many cases barbaric creatures, who monstrously exclude the creature from society for what he looks like, as opposed to who he is.


  1. Great essay, Jake. My son is in the middle of his English revision at the moment so I shall point him in the direction of your excellent blog. I assume, like him, you have exams next week. Good luck - though I am sure, unlike him, you won't need it!!