Never Judge a Book…(part 2)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein originated as a ghost story told among her close friends. "It was a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils" (Shelley 34) is the first line Shelley conceived when she began composing her famous novel. In this sentence, the "accomplishment" to which Victor Frankenstein refers is the creation, which receives animation on this "dreary night." By calling the creation his "accomplishment," Victor unintentionally names the creation. However, by the end of this "dreary night," Victor names the creation no less than six times, each time getting progressively more derogatory, and more insulting. This evolution of Victor’s attitude about the creation occurs during the time immediately following the creation. In these few hours, Victor’s imagination creates an increasingly grotesque image of the creation. This developed condemnation that Victor imposes onto the creation is similar to all of the creation’s other encounters with human beings. This repeated rejection causes the creation to realize that "All men hate the wretched; how then must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things" (Shelley 65). Eventually, therefore, the creation accepts its role as a monster based solely on the reactions it receives from other human beings. However, these spiteful reactions are inspired by irrational fears that result from the human nature of the characters to form preconceptions about the creation based on their prior experiences.

The fantastical response William Frankenstein creates after seeing the creation shows how humans, when faced with the sublime, form preconceptions from their limited knowledge to "name the unnamable." The creation approaches William, assuming he would be innocent enough to perceive kindness beyond his grotesque appearance. However, this is far from true. William shrieks in horror at the sight of the creation, and then commands "Let me go…monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me, and tear me to pieces! You are an ogre" (Shelley96). Not only does William invent the identity of an "ogre" for the creation, but he also suggests he knows what the creation’s plan is. These inventions are both formed from a stereotypical fantasy. An "ogre" is a classic literary beast found in countless fairy tales and romances. Being raised by an educated family, William would have been exposed to many of these stories. This character of fantasy is the exact image William projects onto the creation upon seeing it. William reverts to his limited education to label anything he cannot understand, and this ignorant identification is the reoccurring theme that eventually turns the creation into a legitimate "ogre."

Victor Frankenstein is the first to create (literally and figuratively) an identity for the creation, and his labeling of the creation as an evil thing the night of its creation initiates the process of prejudice that will eventually turn the creation into the monster everyone claims it is. He first refers to the creation as "the accomplishment…" (Shelley 34), and after he first "infuse(s) a spark" (Shelley 34) on the creation, he says, "I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs" (Shelley 34). So immediately after animation, Victor sees the creation as a "creature," and also not a human, for he uses the pronoun "it" rather than he. This is significant, since Victor had planned for it to be male, but immediately after the creation was alive, Victor stripped away its gender, a large part of one’s identity. However, these terms ("creature," "it") are still neutral words, without hatred. This neutrality soon vanishes when Victor asks, "How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom…" (Shelley 34). His idea of the creation has now shifted to that of a "wretch." After passing this judgment onto the creation, Victor flees into his room, to try to sleep. The time passes in his room, and it allows his imagination to create an even more horrible image of the creation. Upon seeing the creation next, Victor exclaims, "I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created" (Shelley 35). So now "the wretch" has become a "miserable monster" without a logical reason, other than Victor’s imagination. Finally, Victor flees again, and his development of the creation’s monstrous identity evolves to its final state, as Victor sits, "fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life" (Shelley 35). The only action Victor clearly relates the creation performing is when "he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks… one hand was stretched out…" (Shelley 35). Based solely on the creation’s physical appearance, therefore, Victor slowly twists his opinion about the creation from "the accomplishment of my toils" all the way to "the demoniacal corpse" in the span of a few hours. This transformation is simply caused by fear, and not logic.

The nightmare Victor experiences further exemplifies his tendencies to apply the unpleasant feelings of unrelated experiences to his labeling of the creation. Before Victor has the nightmare, he refers to the creation as a "wretch" (Shelley 35). Although this label is negative, it only addresses the creation’s appearance, and not its value, or its species. However, after Victor wakes up from his dream, he sees the creation as "the wretch—the miserable monster…" (Shelley 36). He has now taken away the humanity of the creation by defining it as a "miserable monster," a downgrade from a simple "wretch." This judgment, inspired by an event completely separate from the creation’s existence provides another instance of wrongful prejudice to which the creation is subjected.

The prejudice that Victor forms the night of the creation creates an unshakeable image of the creation as a monster; this image overrides all other thoughts Victor has about the creation, even after Victor begins to sympathize with its story. When the creation returns to Victor and begs him for a companion, its eloquence and logical presentation of the request inspire Victor to exclaim, "I was moved…I felt there was some justice in his argument. His tale, and the feelings he now expressed, proved him to be a creature of fine sensations" (Shelley 99). Not only does Victor agree with the creation’s logic, but he even qualifies the creation as "a creature of fine sensations," a direct opposite of a "demoniacal corpse." Victor also now refers to the creation as "he," implying that it is a human being after all. This favorable opinion of the creation occurs after Victor actually pays attention to it, and concerns himself with the creation’s story. One would think that if the creation was a "creature of fine sensations" now, then it must have been that way at birth, or at least have possessed the potential to become one. However, Victor did not allow himself to see that, being blinded by fear. This inaccurate first impression is what leads to Victor’s hypocrisy and eventual downfall. After Victor agrees to create a companion for the creation, he is left alone with his thoughts, just like he was in his room on "the dreary night of November." Isolated, he begins to hesitate, saying, "…a train of reflection occurred to me, which led me to consider the effects of what I was now doing…I was now about to form another being, of whose dispositions I was alike ignorant" (Shelley 114). In this thought, he reveals his admittance that he had little knowledge concerning the creation when it was first brought to life. This, however, did not stop him from labeling it as a monster. And it is this initial label that causes Victor to forever see the creation as nothing but a monster. For this reason, he decides to destroy the creation’s companion, and he only comes to this decision because he was once again left alone with his thoughts, with nothing to influence his judgment but his misguided preconceptions. This act of destroying the creation’s companion fates both Victor and the creation to lives of torture and torment. All these struggles would have been avoided if Victor could have only seen the "creature of fine sensations" within the creation the first time he beheld it.

Only one other character in the novel shows such compassion toward the creation, and that is Father De Lacey, whose kindness towards the creation is the result of his inability to see and judge the its inhuman appearance; this kindness proves that the creation is labeled a monster simply because of his external qualities. Since De Lacey is blind, he can form conclusions about the creation merely based on his voice and language. When the creation approaches De Lacey and asks for shelter, the man replies, "By your language, stranger, I suppose you are my countryman" (Shelley 90). Not only does De Lacey think the creature is human, but he assumes he is his fellow "countryman," his friend. This encounter proves that it is only the creation’s appearance that causes people to hate him; this appearance is a quality the creation cannot control. The only qualities the creation can control are its voice, its language, and its education; these aspects of the creation are impressive, and cause De Lacey and Victor to desire to assist and befriend it. The use of language is significant also, since one’s language is acquired, while one’s physical appearance is an unchangeable attribute. Therefore, the human qualities that are improvable have all been refined by the creation, while the only aspect of the creation that disgusts people is its fated appearance. Ironically, these physical qualities are all created by Victor, and not the creation itself. Therefore, the qualities that cause people to detest the creation are all products of Victor’s hands, and out of the creation’s control.

Before the creation comes to life, Victor is pleased with its physical appearance; "His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful" (Shelley 34). Within hours after the creation is alive, Victor recalls a much different story in his mind, saying, "I had gazed on him when he was unfinished; he was ugly then" (Shelley 35). It is in this ignorant fashion that Victor and the other humans the creation meets destroy his identity by rashly inventing its identity of a murderous "wretch," rather than an unfortunate child, which the reader believes he was. Even the creation says, "I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy and I shall again be virtuous" (Shelley 66). In the novel, Victor has two chances to provide this happiness for the creation. In both cases, all the creation desires was a companion, be it Victor or a new creation. And, in both cases, Victor is influenced by his initial reaction of disgust at the sight of his original creation. This reaction originates from a preconception, a fear caused by the human nature to prejudge based on past experience. This prejudice is indeed the source of the pain and torment in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. If a "monster" exists in the novel, it is this aspect of human nature.

 

 Works Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1996.

Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus. Ed. Stuart Curran. U of Penn. <http://www.english.upenn.edu/knarf/frank.html>