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Frankenstein Social and Psychological Themes

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1 Frankenstein Social and Psychological Themes
Society Unfairly Associates Physical Deformity with Monstrosity Abandonment and Lack of Proper Nurture Shape The Monster’s Nature Victor and His Creation Struggle with Gender Identity (Feminism) Frankenstein’s Self-Centeredness Leads Inevitably to Self-Destruction Tampering in God’s Domain #1 #2 #3 #4 #5

2 Candidate #1 (Frankenstein)
Society Unfairly Associates Physical Deformity with Monstrosity #1 Candidate #1 (Frankenstein) v/s Candidate #2 Beyoncé SHOW SLIDE #2 PHOTOS Let’s pretend that Blake Shelton is stepping down as one of the Judges on “The Voice.” Executives have narrowed the field to these (2) CANDIDATES (“Monster” & Beyoncé). Which one do you think will get the job? Thank God for shows like “The Voice” where TALENT trumps Physique! PROBLEM? Vision is key in Frankenstein.18th & 19th century Gothic literary genre emphasizes the grotesque and mysterious in which visual codes were routinely used to identify “good” from “bad” and socially acceptable from socially unacceptable. Supposedly it was possible to tell if a person was “low class,” mentally inferior, or sexually perverse simply by observing their outward appearance. The term “bad blood” became code for racial inferiority. We might ask ourselves ― Is this still the case today? Though the “creature” tries to educate himself and aspires to become truly human―he cannot overcome his physical “otherness.” “Beautiful!―Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but These luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed Almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled Complexion and straight black lips.” (pg #56) I would argue that it is, unfortunately, still the case today, but to a lesser extent. Today, we are more accepting of people sporting extensive tattoos/multiple body piercings, etc. it’s been mainstreamed. But in past years … Good luck getting a job sporting a pierced nose! Moral message: Don’t judge a book by its cover! PROBLEM? “Monstrosity” is inextricably bound to textuality (language). Within the language, monstrosity and humanity emerge as inseparable. Example: old Mr. De Lacey represents the blindness of the reader. We are disposed as readers to sympathize with the monster because, unlike the characters in the novel, we cannot see him. Thus text (language) allows for compassion/humanity. The monster in Frankenstein, establishes visual horror as the main standard by which the monster judges and is judged. The visual registers horror while language confers humanity. “ Hear me.” (says Monster) (pg. #96-97) “ Begone! I will not hear you.” (says Victor) (pg. #97) PROBLEM? Racism. Both Elizabeth/Justine adopted by Mrs. Caroline Frankenstein. Discrimination is not limited to “creature.” Elizabeth/Justine, too, were judged visually. Example: Elizabeth “appeared of a different stock.” (pg. #34) Justine/servant. In Frankenstein, the “creature” and the women are measured against the supposed “real human”—the Western European, bourgeois, male scientist. Theme of visible monstrosity demands that identity be something that can be seen. Even Aristocracy is feminized, thus inferior. Racial discrimination springs from the narrative. Caroline notices Elizabeth in the poor family’s cottage because “she appeared of a different stock.” Elizabeth is “thin and very fair” while the peasant children are “dark-eyed, hardy little vagrants.” Elizabeth is also the daughter of a nobleman, fit, therefore, for adoption. Caroline adopts Justine also But Justine must remain a servant since her heritage reveals no nobility. Birth, then, or blood rather, separates one woman from another and prepares one for marriage and the other for service. The difference between the noble and the debased is clearly exhibited in this instance upon the surface of the body―Elizabeth stands out from the rest of her poor family because she is thin and fair. (pg #34)

3 by Mary Wollstonecraft
The Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft Published in London 1792 I The Rights and Involved Duties of Mankind Considered Chronology II The Prevailing Opinion of a Sexual Character Discussed III The Same Subject Continued IV Observations on the State of Degradation to which Woman is Reduced by Various Causes V Animadversions on some of the Writers who have Rendered Women Objects of Pity, bordering on Contempt VI The Effect which an Early Association of Ideas has upon the Character VII Modesty ― Comprehensively Considered, and not as a Sexual Virtue VIII Morality Undermined by Sexual Notions of the Importance of a Good Reputation IX Of the Pernicious Effects which Arise from the Unnaturual Distinctions Established in Society X Parental Affection IX Duty to Parents XII On National Education XIII Some Instances of the Folly which the Ignorance of Women generates; with Concluding Reflections on the Moral Improvement that a Revolution in Female Manners Might Naturally be Expected to Produce

4 Pernicious (per nish us) adj
Having the effect of destroying; very injurious or destructive Mary Wollstonecraft traveled alone through Europe and Scandinavia; more important, she advocated in A Vindication that women be educated to be the “companions” of men and be permitted to participate in the public realm by voting, working outside the home, and holding political office.

5 #2 Abandonment and Lack of Proper Nurture Shape the Monster’s Nature
PROBLEM? Jean Jacques Rousseau (a philosopher): his theory of the natural man as a noble savage, born free but everywhere in chains and inevitably corrupted by society. Theory ties to educating children. Example: “Other lessons were impressed upon me [says “creature”] even more deeply. I heard of the difference of sexes; and the birth and growth of children; how the father doated on the smiles of the infant, and the lively sallies of the older child; how all the life and cares of the mother were wrapped up in the precious charge; how the mind of youth expanded and gained knowledge; of brother, sister, and all the various relationships which bind one human being to another in mutual bonds.” (117) Example: “But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses; (pg. #117) Mary Shelley had similar feelings of parental abandonment/Emotional Isolation: Mom (Mary W.) dies (11) days after Mary’s birth. Dad (William Godwin) remarries in 1801 [Mary Jane Clairmont who already had (2) kids of her own.] William/Mary Jane give birth to “Love-Will” William (Jr.) Coincidence that the Frankenstein character named William, (5) years old, is strangled by creature? Maybe a little (Freudian-like) half-sibling-rivalry going on! Same w/ half sister Claire Clairmont. Victor abandons his “creature.” “He [the “creature”] might have spoken, but I did not hear; . . . I escaped, ” [said Victor Frankenstein] (pg #57) “Let your compassion be moved, and do not disdain me.” (pg#97) “He [Victor Frankenstein] had abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him.” [said “creature”] (pg #127) BOOKS “Creature” Read: (pg. #124) --Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Romans he learns the nature of heroism and public virtue and civic justice. --Volney’s Ruins, or A Survey of the Revolutions of Empires he learns the contrasting nature of political corruption and the causes of the decline of civilizations. (115) --Milton’s Paradise Lost he learns the origins of human good and evil and the roles of the sexes. --Goethe’s Werther he learns the range of human emotions, from domestic love to suicidal despair, as well as the rhetoric in which to articulate not only ideas but feelings. --Aesop’s Fables. --Bible. ALL OF THESE TEACHINGS CONTRAST WITH VICTOR’S FAULTY EDUCATION. The “creature” knows that a child deprived of a loving family becomes a monster. Ex: “I had feelings of affection, they were requited by detestation and scorn.” (pg. #?) Ex: “I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend.” (97) “I was alone.” (127) John Locke’s theory: Parents teach by their own example. Locke even placed the health of the body and the development of a sound character ahead of intellectual learning. David Hartley’s theory: Early sensative experiences determine adult behavior. “Creature” self-educates via books he found in an abandoned portmanteau (list). These books helped with his moral development. Mary Shelley’s ideas about proper nurturing and education, which she deemed essential to growing into a healthy, virtuous adult were shaped by these writings: ―17th century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau ―17th century English philosopher John Locke ―18th century English physician/philosopher David Hartley ―”The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”/Samuel Taylor Coleridge (poem influenced how Mary portrayed the “creature’s” loneliness.) Rousseau favored constitutional democracy. Why? Once the “creature” leaves the state of nature and learns the language and laws of society, he has gained a self-consciousness that he can never lose, the consciousness of his own isolation: “Oh, that I had forever remained in my native wood (117) “What was I?” (118)

6 #2 Abandonment and Lack of Proper Nurture Shape the Monster’s Nature
(continued . . .) #2 PROBLEM? In the late 18th c. and early 19th c. – there are political inequalities and injustices based on the rigid and patriarchal/hierarchical gender divisions. Mary Shelley introduced the De Lacey family, an alternative ideology, a vision of a social group based on justice, equality, and mutual affection. Example: Felix willingly sacrificed his own welfare to ensure that justice was done to the Turkish merchant. (pg #119) Example: In the impoverished De Lacey household, all work is shared equally in an atmosphere of rational companionship, mutual concern, and love. (pg # ) Example: The female character, Safie is rightly appalled both by her Father’s betrayal of Felix and by the Islamic oppression of women he endorses. She shows a sense of independence when she flees from Turkey to Switzerland, seeking Felix. (123) Safie, a female role model, blossomed due to proper nurturing (despite being a female in a man’s world). Safie’s Christian mother instructed her “to aspire to higher powers of intellect, and an independence of spirit, forbidden to female followers of Mahomet.” (120) Wollstonecraft reincarnated . Plus, Safie is taught to read/write French in De Lacey family (education is a priority here). Nuclear structure of the De Lacey family constitutes Mary Shelley’s ideal, almost perfect virtue. Influence? Mary Wollstonecraft’s― A Vindication of the Rights of Woman The “creature” witnesses how the De Lacey family takes care of one another and comes to understand what’s missing in his own life (namely, love). “This trait of kindness moved me sensibly.” (pg. 108) Kindness begets kindness . . . “When they had retired to rest I went into the woods and collected fuel for the cottage I cleared their path from the snow ” (pg. 111) The De Lacey Family also abandons the “creature.” “Creature” had called them “my protectors.” (pg. 124) Symbolically, the “creature” turns his ‘gifts of love’ (firewood) back into raw fire by burning the De Lacey cottage to the ground while dancing round it, himself consumed in pure hatred and revenge. (pg. #134) PROBLEM? Mr. De Lacey: “I am blind and cannot judge of your countenance, but there is something in your words which persuades me that you are sincere.” (pg. #130) Hearing only. The others (Felix/Safie/Agatha) reject the “creature.” Vision only. “Agatha fainted, and Safie …. rushed out …. Felix … struck me violently with a stick.” (131) PROBLEM? Missing a Mother’s influence (no Mrs. De Lacey). She could have been the one to show some kind of compassion.

7 #3 Victor and His Creation Struggle with Gender Identity (Feminism)
Victor Frankenstein identifies Nature as female: “I pursued nature to her hiding places” (pg #53) “…she [Caroline] presented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift” (pg #35) [female as possession] “I interpreted her words literally and looked upon Elizabeth as mine …” (pg #35) [female as possession] PROBLEM? Victor participates in a gendered construction of the universe. Victor’s scientific penetration and technological exploitation of female nature is only one dimension of a more general cultural encoding of the female as passive and possessable, willing receptacle of male desire. PROBLEM? Frankenstein has eliminated the necessity to have females at all. One of the deepest horrors of this novel is Frankenstein’s implicit goal of creating a society for men only: his creature is male; he refuses to create a female; there is no reason that the race of immortal beings he hoped to propagate should not be exclusively male. Some critics say there’s an underlying homosexual argument here. Victor has eliminated the female’s primary biological function and source of cultural power. “Victor’s creature becomes animated.” (pg #57) PROBLEM? On the cultural level, Frankenstein’s scientific project (to become the sole creator of a human being) not only tampers in God’s domain, but also supports a patriarchal denial of the value of women and of female sexuality. Mary Shelley, most likely, was influenced by her mother’s work (SHOW SLIDE#6. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman). This book specifically portrays the consequences of a social construction of gender that values the male above the female Frankenstein hopes to become the sole creator of a human being. Victor: Who needs women?

8 #3 Victor and His Creation Struggle with Gender Identity (Feminism)
(continued . . .) BATTLE OF THE SEXES (19th Century Genevan Society) Elizabeth is not permitted to travel with Victor – She “regretted that she had not the same opportunities of enlarging her experience and cultivating her understanding” (pg #?). Inside the home, women are either kept as a kind of pet – Victor “loved to tend” on Elizabeth “as I should on a favorite animal” or they work as house wives, childcare providers, and nurses or as servants (pg #?). PROBLEM? Frankenstein’s 19th century Genevan society is founded on a rigid division of sex roles: the male inhabits the public sphere, the female is relegated to the private or domestic sphere. So What’s the problem? MALE CHARACTERS Alphonse F. – public servant Victor – scientist Clerval/& his Father – merchants Robert Walton – Ship Captain/Explorer FEMALE CHARACTERS Elizabeth – homemaker Caroline Beaufort Frankenstein – homemaker (V.’s Mom) Margaret Saville– homemaker (R. Walton’s sister) Justine Moritz – Servant SHOW SLIDE (#7) Implicit in Mary Shelley’s attack on the social injustice of established political systems is the suggestion that the separation from the public realm of feminine affections and compassion has caused much of this social evil. Norton Text: Had Elizabeth Lavenza’s plea for mercy for Justine, based on her intuitively correct knowledge of Justine’s character, been heeded, Justine would not have been wrongly murdered by the courts. Elizabeth exclaims: “how I hate [the] shews and mockeries [of this world]! When one creature is murdered, another is immediately deprived of life in a slow torturing manner; then the executioners, their hands yet reeking with the blood of innocence, believe that they have done a great deed. They call this retribution ” (pg #?). 18th/19th century – It’s a man’s world. Women belong in the home. Men in the public sphere. Mary Shelley seems to agree with her Mother (Wollstonecraft). Reform! PROBLEM? As a consequence of this sexual division of labor, masculine work is kept outside of the domestic realm: hence intellectual activity is segregated from emotional activity. Essentially, Victor Frankenstein cannot do scientific research and think lovingly of Elizabeth and his family at the same time. (see quote pg/ #53) This separation of masculine work from the domestic affections leads directly to Frankenstein’s downfall. Intellectual activity is segregated from emotional activity. Victor’s obsession with his experiment has caused him “to forget those friends who were so many miles absent, and whom I had not seen for so long a time” (pg #53-54)

9 #3 Victor and His Creation Struggle with Gender Identity (Feminism)
(continued . . .) The doctrine of the separate spheres that Victor Frankenstein endorses encodes a particular attitude to female sexuality that Mary Shelley subtly exposes in her novel. This attitude is manifested most vividly in Victor’s response to the creature’s request for a female companion, an Eve to comfort and embrace him. “You will return, and again seek their kindness, and you will meet with their detestation; your evil passions will be renewed, and you will then have a companion to aid you in the task of destruction. This may not be: cease to argue the point, for I cannot consent.” (pg #142) PROBLEM? Victor promised the “creature” a companion, but then breaks his promise. WHY? At first, Victor was moved by the “creatures” full account of his sufferings and aspirations (sympathy), and promises to create a female “creature” on the condition that both disappear into oblivion. Victor goes to an isolated cottage on one of the Orkney Islands off Scotland and proceeds to create a female being. But second thoughts set in . . . Example: Once again he becomes ill: “my heart often sickened at the work of my hands my spirits became unequal; I grew restless and nervous” (pg #159) A FEMINIST STANCE ON VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN Victor is first, and foremost, afraid of an independent female (a female with desires and opinions that cannot be controlled by his male creature). She might assert her own integrity and the revolutionary right to determine her own existence. Moreover, those uninhibited female desires might be sadistic. Example: this female may choose to use her gigantic strength to seize and even rape the male she might choose. Example: Victor is afraid of this female’s capacity to generate an entire race of similar creatures. A sexually liberated female would be Victor’s worst nightmare! She would defy the sexist notion that insists women be small, delicate, modest, passive, and sexually pleasing―but available only to their lawful husbands. “Safie”/example of a liberated female. What does Victor Frankenstein truly fear, which causes him to end his creation of a female?

10 #4 Frankenstein’s Self-Centeredness Leads Inevitably to Self-Destruction Elizabeth’s and Justine’s unnecessary deaths are directly attributable to Victor: “I murdered her. William, Justine, and Henry – they all died by my hands.” (pg. 179) Victor Frankenstein’s self-devoted concern for his own suffering (the creature will attack only him) and his own reputation (people would think him mad if he told them his own monster had killed his brother). PROBLEM? – BOTH GENDER ISSUE & SELF-CENTEREDNESS Separation of gender spheres caused the destruction of many of the women in the novel. Example#1: Caroline Beaufort dies unnecessarily because she feels obligated to nurse her favorite Elizabeth during a smallpox epidemic; Caroline falls into the patriarchal ideal female self-sacrifice trap. Caroline is a woman who is devoted to her father in wealth and in poverty, who nurses him until his death, and then marries her father’s best friend to whom she is equally devoted. Example #2: Elizabeth, fully convinced of Justine’s innocence, is unable to save her. Nor can Elizabeth save herself on her wedding night. Critic Anne K. Mellor believes that Victor Frankenstein cannot work and love at the same time. “The summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in one pursuit.” (pg #53) PROBLEM? Because Victor cannot work and love at the same time, he fails to feel empathy for the creature he is constructing and callously makes him 8 feet tall simply because “the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed” (pg. # 52) He then fails to love or feel any parental responsibility for the freak he has created. Victor Frankenstein is fixated on himself. No shortage of self-love. PROBLEM? Victor is so fixated on himself that he cannot imagine his monster might threaten someone else when the creature swears to be with Victor “on his wedding night” (pg. #183).

11 Frankenstein’s Self-Centeredness Leads Inevitably to Self-Destruction
(continued . . .) #4 PROBLEM? Victor initially promises to create a female, but then selfishly goes back on his word: “I do refuse it. Begone! … I will never consent.” (pg #140) Victor rejects the “creature’s” request for a female companion, an Eve to comfort and embrace him. “You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you alone can do; and I demand it of you as a right which you must not refuse to concede.” (pg. 140) PROBLEM? Victor’s list of concerns if he continues creating a female ― none of which take the male “creature’s” feelings into account: (selfish thoughts) -- “She might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate, and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness.” (pg. #160) -- The “creature” ‘shook hands’ on the deal to disappear but this new female “creature” may refuse a contract made before her creation. -- Victor assumes the male/ female creature will get along. But the reality is they may not. They may hate each other. The male may think the female “creature” is ‘ugly’ and reject it. Vice versa. The female “creature” may prefer the ‘superior beauty of man.’ -- Reverse problem. They love each other and want to create a family of their own! Victor rationalizes his decision to deprive the “creature” of a female. Victor does consider the possible damage to man at the hands of these “creatures;” but even then his motive may be more selfish than altruistic. PROBLEM? Altruistic motive? Or selfish motive? You decide . . . “Had I a right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations? I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price perhaps of the existence of the whole human race. (pg. 163?)

12 #5 Tampering in God’s Domain One critic (Timothy J. Madigan) calls the
fascination for/and drive to find the “secrets of life” via newly created science/technologies ― the “Frankenstein Impulse.” “You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes many not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale, one that may direct you if you succeed in your undertaking and console you in case of failure.” ―Victor Frankenstein (pg #?) PROBLEM? We, as a society, are naturally the “mad scientist”―often condemning him/her for “tampering in God’s domain.” Fears: Constant new discoveries in genetics. Example: The FDA filed a lawsuit against the direct-to-consumer genetics company “23&Me”(founded by a group of people including Anne Woicicki/Sergey Brin, now divorced) Pressing motive for Inc.,: Brin’s mother suffered from Parkinson’s disease Brin wanted quick answers and was willing to pay $$$s to get it. Helpful? Do you want to know? Example: Multiple BioTech cloning manufacturers. Ethics anyone? Example: Stem Cell Research ties with Victor’s Question: ”Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?” (pg. #?) Biologically speaking, some say moment of conception. Others say various stages of fetus development. Bottom line … Moral ambiguity. Example: Abortion. Example: Euthanasia. Many accuse Victor Frankenstein as having the character defect of hubris [extreme arrogance], attempting to be like God. It can be argued that it’s Victor’s hubris that causes his eventual downfall. My Thoughts . . . My guess is that this character “defect” of hubris is common to every risk taker Whether in their work (i.e., inventing a new product). or play (i.e., sky diving!). It’s a feeling of invincibility― a philosophy that agrees with Romantics era of an individual believing one’s above the crowd (a prophet) and must teach followers.

13 #5 Tampering in God’s Domain (continued . . .)
What Does Mary Shelley hubris? HISTORY: (19) year old Mary Shelley was raised in a freethought household. Her parents (Mary Wollstonecraft/William Godwin) were very much Enlightenment rationalists. Progressive minds. Forward thinkers. Married to poet Percy Bysshe Shelley [married ]. Percy co-authored the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism and Mary was not reared in a pious religious tradition and had no humans playing God. For her, no one had the corner market on human creation. Mary and Percy attended a science lecture (England Dec. 28, 1814). This fact was recorded in Mary’s diaries. (3) yrs before Frankenstein was published. Scientist: Andrew Crosse/attempted to bring life to inanimate objects using electricity. What does Mary Shelley hubris? My Thoughts . . . Yes. Mainly the fault is with Victor’s “cowardice and carelessness.” Victor chooses to keep his creation a secret! He flees his living “science project.” Result? Good luck to any humans who might cross the path of this dangerous “creature!” Humans are naturally life. I agree with critics who say we just need to keep the channels of communication open and direct our scientific experiments/discoveries in a democratic and ethical direction. Can Victor Frankenstein be faulted for playing God? “I had so miserably given life.” (pg. 57)

14 Frankenstein separation from the public realm of feminine affections
Social and Psychological Themes Implicit in Mary Shelley’s attack on the social injustice of established political systems is the suggestion that the . . . separation from the public realm of feminine affections and compassion has caused much of this social evil.

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