Thursday, January 19, 2012

Blog #2, Prompt #3

Patrick Kilduff

After reading Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, I have deduced that the monster, no matter how gruesome or ugly his outward appearance might be, is undoubtedly human. The most evident and obvious examples of his humanistic characteristics are when he observes the family living in the shack. We can see his human distinctiveness while he picks up details on how this family lives, their daily chores and issues, and also the emotions he encounters from certain circumstances he experiences while observing them. First, lets define human, so there is a cornerstone definition to refer to.

After researching and looking through various texts, the best definition of human comes from The World of Psychology textbook, written by Samuel E. Wood. While there was no direct definition of human in this text, there is a branch of psychology called humanistic psychology. This branch of psychology is defined in this text as: “The school of psychology that focuses on the uniqueness of human being’s capacity for choice, growth, and psychological health.” I found this to be a very accurate definition of what being human really is. The biological definition, coming from the Biological Science textbook by Scott Freeman states: “any member of the genus Homo which includes modern humans (Homo sapiens) and several extinct species.” Although this is an accurate definition, it does not encompass what a human really is, and what a human experiences throughout life.

The key to being human is emotion. Yes, the physical aspect of being human is evident and is a strict requirement, but the emotion is what really encompasses a human. These emotions are complex, not simple emotions (if one was to define an emotion as simple) such as happiness or sadness, but emotions like empathy, anger, stress, revenge, wonder, and beauty. Now, not all “complex” emotions are negative, but you could say that they are the most “controversial”, meaning they are emotions not easily understood unless experienced and truly felt. The emotion of Frankenstein’s monster is what made him human to me.

While Frankenstein is on the run, exploring his new world around him, what caught my attention, and indicated an interesting emotion, was his interest and fascination with the outside physical world. What I first thought to be a mindless, gruesome beast was captivated by snow. As a little kid does on their first snow-day, playing in the snow, wondering what it is and where it comes from. Now, obviously we cannot picture the monster frolicking in the snow, but the same principles apply.

Now for the observation of the family, which to me is the most defining aspect of the monster’s human capacity. The first emotion that I found interesting, especially for a “being” of his stature, was fear. The monster was afraid of the family in the shack, due to his prior encounter with humans hurling stones at him. Imagining the Frankenstein monster we are so accustomed to from the movies being afraid is preposterous, but this monster was, he was afraid. Next we have ambition, which we can clearly see when the monster wants to master the language of the family. Striving to achieve is an emotion that is so unique to humans, and the monster wanted to approach the family after learning that they were harmless. It seemed like a goal to him, an achievement that would bring fulfillment to himself.

The last and most important human emotion experienced by Frankenstein’s monster is beauty. When Frankenstein’s monster hears Agatha sing and the father play his instrument, he actually experiences and recognizes the beauty of an instrument and voice. As the monster states on page 117 of the text: “He raised her, and smiled with such kindness and affection that I felt sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature: they were a mixture of pain and pleasure, such as I had never before experienced, either from hunger or cold, warmth or food, and I withdrew form the window, unable to bear these emotions.” These sensations were not dire instincts, such as he stated about coldness and hunger. These feelings were real, grounded emotions that he had never felt before, and was in shock when he felt them.

Overall, one could argue that the Frankenstein monster is human, and in fact he is. Through the emotions that he felt, and the feelings that they gave him, can only make this clear. One last example, take the passage on page 124 when he is looking into the water at his own reflection, and the utter disdain and disgust he saw staring back at him, that feeling of imperfection. Imperfection is felt my no animal, (in the normal sense of the word, humans not included) no inanimate object, no being other than a human. His composition may be untraditional, his values unorthodox, but he is, in fact, a human.


Ben Fellows said...

Hey Pat,

First off, I really like how you defined which emotions are key to the human personality. I agree that although happiness and sadness are more simple emotions that one could argue many animals feel, emotions like empathy, stress, and wonder are very human.

You reference several sections in the book to support your claims of his feeling emotions, but I think you could potentially support them more with a quote here or there.

I agree with you that the monster's observation of the family is very important in both defining and molding his emotions, further proving that he is human. Because this is such an important section, I think you could strengthen it even more with more emotions on top of the fear and ambition that you mentioned.

Sorry about the late post,

Adam said...

I've read any number of essays which try to define humanity in terms of emotion, but collapse because they don't begin with the obvious fact that other animals feel emotion (Darwin wrote a book about it!). So one thing I like here is that you are more careful and specific about what kinds of emotions are characteristic of human beings.

I also appreciated your grounding - imperfectly explained, but still clearly present - in a subset of psychology.

The weakness here is that you never *directly* define human nature - what you call a definition defines the school of psychology, not humanity itself, and the dictionary definition is cheap.

But you do *show* approximately what emotions you're interested in - ambition, beauty, and fear. The last obviously characterizes any animal with any emotional life at all; the appreciation of beauty, though, sure *seems* to be a human thing, and ambition might be as well, depending on how you define it (I'd actually argue that other great apes, and probably all high social mammals, are capable of ambition for higher status, but at the very least you're on an interesting track).

So your understanding of humanity and your focus on the monster through that understanding is reasonably focused and clear, once the reader has thought it through carefully. I'd be much happier if your definition was clearer, and if you gave more thought to whether all three emotions are really distinctive to humanity - in many ways this might have been more convincing and more distinctive if you'd started with the well-argued premise that only human beings have a deep emotional attachment to beauty, and that *this* is what makes the monster human, although incorporating ambition (or how about linking the two?) is fine too.

So this could be streamlined, and the actual moment of the definition is poorly handled, but you execute the rest *as if* you had a coherent definition and agenda, which is good.