Thursday, January 19, 2012

Prompt 3

Kira Scammell

After a rather lengthy search of the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, I stumbled upon a definition of a human being in what is considered the “student dictionary.” A human being is “an individual of the species of primate mammal that walks on two feet, is related to the great apes, and is distinguished by a greatly developed brain with capacity for speech and abstract reasoning.”

This is quite a broad definition, and one I think that the monster fits into. The definition makes no claims as to what a human is physically made, although the monster was assembled from remnants of other humans, along with some chemicals and lab created parts. Because the monster was built from once living human beings (to some degree) I feel that it’s safe to say that his origins, or at least the origins of his original parts, were descendants from apes, of course assuming the theory of evolution is correct.

As for the having a greatly developed brain, the monster demonstrates his intelligence throughout the novel. In fact, compared to normal development of humans, he learned exceedingly quickly, teaching himself survival and speaking skills, as well as developing a wide range of emotions.

The monster, although “gigantic” and “uncouth” (Shelley, 193), is incredibly developed. He craves communication and acceptance beyond anything else, which he expressed to Victor and pleads for his creator to make him a female companion. The monster reasons that if he has a partner, his distress will disappear.

You are in the wrong, and, instead of threatening, I am content to reason with you. I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces, and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me? (129)

Unable to procure affection from another human, but still having insatiable cravings for love and connections to others, the monster comes up with a solution to his loneliness. He is willing to settle for affection from another monster to fill the void formed by seclusion. He does not want to be a monster, a murderer. He detests his own grotesqueness, and in attempt to find solace, wishes to find content in the company of someone just like him.

This demonstrates that the monster is not hell bent on destroying Victor’s life simply for the sake of destroying it, but instead as an act of revenge. Thus, looking again at our definition of a human being, can we not reason that the monster, even if just looking specifically at his proposal to Victor, is indeed “distinguished by a highly developed brain with capacity for speech and abstract reasoning?”

The monster’s reasoning and emotional capacity are his defining human traits, even if not considered as physically human as any of the other characters in the novel, the deep rooted complexities of his character give him human traits at the very least.

Compare the emotive range between Victor and the monster. Do they not feel the same things? The monster is a product of Victor, and although abandoned at birth, the monster takes on many of Victor’s traits.

Victor was fueled by obsession in making the monster in the first place, deciding to isolate himself in the process and continued to isolate himself as his problems deepened. Did the monster not follow a similar pattern? Although entirely different circumstances, the monster still allowed himself to become obsessed with the idea of paying vengeance to his creator for all of the misery he had caused him, in turn giving up the pursuit of companionship and instead living completely off the though of making his creation feel the same things he felt.

The ultimate success of the monster’s destruction of Victor’s happiness does not alleviate his own alienation. In fact, the entire process caused him misery and even greater disconnect. At the end of the novel, the monster says this to Walton:

Think you the groans of Clerval were music to my ears? My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy; when wretched by misery vice and hatred it did not endure the violence of change without torture such as you cannot even imagine. (194)

His heart if nothing else, embodies what humanity is supposed to be. What more powerful reasoning is there than the reasoning, or lack there of, of the heart? The monster wants compassion, he wants love and he is willing to give anything for it. When I think about Victor, I can’t always make the same argument about his reasoning. If anything, the monster is at least as human as Victor.


Jacob Pavlovich said...

I like the overall theme of your essay, and how you propose questions about the monster to get the reader really thinking about the subject. Then you do a good job of answering the question that you pose, and not leaving them hanging. Although I think that you should expand on the thought of, what if the monster would have had a mate. Would he have in fact loved it, or do you think he would have actually found it gross and an abomination. If he truly was considered a human, would he not share the same disgust for ugly monsters as the other humans in the novel.

Adam said...

This definition of humanity doesn't really engage with the longer version of the prompt at all. It's a straightforward dictionary definition, and some parts of that you handle about as well as they could be handled (the discussion of whether or not the monster is an ape, while hardly complete, is at least going in a promising direction), but the prompt is asking for a definition emerging from a "a well-developed theory of human nature." What is the theory or understanding of human nature in the dictionary? Here's another way to put it: what good does it do us to ask whether the monster is mentally well developed, and is an ape? The definition (to use Heidegger) seems to be correct without having any aspiration toward truth, and I don't see how it can do effective work.

What was interesting and worthwhile here was your interest in the parallelism between Victor and the monster. I think you could have done more with this, and gotten to this interesting point more quickly, with a better/more articulate definition as you starting point. A restricted/uninteresting definition certainly limits your ability to answer your question "is the monster at least as human as Victor?" But it's a good question, and you start down an interesting road with it - the relatively weak opening just prevented you from doing much with it.