Friday, February 10, 2012

Patrick Kilduff Revision

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. To give this monster the title of human, one must define humanity, the essence that makes us as a species the way we are.
Humanity might not be an easy thing to define and put into words, but after some research I found a very interesting article called Humanity 2.0 by Sarah Chan, a writer for EMBO Reports. In this article, Chan discusses how humans are constantly reinventing themselves, therefore reinventing the overall definition of humanity, as well as the ethics of enhancing humans as a species. The opening to this paper is very interesting, and I would like to share it, because it applies to the monster’s being very nicely. Chan states: “Humanity is constantly reinventing itself. From the earliest days of our species, when one of our ancestors picked up a burning stick and kindled it into a fire, to the present day, when we search for the ‘God particle’ and clone sheep, cats, dogs and more, humans have been altering their environment and shaping the world around them. The history of our species is a stream of discoveries—major and minor—which have allowed us to progress and direct, to some extent, the course of our evolution.” (Chan, Humanity 2.0)
With this quote in mind, we can look at Victor’s decision to create the monster, as well as the monster’s essence as a human, to give some reinforcement to the idea that the monster is in fact human. To begin, with Chan’s work in mind, lets begin with Victor Frankenstein, and his view of humanity. We know that Victor was a brilliant man with all sorts of ideas, but he had one idea that would reinvent science as we all know it. Throughout the process of his creation, one definitely questions Victor’s ethics, even condemning him for the atrocities that he has done, but was he just trying to reinvent humanity? Initially when I was reading Frankenstein, I automatically labeled Victor as a madman with the gall to defy God. He tested the boundaries and crossed them, forever sealing his fate into the realm of insanity. However after reading this article, I have a different viewpoint. As we know, Victor had no negative intent on creating this monster, his ego just got in the way, treating the monster as his “child”. After realizing what he had done, Victor immediately withdrew is statements of “beautiful” and changed them to “horrific”. So to comment on Victor’s view of humanity, we can see that he wanted to progress and change what the definition of human was, but altering and changing his environment to benefit himself ultimately led to his demise.
Frankenstein’s monster does not directly deal with humanity as much as he does with the overall definition of human. After researching and looking through various texts, an interesting 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.” (citation) Although this is an accurate definition, it does not encompass what a human really is, and what a human experiences throughout life. Human is not something that you can put into an encyclopedia, not something defined in a dictionary. To me, there are two aspects that comprise being human. The first is emotion, and emotions only felt by a human. The second and final aspect is experience. In an abstract way, you can only be human, and know what its is like to be a human, through experience, trials and tribulations. As blatant as that sounds, it is key. My support will make this more evident.
The first 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. Now one can argue that animals, such as primates, are capable of some of these emotions in the real world, but in this story, what the monster feels and attributes to certain situations, can only be attributed to humans.
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 supports the monster’s overall being as a human. The first emotion that I found interesting was ambition, which we can clearly see when the monster wants to master the language of the family. The monster tried so hard and watched for countless hours to master a language that was very foreign to him. It was not an instinct, such as a bird learning to fly. An attribute such as this (a bird learning to fly) is bred into an animal’s DNA, an attribute necessary for survival. This was something out of the ordinary. Although learning to speak the native language was probably the best for the monster’s own good, it was not an instinct or necessity, this was on his own merit. 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 next emotion that I found important in the monster’s journey was empathy. Yes, we see empathy in the animal kingdom, but not the empathy that the monster feels. In the animal kingdom, on rare occasions, we might see animals of the same species, from the same herd, help another if in distress, but this is a very extreme case. In the animal kingdom, we know that it is all about survival of the fittest, as Darwin coined a long time ago. The empathy that the monster shows is something only native to a human. Abstractly speaking, we can consider the monster to be a different species than a human. He is comprised of human structures, but was not born from human parents. When the monster watches the humans perform their daily chores, speak amongst themselves, and even argue and become upset, the monster sympathizes with them. We can even recall one instance in the story where the monster performs chores for the humans at night while they were asleep, because he recognized the struggle and distress that they felt everyday. As the monster states during his retelling of his journey to Victor, we can see his display of empathy. He states on page 121, after he witnesses the son and daughter give their portion of food to the old man: “This trait of kindness moved me sensibly. I had been accustomed, during the night, to steal a part of their store for my own consumption; but when I found that in doing this I inflicted pain on the cottagers, I abstained, and satisfied myself with berries, nuts, and roots, which I gathered from a neighboring wood.” (Shelly, 121) Just as humans will sympathize for a hurt animal or a distressed comrade, the monster showed his empathy for the human family.
Another example that shows his human characteristics is the feeling of imperfection that he feels toward his outward appearance. We can look at a passage on page 124 when he is looking into the water at his own reflection. The monster reflects: “I had admired the perfect forms of my cottagers-their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions: but how was I terrified when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I stared back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification. Alas! I did not yet entirely know the fatal effects of my miserable deformity.” This utter disdain that he has for himself and his appearance shows self-consciousness. 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.
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.” (Shelly 117) 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. Humans are the only species to actually appreciate something that is beautiful.
The next and final aspect of being human is experience. Now as obvious as it seems that you need to experience being human to be human, the monster is a perfect example of how experience shaped his philosophy and his actions that he took. Imagine, composed of human parts, born from a spark, and entering an unknown world. Exploring and experimenting made the monster as human as he is. The emotions mention earlier also shaped him as well to make him human. Experiences such as observing the humans, getting the stones hurled at him, and murdering William gave him the experience to shape him as a human.
All in all, the Frankenstein monster is indeed human. Through the emotions that he felt, and the experiences that he goes through, we can see that he is in fact human. We can sympathize with his struggles, even though he is the monster of the story. His composition may be untraditional, his values unorthodox, but he is, in fact human.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1934. 117. Print.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1934. 121. Print.
Chan, Sarah. "Humanity 2.0." EMBO Reports. (2011): 2. Web. 10 Feb. 2012. .
Wood, Samuel, Ellen Wood, and Denise Boyd. The World of Psychology. 5. Boston: Pearson Education Inc., 2011. 10. Print.

1 comment:

Adam said...

The first paragraph is a bit of a mess - you want a clear argument, which should include some sort of understanding, direct or indirect, of why this argument or discussion matters.

The definition of humanity is interesting, and worth working with. It's not terribly precise, though - if the definition of humanity has something to do with change, how is humanity different from, say, the evolutionary process itself? Or does self-reinvention have to do with the conscious or deliberate recreation of the self?

I have trouble following what you're saying about Victor. Are you arguing that he attempts to reinvent humanity, but fails to do so? That he *does* reinvent humanity, in a good way? I simply don't yet understand what your viewpoint is.

Your transition from one definition of human to another doesn't work very well - you need to do something to show *why* you are switching definition. While I'm not opposed to the idea that one needs to be human to understand what it is, all your readers *are* presumably human - so I'm not sure what you're doing with that idea.

Focusing on "complex" emotions is a plausible way to talk about who or what we are - but it seems like you're piling definition upon definition, rather than simply working with one.

Striving to achieve is unique to humans? Read Franz De Waal's *Chimpanzee Politics*, and see if you can still say that. My point isn't that you need to be some kind of expert in animal psychology in this class - my point is that inevitably when you get into the habit of generalizing freely, which you are, you'll say lots of things which are either deeply problematic or completely wrong. You seem to be relying primarily on your own beliefs about human and animals emotions here - but people have written LOTS about this stuff!

There's nothing "extreme" about ants from the same nest sacrificing themselves for the whole, or indeed, for African wild dogs to do the same. Be careful generalizing where you don't have expertise! There are good, constructive ways to talk about how the monster's empathy is distinctly human, but you can't just make the claim and assume that it's true.

At the risk of sounding like a jerk - do we really know that, say, whales don't have an understanding of beauty? For my part, I have absolutely no clue. It's one thing to admit that you're *probably* right - but it's far from obvious, and I'm not sure why you think it's obvious.

Overall: This essay is deeply incoherent. Your initial interest in defining humanity in terms of change is promising, but you drop it almost as soon as you bring it up. Your subsequent definition from the psych textbook is ok (perhaps less interesting), but again, you drop it.

Then, curiously, everything else is based on your purely intuitive, instinctive description of how human and emotions work - as if there aren't oceans of research on this subject. Where you did interesting (if tentative) research, you abandon your ideas - where you desperately need to do some research, you just go full speed ahead without a single fact, with no grounding of any sort.

there are moments in this long discussion (e.g., on empathy) where you have interesting things to say about the text, but generally you ramble based on intuition, instead of constructing any kind of clear argument.