Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Frankenstein's Humanity: Blog 1

    To attempt to classify Frankenstein as a creature of humanity, "human" must first be cleared defined. This is, however, easier said than done. defines the adjective of human as "of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or having the nature of people." This seems to be a satisfactory conclusion of what human is, but raises the question of what "the nature of people" means. Google defines the noun of human as "a human being, esp. a person as distinguished from an animal or (in science fiction) an alien." Biologically speaking, humans are not truly that different from any other mammal except for the fact that we are bipedal and have created a fully functioning society for ourselves. So in essence, for any living entity to be human, the entity must have some sort of knowledge of human society and how to operate within society, that is, among other humans. The creature, therefore, is human.
    When Frankenstein’s monster officially comes into existence, he is alone. Victor has left him completely alone. He walks, thinks, and learns to speak like a human. He observes humans in their everyday lives as he watches the cottagers in the woods and he attempts to understand their actions. He compares himself to the cottagers and thinks, “If such lovely creatures were miserable, it was less strange that I, an imperfect and solitary being, should be wretched” (122). Thus, the creature does not see himself as human, but as a “wretched” creature. His own divider that he creates between himself and the rest of humanity restricts his own interaction with the rest of the world. His resultant isolation from society creates abnormalities in his personality.
    Scientifically, of course, the creature is not a human being. He was not conceived or born in any conventional way. Because of the way he was created, he also does not look human. His appearance is terrifying to any who encounter him because he was haphazardly constructed as a science experiment. The creature’s appearance, thus, in many ways, is the reason for his misery. If the creature had the countenance of a normal human being, the humans he comes across in his adventures would be more likely to accept him as a troubled being in need of help, acceptance, and love instead of seeing him as a wretched abomination. In addition, the creature’s rejection of himself arises from his own self-image. He sees himself as wretched and horrible because he compares himself to other humans and sees fault in their differences.
    Most compelling of all the creature’s characteristics is his emotion. He feels emotion as normally as any human being would. His heart is human. He feels pain, anguish, misery, frustration, and rage. His emotions are arguably even deeper than that of the human; his misery darker, his rage more intense. The reason his emotions are so much more intense than that of the normal human is that he is constantly trapped in his own mind. For the majority of his existence, he has no direct contact with humans. The instances during which he does have contact with humans, the humans reject him, deepening the loneliness in which he resides, secluding him back into his own psyche. The intensity of the creature’s emotions do not make him any less human.
    The only evidence to contest the fact that the creature is human lies in his seemingly inhumane actions. When he murders William, the question arises as to whether he has humanity in him, or whether is a completely savage monster simply out to kill. The murder is accidental and causes such a fit of emotions for the monster that it only provides further evidence that he is human. Humans are capable of murder, and that is the most wretched crime that the creature commits throughout the story (thus far). Reading the murder from the creature’s point of view allows the reader to step into the mind of the creature and feel the flood of emotion that he feels. Everything about the murder is human. Additionally, the fact that Shelley includes the creature’s point of view throughout the novel suggests that she wants her audience to see the creature as human. She wants readers to identify with the creature and understand the motivations behind his seemingly rash decisions and actions.
    Although his actions are questionable, his motives are human. His rage and frustration are understandable given his circumstances. The monster wishes to be human, envies the cottagers as lovely humans and deems himself wretched for being a misunderstood creature of deformity. Despite his deformities, monstrous appearance, and savage tendencies, he is more human than most humans.


Adam said...

I have mixed feelings about your definition "So in essence, for any living entity to be human, the entity must have some sort of knowledge of human society and how to operate within society, that is, among other humans." I think that emphasizing the social aspects of humanity in order to definie it is a good approach; I also think that without some refining, you basically have a circular definition. I'd also argue, for instance, that high-functioning dogs, for example, can have a better understanding of human society than people with severe mental impairments. So your definition seems like a problematic starting point to me.

While there is nothing surprising in the next several paragraphs - and while I would like more use of the details of the text - it all basically makes sense. But to my mind there is a glaring problem throughout. Isn't it strange to define humanity in a way that emphasizes thinking about society rather than participating in it? In other words, you're defining the monster as human (almost more than human, in the intensity of his emotions) because he aspires to participating in society, even though he doesn't actually do so.

I'm not saying this approach is wrong - in fact, it's interesting. I'd just like you to do more with the strange part of your definition, since you are emphasizing the will to social, or the understanding of society, over actually being functionally social.

Note that your "inhumane" actions have absolutely nothing to do with your definition. Does that mean that your definition is flawed, or that you're on an unproductive path here?

This is an interesting approach, but it's also short on detail from the text, and I'd like to see you become more self-conscious about how peculiar (not necessarily in a bad way) this approach is.

Jason Wald said...

I think the previous comment sums up a lot of the inherent issues of the actual structure of the argument, so I'll stay away from those. That being said, I find the basic thesis a little lacking, beyond just the cyclical nature of it. In the book, the creature does not see himself as human. Whichever way we define 'human', the creature does not think he falls into that category. He systematically rejects us as a species, just as we have rejected him. This information doesn't become explicitly apparent until after the first half of the book – see pages 162-164 – but it is hinted at while the monster tells his story.

This brings us to an interesting debate though on authorial intent and whether it matters or not. To sum that up briefly, it is relatively clear that although Mary Shelley wrote the creature as a non-human entity, we can argue, using evidence from her own text, that the monster can be human. Does this mean we are wrong? Since the author (and the character itself) doesn't believe you are correct, can we still say that you are? There is a lot of debate over this and it could be an idea worth exploring in a revision.

Also, please don’t think that I disliked your response. The great thing about literature is that often there is no correct answer; it all depends on how you argue it. With a little practice in writing an argument, the idea of defining humanity purely on a social scale could be a great read.