Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Prompt 3: Frankenstein and the Human - Caleb Radomile

The "Monster"?

One of the first lessons in any biology class is what makes a living thing, a living thing? There are the five main characteristics that allow us to classify that a bird is living but that rock on the side of the road is not. They are easy to follow for most cases of defining what is alive and what is not. A living thing has cells, is able to reproduce, obtain and use energy, grow and develop, and respond to the environment around them. These descriptions work from even the smallest cells to the most complex organisms know to mankind, ourselves.
It goes without being said that humans are living things, but let’s take a look at Frankenstein’s monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein creates his creature out of different body parts with all of the organs it needs to survive. He animates it and runs off out of fear of the monster he has just put into the world. By today’s five characteristics, the monster is very much a living thing. He is made up of (reanimated) cells, Frankenstein assumingly gave him everything he needed to be anatomically correct so it most likely can reproduce, the monster eats and uses that energy to chop wood for the cottage (Shelley 123), he is able to develop his brain to begin learning language and writing (Shelley 125), and he responds to his environment as he seeks fire for warmth (Shelley 112). Humans are living, and the monster is living and made up of human parts, but does this make the monster a human?
            The defining characteristic that sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is our brains. We have conscious thought, are able to effectively use tools and logic, be compassionate, have morals, and have the ability to develop a highly complex society etc. The monster has shown in the first half of the story that he is capable of human-like processes, especially while watching the cottage. He comes to care about the people who live there and can sense the emotions of their faces. For example, he sees how Felix’s persona changes from melancholy to delight once Safie arrives (Shelley 128). He is able to use tools effectively, as he uses an axe to chop wood for the cottage (Shelley 123). The monster has even developed his own moral compass, as he is assumed to have taken revenge on Victor for leaving him to be miserable by killing William and indirectly Justine. Frankenstein used a human brain while making his monster so it can be deduced that he is able to have a high level of thought and emotion as only a human can have. Psychologically, the monster is a human.
            The monster’s physical features, however, set him apart from the average human. He has increased strength and dexterity, is said to look like a giant, is made up of different body parts from deceased people, is grotesquely disfigured, and had to be brought to life through machinery. Is it possible for a human to possess these qualities? Not in Frankenstein’s time, but in today’s world, absolutely. Humans have the ability to artificially increase their strength and speed using steroids; are they still human? The book describes the monster as eight feet tall, while some people have naturally grew to over that height; are they still human? When faced with disease or death, humans take organs and body parts from the already deceased through transplants; are they still human? Fires, explosions, and corrosive acids have disfigured humans to the point of no recognition; are they still human? Humans are pulled back from death daily through CPR and AED’s; are they still human? The definitive answer to all these questions is yes. Even though someone does something to their body, does not make them any less human. It’s what is underneath the surface that really matters.
             Frankenstein’s monster is a living thing. It thinks like a human and, although different than most, shares characteristics of unique people that we still classify as human. The overwhelming evidence points to the monster being a human. The first impression we have of the monster is through Frankenstein’s fearful eyes. Frankenstein attaches a stigma to the monster from his immediate animation that he isn’t anything like a human with “yellow skin”, “grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel”, and muttering “inarticulate sounds.” (Shelley 54) If the monster were to stop being classified as a “monster” it is easier to realize that he is just a human being who has been brought back to life.


Carl Santavicca said...

Caleb, good start on a topic that that can be in so many directions, psychologically, socially, philosophically, or biologically. I like that you chose the biological aspect of what it means to be human and for the most part stuck with it through the entire essay; as opposed to being general and trying to cover more than one topic. You make very good points in your paragraph relating the monster to todays technology, but I don't think that topic was given any weight in your introduction. Having completed the book now you could definitely elaborate on the monsters desire to have a mate and Victor's fear of having a race of monsters as confirmation of your original idea that he is anatomically correct and able to reproduce, if you choose to do a revision of this particular work. Also, possibly citing some biology texts and elaborating on what having a highly functioning brain means to being biologically classified as being human. Overall it is a good start to what can be a very difficult and extremely diverse topic.

Carl Santavicca said...

Oops, sorry. I meant on a topic that can be taken in so many directions

Adam said...

I'm not sure that spending two paragraphs arguing that the monster is alive is a good use of resources. Would anyone question that? I think you're proving what is already obvious here.

Curiously, given your careful definition of life, you're a little sloppy defining humanity. "We have conscious thought, are able to effectively use tools and logic, be compassionate, have morals, and have the ability to develop a highly complex society etc." I would argue (and I'm hardly alone) that the great apes, for instance, do all of these things (one recommended book: de Waal's *Chimpanzee Politics*). Crows and parrots do some of them. Dogs (wolves, African painted dogs, etc) do some of them. *Ants* have highly complex socities. You were careful and precise where you didn't need to be, but didn't worry about the details precisely where they matter.

None of that makes you wrong, exactly. But it does mean that you're defining humanity loosely/sloppily, then trying to make that definition binding. While you make reasonable use of the text, and that helps, the definition itself isn't terribly effective.

In the next paragraph, you move to the contemporary importance of the question of how much physical difference we can have and still have a human being (what about mental difference? The monster is very mentally different). This is good, but very general - it might have worked better as more of an introduction. You want to minimize generalizations and background, and focus more on details of the text.

Overall: Some reasonable ideas, which are mostly lost in a long and pointless introduction which is a distraction from the difficulties of what should be your main argument.