Thursday, January 16, 2014

Frankenstein and the Human - Week 1 Essay

              As is evident in today’s world, a human being can take many forms, but the core character of humans are collectively shared.  Victor Frankenstein of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein became obsessed with the notion of glory, which ultimately led him to conceive the idea of bringing life to the construction of a human being rather than an animal of less complexity when he realized he could harness the power of animation relative to inanimate objects. (Shelley 49) He set out to erect a man, human in stature, “with all the intricacies of fibers, muscles, and veins,…about eight feet in height, and proportionately large.” (Shelley 48-49) This physicality does not seem typical of the average human because it isn’t, but this doesn’t mean his creation wasn’t human by any means.  There are multiple instances of large stature people of today’s society, including records for world’s tallest man being over eight feet tall.  The point is that there is something more intrinsic to human beings that separate the race from all others.   In the simplest of terms, a human being is an animal.  What separates humans from other similar animals, however, can be understood from an evolutionary standpoint that has taken shape over thousands of years.  The main distinguishing attribute a human being possesses derives from the organization of the brain, and the connections that are formed along with it regardless of any physical characteristics of appearance.  A human being has a complex form of intellect with the ability to reason along with a defined way to communicate it.  Over the course of a lifetime, the brain undergoes tremendous developmental changes that become evident during the growth of a human.  It is true that the learning of certain practices are similar in all animals such in learning from others by example or instruction, but it is the level of at which a human operates that can still distinguish the two.  It is within this context that humans have made extraordinary strides in development, not only individually, but as a whole society of interconnected beings.  Animals possess curiosity, primal instincts, and forms of determinism, but when taken further by the ever expanding thirst for knowledge of humans as a race, events beyond the scope of previous generations’ imaginations continually occur.  It is this essential quality Victor Frankenstein set out to capture when he attempted to bring to life a man similar to himself.  Based off this he succeeded.   
            From the very beginning of the creature’s formation, Victor saw nothing of him other than a horrid monster even from his creation’s first attempted speech which was a combination of inarticulate sounds he muttered that left the doctor uncertain if he even heard him speak.  (Shelley 54)  When later telling his story to the doctor, the creation himself even said that the sounds that came from his mouth when trying to recreate the sweet songs of birds he heard scared him back into silence.  (Shelley 112) Over the course of the creation’s story, however, there are multiple instances of growth and development in a humanly manner.  The creation comes to recognize fatigue and hunger of which he learns to satisfy by eating and resting, and even before leaving the apartment of the doctor after his first moments of life, he recognizes the cold and grabs clothes before leaving into the weather.  (Shelley 111) He starts to further display his intelligence when talking about distinguishing his sensations from one another while also trying to sort the ideas in his mind separate from one confusing mess. (Shelley 111) Just as that of a growing child in human development, he becomes able to distinguish objects from one another such as an insect from and herb then one herb from another.  (Shelley 112)  He discovers pain after finding a fire and figuring out how it works with the embers leading him to an understanding of how to keep it going with dry wood once his wet pile dries out and catches fire.  (Shelley 112) A lot of these early things are signs that the creation’s intellect is ready and able, as long as he explores and discovers new things, just as the human race has for centuries.  His display of instinct and curiosity is equally as important as his ability to commit to memory the things he observes and comes to understand.  When he discovers that his nesting place in the forest is scarce of food he vacates for another home, similar to the early hunters and gatherers.  (Shelley 113) From these basal determinations sprout the heartiest evidence of the creation’s human nature.  In his settling after the forest, he repairs an older shack with rocks and objects to over the cracks in the wood, shielding himself from the elements, another instance of his intellect for survival and ability to make further connections about what he has seen and previously done.  When observing the family of cottagers, as he calls them, he speaks of sensations of overpowering nature, of love, and of tears and feelings drawn out of him from the sweet melodies of the music the inhabitants play.  (Shelley 117)  The creation’s strong emotional complex and feelings of empathy only grow with the discontent he observes in Felix, and the compassion he shows in finding his own food and doing some of the chores at night when he discovers the family to be poor.  (Shelley 121)  He is intelligent enough to recognize these sensations and grow to comprehend what they mean.  In his days of observing the family, he learns to understand the complex relations of family and friends then yearns to learn their language in order to be able to communicate with them to have friends of his own.  In this, he shows human drive for knowledge and development for the betterment of himself, but also for other fellow humans when able to help and share his ability for relationships.  (Shelley 119)
In all of his empathetic response to the family, acquirement of knowledge of language including writing, basic skills of survival and sustenance, and outright desire to expand what he knows and thinks of the world around him, Victor’s creation prominently displays aspects completely of human capacity.  The intellect he shows is of continual growth to the point of comprehending his feeling of depression when contemplating himself as a monster or human after seeing his own reflection in the water, and in self-investigating the deepest questions of life, asking himself, “What was I?” (Shelley 133)  As a human, Victor’s creation is conscious about his rational intellect, understanding the cessation of his sensations comes only with death, which he fears.  (Shelley 132)  Historically, apparent humans have shown that they can be monsters, and now an apparent monster has shown that he is human.   


Jessica Craig said...


I like that you begin your argument pointing out that humans are animals and then proceed through an evolutionary biology perspective to explain the differences between humans and animals. You point out many instances in the text where Frankenstein’s monster embodies growth, development, and progression. I think that using direct quotes from the text might help strengthen your argument. You briefly mention that the monster’s development parallels the development that humans have undergone over a long time period. I saw the monster’s development as an exact parallel, he discovers fire, agriculture, language, etc in the same way early humans did. Perhaps make this parallel even more explicit; include historical dates of when humans did these same things. Additionally, I would suggest elaborating more on the monster’s altruism. Developments such as making shelter, finding food, and learning to communicate are arguably things that animals, such as birds, do. Rarely, however, do animals engage in altruistic behavior where they receive no benefit. I saw the monster’s altruism as a major argument for his being human. Finally, I think you could strengthen your argument by focusing only on the human characteristics of the monster. For example at the conclusion of paragraph one you point out the imagination is unique to the human race but exemplify imagination using Victor rather than the monster. Are there instances where the monster has imagination? Does the monster’s lack of imagination make him less-human?

Adam said...

You continually shift ground through the first paragraph. Does physical form define us? Does ambition? Does the desire for knowledge? Does the nature of our intellectual development define us? I think the claim that the thirst for knowledge is *the* human characteristic is quite ambitious. If you had gotten to it more quickly, maybe you could have defended it a little bit. For instance, does mean that less curious/ambitious/intelligent people are somehow less human than those who are more curious/ambitious/intelligent? I'm not saying that kind of problem can't be solved - I'm just saying that the equation "thirst for knowledge == humanity" needs some further unpacking.

Your discussion of the monster's development lacks in focus. "In this, he shows human drive for knowledge and development for the betterment of himself, but also for other fellow humans when able to help and share his ability for relationships". You seem to be collapsing intellect and instinct together, along with collapsing the will to survive with the will to know/understand (or are you arguing that they are one?).

It's hard to figure out amidst all this shifting and combining of categories what you *really* consider to be fundamental. If you are interested in the idea that curiosity or ambition is *the* fundamentally human characteristic, I think you can make it work, but you would need to be much more focused and selective.

Your closing sentence is very clever, but doesn't have much to do with the rest of the essay - which again shows that you're struggling to have a real focus.

I also think that Jessica is pushing you in very positive direction. I'm not repeating her, but that doesn't mean that she isn't right.