Thursday, January 16, 2014

Monster or Man: Week 1 Essay

        All human babies are immediately characterized as humans. These small humans were works of effort by multiple people, and usually required near a year of effort (if not more) to bring into fruition. The end result is a new life, ready to take its place as part of humanity. It is from this vantage that it is appropriate to evaluate the humanity of another such being: Frankenstein’s Monster. Does the monster, a creation of another human, deserve to be a human? By defining the human as “of, relating, to or characteristic of humans, having human form or attributes, and susceptible to or representative of the sympathies and frailties of human nature” (Human), Frankenstein’s monster does indeed deserve to be human.

        The first aspect most commonly attributed to humanity is concerns one’s physical form. Anthropologically, humans can be separated from other animals due to a very specific body type that has been tracked through the fossil record, and through modern measurements. The human form corresponds to specific ratios in muscle and bone sizes, and specific shapes in the head. According to Frankenstein, all attempts at maintaining human proportionality (Shelley 53) in his monster were made, and the figure was close to beautiful. The creature shared common skin tones and hair colors as contemporary Europeans (light skin, dark hair, as well as a strong set of teeth). The biggest critique of the being may well be his height. The average height for males in Northern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries was about 167.5 centimeters (roughly 5.5 feet) (Steckel). Frankenstein created his monster to be a height approaching 8 feet (Shelley 49). The monster would have near three feet over the common man, an equivalent height difference between an elementary school student and an adult male today. The monster’s face was no work of art, but that alone cannot exclude one from being human. Even with the monster’s height and facial attractiveness, it does not preclude him from a physical standpoint of being defined as a human.

        Frankenstein’s monster also matches up positively in comparison to humanity in terms of language development and mastery. A characteristic of humanity is its need to use language, in so far that it a required part of normal development (Feist). Humans learn language by copying of others, by watching, and by practicing. The stages of language development include pre-speech (small vowel and consonant sounds), single-word speech, and later, full comprehension. The monster went through these stages, from inarticulate sounds (Shelley 54) and full comprehension later (Shelley 130). By watching, and imitating, the monster was able to master a quality only humans possess: communication. By the time the monster meets with Frankenstein, the monster’s language skills are on par with those of the creator, even allowing him to reason and win an argument against the very learned Frankenstein (Shelley 109). The monster was able to master a characteristic that only humans can claim, in a manner similar to the methods of every human child.

        The emotional state of the monster must also be taken into account. This is the most subjective, but also the most telling. At the onset of his life, the monster is decidedly child-like. The monster’s descriptions of his first days are simple, seeking only the necessities to live, while showing a child-like curiosity to all things. The way the monster treated the fire was especially child-like. He views it as a magical concept, and plays with it, by testing it with different types of wood (Shelley 112). Later, the monster’s response to being ostracized by the villagers (Shelley 115) was fear and confusion. Overcoming that, the monster remains hidden, and begins some strange behavior: the monster acts altruistically. After finding his safe cottage, the monster continues to life there in safety, and proceeds to do some daily early morning chores for the family living next door, with no extrinsic reward (Shelley 121). When he understood that stealing was wrong, he stopped taking from the family, and found his own food. The monster acts not in his greatest self-interest, but in that of the family’s, a group of people unaware of his existence. The monster had nothing to gain by helping, and yet continued to do so. This behavior is especially human-like, as it establishes that the monster is emotionally aware. Finally, the monster’s final actions indicate extreme emotional maturity. When he accosts Frankenstein, it is not just for food, or for survival, but for a simple meeting (Shelley 109). His treatment of Frankenstein may qualify for blackmail, and his murder of Benjamin is inexcusable, but fact that the monster understands the extremes of his actions indicates that he is indeed human. Emotionally, the monster has established that he feels just as much as Frankenstein does.

        One final note is the establishment of culture. The establishment of a culture within a group of humans is a large distinguishing factor between animals and human groups (What is Culture). It is the cultural mores that help humans describe what is and what is not appropriate behavior, defines language, and in general, defines life. The fact that Frankenstein’s monster comprehends this, and knows his place in and outside of culture indicates that he is human. The monster knows his appearance separates him as different (Shelley 108). Even more, the monster understands rules of trials and courts, including the right of the accused to speak in their own defense in a court of law (Shelley 108). And finally, he has established that he understands cultural constructs, specifically a servant’s duty to his master, and the master’s owed responsibility of the servant (Shelley 107). He even uses established religious allusions (Adam and fallen angels) to great effect (Shelley 107). The monster is fully aware of, and has taken part in, human culture, an act impossible for lesser animals to replicate.

        Frankenstein’s monster may never win any beauty contests, and may tower over the tallest people today, but his shape, his mastery of language, his emotional growth, and his comprehension and participation in human culture all indicate that he is human. By defining human as “of, relating, to or characteristic of humans, having human form or attributes, and susceptible to or representative of the sympathies and frailties of human nature”, Frankenstein is one of us. So far, the monster’s actions have been reprehensible, but his personal growth indicates, without a doubt, that he is every bit of human as his creator.

Works Cited

Feist, Gregory J., and Erika L. Rosenberg. Psychology: Perspectives & Connections. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2012. Print.
"Human." Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Lynd Ward. Frankenstein: The Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.
Steckel, Richard H. "New Light on the "Dark Ages"" Social Science History 28.2 (2004): 211-29. Print.
"What Is Culture?" The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA). The University of Minnesota, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.


Kurt Wichman said...

In all I think your essay was very well constructed, shaped, and well supported. Your multiple citations helped support your claims and make direct connections to the book. Having written from the same prompt, I found myself shaking my head in agreement almost every other sentence. My only concerns come with some minor parts. There are a few points at which it seems you lose your overall 'flow' of your writing; the sentence structure becomes awkward and almost difficult to read. This happened a maximum of three or four times throughout the entire piece of writing.
My only main problem can be found in the second to last sentence when you directly refer to the monster as Frankenstein. Contrary to popular belief, the monster's name is not Frankenstein having only been created by Victor Frankenstein. Since you made minimal references to Victor, I can only assume you meant "the monster" is one of us.
Other than those two minor details, I thoroughly enjoyed your argument. It is clearly stated and sufficiently supported with a couple of outside sources as well.

Adam said...

I'm not crazy about your definition. "of, relating, to or characteristic of humans, having human form or attributes, and susceptible to or representative of the sympathies and frailties of human nature” leads us into circularity - defining what a human *is* by what has human *characteristics*, without defining what those characteristics *are*. I'm not saying that you can't pull it off - just that it isn't an auspicious beginning.

Your discussion of the human form is ok, although you don't seem to worry about possible difficulties. For instance, as form goes, how different is a normal human vs. the monster vs. a chimpanzee or gorilla?

The discussion of language is good. For my part, I think that material is complex and interesting enough to fuel an entire essay - rather than covering many important aspects of humanity, you might have zeroed in on one, and considered it in its complexity. For instance, you point out (accurately) that the monster goes through the same stages of language learning as ordinary people - but don't pay any attention to how *fast* he goes through them (that is, he speaks like he's received an education at the age of two, in spite of raising himself...)

The discussion of emotion also has potential, but it's too rushed. This is something that requires consideration of details, especially the troubling ones (again, doesn't his age bother you at all?)

Your discussion of culture is interesting. Here's one question: is the fact that he understands culture what you should emphasize, or the fact that all others exclude him from participation in culture something that deserves attention?

Overall: Good research, a good understanding of the text and several interesting areas of discussion are critically marred by the fact that you are trying to do everything at once rather than doing one thing well. Culture *or* emotion *or* language would have been plenty even for a longer essay. You have good insights, but none of them have any depth or sophistication because you try to include so many. Maybe most problematically, you are too busy racing through a bunch of material to ask whether there are any problems or difficulties with your argument (e.g., the monster's exclusion from culture, or his far faster than ordinary rate of advancements.).