The Humanity of the Creature
Victor Frankenstein fancied himself as a god while he was creating his masterpiece. As his promethean endeavors proceeded, he achieved what none other had done before him: the successful birthing of a patchwork life form, built in his image (albeit with a few modifications) and endowed with what was presumably a previously intact human brain. As the Creature rises from the operating table and assumes direct control of its own cognition, its humanity is in question.
In setting aside the particular biological and phylogenetic intricacies commonly employed by scientists to designate an organism as a member of the ‘human species’, my analysis will consider the term ‘humanity’ as meaning ‘human in person’ opposed to ‘human in a biological terms’. Peter Singer, in his essay discussing the concept of ‘person’ with regards to the human embryo (which shares many similar characteristics with the Creature itself), claims, “If we are considering whether it is wrong to destroy something, surely we must look at its actual characteristics, not just the species to which it belongs” (Singer, 86). Based on this premise, a benevolent and intelligent alien race, for example, should be treated with the respect a human person would garner, regardless of its biological composition. It is not appropriate to abolish an organism’s ‘humanity’ as a function of species, be it human, alien, or reanimation. Instead, it is of more utility to designate that “an organism possess humanity and a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity” (Tooley, 206). Frankenstein’s Creature obviously had a continuing awareness of itself; its desire to exist is exemplified by the statement, “Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it” (Shelly, 107). If something as unaware as a human [species] embryo can be defended based on its potential to become a human person, then it hardly seems inane to assign the Creature the same protection. The Creature is a person now.
It is possible that at this point my argument could attract criticism from those who would consider the Creature’s humanity revoked based on its profound disdain of existence. After the cottagers so beloved by it fled in exile and disgust, the Creature exclaimed “Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed?” (Shelly, 151). If the Creature so horribly hated its life, how could it be interested in the continuation of itself as the sum of its conscious experiences? My answer comes in the form of two of the four noble truths of Buddhism. The first noble truth relates that, to be human [in the sense of ‘person’], is to desire, and to desire is to suffer. The suffering referred to by the first noble truth is not simply the condition of biological pain, but instead it is a more complicated phenomenon defined by the second noble truth: Suffering arises from sensory experiences which provide highly valent feelings, including the craving to have future existence, or conversely, the craving ‘not to have existence’ (Keown, 46-51). It is the lack of fulfillment of these desires that creates the suffering. The Creature experiences both the suffering resultant from the desire for exist, as well as the converse suffering from being “sometimes resolved to quit the world and its miseries forever” (Shelly 161) Due to its immeasurable suffering through these desires, the Creature may very well be more human than any of us.
It is clear that the Creature is a rational self-perceiving entity interested in the continuation of its own conscious experiences, as well as a being suffering by virtue of desire. By my hybrid definition of humanity as personhood, I formally conclude that the Creature was not only human in person, but also that its very humanity resulted in its persecution. The Creature, while initially peaceful, was corrupted by desire. It was the resultant suffering that caused the Creature to commit the murder of William and the framing of Justine. Had the Creature remained uneducated and unaware in the forest, left to subsist off of berries and roots, it may have never experienced the human desires that led to its hatred. The Creature was not deprived of humanity: it was consumed and destroyed by it.
“The Trial” by the band Pink Floyd says it wonderfully “The prisoner who now stands before you, was caught red handed showing feelings. Showing feelings of an almost human nature. This will not do.”
Keown, D. (1996). Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
Pence, G. E. (1997). Classical Works in Medical Ethics (Essays Singer and Tooley). McGraw Hill.
Shelly, M. (2009). Frankenstein: Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Dover Publications.
Pink Floyd, "The Trial"