Thursday, January 16, 2014

Week 1 - Frankenstein and the Human

            The definition of human is “of, pertaining to, having the attributes of, a being belonging to the species of the Homo sapiens,” while another states that humans may also be considered “social animals capable of showing sympathy with other beings, and living life with (inherent) values and ethics.” Although there are clear, undeniable textbook definitions of the word human, there is still some ambiguity that exists due to individual believe ─ whether religious, scientific, or philosophically based. One can only begin to formulate an opinion on their own, unique interpretation of the word once they have found the definition which most represents their beliefs; and the above mentioned happens to be mine. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein there is a complex, yet intriguing question: Can the “monster” be considered human? In fact, this question can be answered because even though he is referred to and seen as a monster, he embodies the aforementioned definition by displaying several humanistic features, clearly displaying the ability to comprehend or be reasoned with, and being able to express emotions explicitly.
            By taking a biological perspective momentarily and connecting it to the initial definitions will offer some insight into how the monster is human. Let’s simply start by addressing the idea that we evolved millions of years ago as a species from apes to become Homo sapiens. Like our ancestors, we are bipedal. We know the monster is one that walks and runs on two feet. Besides that, the physical features which typically denote someone being a person consists of two arms, two legs, a face, two eyes, a nose, and a mouth (barring any birth defect or accidents). Maybe even most importantly is the function of a coherently thinking brain. At no point in the reading was it told that Frankenstein’s creation lacked any of those qualities. Victor himself demonstrates his intention to specifically create a man when he says, “It was with these feelings that I began the creation of a human being” (Shelley 49). It was to be composed of the same veins, muscles, and intricacies any man has (Shelley 48). Shortly after he begins the planning phases of his experiment by scavenging the graveyards for bones and other “materials.” The creature is composed of many intricate bones and joints just like any other human is. Clearly, the monster is of exact anatomical similarity to a male human being, besides the gigantic stature (which is inconsistently seen even today). This support, plus the sheer physical characteristics described in the book allows this claim to hold truth.
            When Victor ascends to the top of Montanvert he specifically sees the outline of a man far away. Of course this turns out to be the monster swiftly approaching. When he meets him it is with violent, scornful words, but to his dismay the monster wants to reason and pleads for his story to be heard. A logical human being, unlike any other animal or creature in nature, is the only thing capable of having rationale. He is now beginning to show the ability to reason sensibly through the use of speech. This conversation where he displays such reasoning and emotion is evident when the monster says “Be calm! I entreat you to hear me, before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head. Have I not suffered enough that you seek to increase my misery (Shelley 106)? With even the most basic understanding of this grotesque creation anyone can see the existence of human nature engrained deeply in him. His counterargument yearns for sympathy, but more importantly for survival. This is even more displayed once he explains his tale to Victor. Being forced to adapt in the wilderness, the monster sets out and discovers what it is like to be cold, hungry, and become self-sufficient to live. The progression of this monster being presented to all new stimuli, to developing into a logical, independent human being is shown when he expresses, “One day, when I was oppressed by cold, I found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it” (Shelley 112). Once again, this reiterates his humanistic ability to survive and adapt through conscious and logical comprehension of how the world works.
            Nothing is more enchantingly complex than human emotions. Some may argue that the power of emotion or lack of it is the epitome of the human nature, and determines how we choose to act throughout our daily environment. Frankenstein’s monster is no different. He is an emotionally fragile character begging to be accepted by his counterparts. As he encounters the forest and then the cottagers, he describes the sound of birds as “pleasant” and the sound of the instrument playing as “lovely.” There is something quite profound, but beautiful about this ghoulish man as he interprets the world. As he spies on the cottagers, he is overwhelmed with a great amount of emotion when he views the girl shed tears at the sound of the old man’s instrument playing (Shelley 117). Maybe even more surprising is the monster yearning for companionship in the cottagers that he watches daily. This emotion derives from the gratification of security when we have companionship. This is one of the strongest points as to why he is human. Also, the monster has an understanding of compassion for the cottagers because he not only brings them firewood every morning to help with their struggles, but also realizes the impact he has on the family when he takes food for himself. Shelley conveys the monsters understanding of his wrongdoings when she writes “I had been accustomed, during the night, to steal a part of their store for my own consumption; but when I found that in doing this inflicted pain on the cottagers, I abstained, and satisfied myself with berries, nuts, and roots…” (121). The creature is very capable of acknowledging rudimentary emotion and adapting from it.
            It is human nature to fear the unusual and unknown; the monster is no different in this case. However you choose to define human, it cannot go without understanding that only humans are of a specific physiology and anatomy. We all amount to flesh and blood, just like Victor’s creation was. We have the ability to reason logically like the monster did with Victor on top of Montanvert and later when he understood the need to gain fire, food, and shelter to survive. And only humans can infer and then react to emotions appropriately which is what he did throughout his storytelling.

Work Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover, 2009. Print.
"Human." - Definition from N.p., 13 Sept. 2010. Web. 14 Jan. 2014. <>.


Becca Garges said...


I like that you include your own definition of what it means to be human, while also recognizing that others may have varying views. Also, your quotes offer good support of your point. However, sometimes your sentences are a little long and difficult to follow. Perhaps if you intermixed simple and complex sentences it would make your writing flow a little better. One of my favorite parts of your essay was when you discussed human emotions. Maybe you could explore the complexity of human emotions a bit more - research studies on human emotions and connect it to the text. Another way you could revise, would be to explore the multiple views of what it means to be a human and see if they all recognize the monster as a human being.


Adam said...

I'm actually not sure at the end of the introduction what your preferred definition of humanity is, or why you prefer it, which seems like a problem.

What does the 2nd paragraph accomplish? I think you're arguing that physically the monster resembles a human - but then so does a gorilla, for instance. Does the monster resemble a human *enough*? To put it another way - I think you're making out the question/problem to be a little easier than it is.

Re: the 3rd paragraph. Certainly this is human-like language and human-like logic. Think about your last sentence with me: "Once again, this reiterates his humanistic ability to survive and adapt through conscious and logical comprehension of how the world works." I need to point out that an "ordinary" human could not, in fact, survive as the monster does, living on a glacier, nor could one of "us" speak or survive in this way at the age of two. Now maybe you want to argue that just because he does things that we can't doesn't mean that he's human - that humanity is defined by certain minimal characteristics, maybe. But if you want do do that, do it, rather than just ignoring the hard stuff.

Your initial discussion of emotion is fine, although I do wonder whether anything you've touched on genuinely exceeds what other highly social animals (say, Chimpanzees, Wolves, African Painted Dogs, etc.) are capable of. The real problem, though, is that you do an incomplete discussion of language and logic paired with an incomplete discussion of emotion, rather than doing either one in depth.

The conclusion makes an interesting shift to an discussion of inference - focusing on inference as *the* human characteristic would be one bold way of uniting the threads of this draft in a future revision.