Friday, March 28, 2014

Revision Two: Human Character of Monster

            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 when he realized he could harness and infuse the power of animation 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 is something more intrinsic to human beings that separate the race from all other forms.   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.  Humans are capable of a significant growing development of complexity physiologically that far surpasses the basal biological instinct that is innate in all animals.  The development from evolution can be qualified on two different levels that are ultimately dependent on each other.  The first evolutionary level, which is a pathway to the more complicated second, is on a larger, more societal scale.  This has been seen over time with civilizations of man embodied in things like the discovery of fire, the idea of migration and settling new lands, and further advents of new ways to obtain resources.  The second evolutionary level is on an individual scale.  Though individuals don’t actually evolve (populations do), it is easier to quantify it in this terminology.  The individual evolution pertains to the maturation of cognition, which leads to distinct human capabilities of intricate language for communication, and allows such things as altruism and empathy.  Victor Frankenstein’s creature shows both the general and specific gravitation towards becoming a more complex being of human nature in these ways.  Thus, the creature develops as a human would throughout time in the story. 
            Animals merely adapt to conditions.  Man has continually proven able to discover and invent new things that made life better or easier.  Researchers have discovered that humans could likely have had use of controlled fire up to 1 million years ago (Choi).  Hunters and gatherers were extremely prominent for hundreds of thousands of years, but the advent of agriculture made it possible for tendencies to shift (HistoryWorld).  More prominently, “humans adjust to their environment by acting on it and changing it.” (Kolstad)  Collectively, humans have changed their environment,...humans raise animals, cultivate fields, construct houses, etc.  The application of external forces to the environment for the benefit of man’s living is extremely noteworthy.  Additionally, populations grew enough to gather resources on a larger scale, then be able to mobilize to different areas due to varying conditions that were created by those people or external forces, such as weather.  “In response to climate change and the availability of food, those early hominids migrated across Africa into Asia, Europe, the Australian subcontinent and, eventually, the Americas.” (Kolstad) These basal ideas represent the first level of human evolutionary development Victor’s being demonstrates.
            Frankenstein’s creature demonstrates a similar recognition and discovery ability that parallels early humans as discussed above.  Even shortly after his incarnation, he recognizes the cold and grabs clothes to wrap himself in before leaving Victor’s apartment to brave the weather.  (Shelley 111) When traveling through the forests shortly thereafter, the creation came across fire left by some previous wanderers, and became enticed by the warmth it provided.  Though he does not create it himself, he discovers how the fire works with the production of embers, and understands, not only the importance of keeping the wood burning, but how to keep it going with dry wood once his wet pile dries out and catches fire.  (Shelley 112) Had he have discovered this later in his development (more than a matter of days), it can be argued that he would have better articulated how to recreate this phenomenon.  After wandering through the forests, continually searching for anything to take root with, the creation comes to recognize fatigue and hunger.  He learns to satisfy his internal needs by resting out of the sun comfortably by the side of a brook, where he satisfies his thirst, then hunger after gathering berries from a nearby tree.  (Shelley 111)  Also in similar fashion to the early human populations, when the being discovers that his nesting place in the forest is scarce of food he vacates for another home.  (Shelley 113)  After being expelled from multiple cottages and huts by the overly terrified inhabitants in his further journey when seeking refuge from the elements, Frankenstein’s creation finds a small hovel attached to a cottage nearby.  Not only does he recognize the need for shelter, but he goes through minor altercations to his new abode to make it more inhabitable for himself, while also less exposed to the elements and adjoined cottage.  “I covered every crevice by which I might be perceived with stones and wood…, and carpeted it with clean straw.” (Shelley 115)  The desire for and the ability to adapt to novel conditions is due, in part, to the structure of the human brain. (Kagan)
            Cognition is defined as conscious mental activities: the activities of thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering (Merriam-Webster). “Experience and activity change the brain and establish new connections between neurons.  Due to its plasticity, the brain develops and increases its capacity.” (Kolstad) This development occurs over time, and becomes increasingly complex with age and exposure.  Not only is the functioning of the brain something innate, but humans can create their higher psychological ways of thinking, feeling, remembering, their sensation, perception, and communication.  (Kolstad) It is well known that the mother is usually the primary care-giver, and from this connection, a baby would learn a lot with emotional connections prior to ever being able to annunciate properly.  However, a very large part of learning and the expansion of the brain comes from observation.  Early on in life, children chose their social frameworks they deem appropriate, and it is through this interaction and relationships that children learn to differentiate a variety of things, but also develop at a phenomenal rate. (Tonnesvang) It is known that young children seek this social human experience personally.  From the wide variety direct and indirect exposure, the development of language expands.  “No other species has a language like the human language.  Vocal reactions in animals are not connected with intellectual reactions, i.e., with thinking.  It is far removed from intentional, conscious attempts to inform or influence others.” (Kolstad)  In this, communication via the human language demonstrates understanding.  People use language not only to communicate with others, but to question and express themselves.  Through this complexity of self-identity and interaction, humans can exhibit things that most other animals don’t: a consciousness of feeling or altruism.  “An acute consciousness of one’s feelings, intentions, and properties is a unique quality to Homo sapiens. A special area of the prefrontal cortex that receives sensory information represents one of the material bases for this form of consciousness, which we might call sensory awareness.” (Kagan) The development of the consciousness is hard to pinpoint on the timeline in life, but there is always a point where a person becomes aware of the little voice in his head.  This allows for thought, which can transcend language and emotion as a result of the developmental progresses previously discussed.  These higher ideas represent the second, more complex, level of evolutionary development Victor’s being presents.
            In addition to the mirroring of the development of man through the course of time, Frankenstein’s creation clearly demonstrates a level of cognition development during the unfolding of the novel, leading him to develop language capabilities with higher brain functioning and self-awareness.  Like a baby goo-ing and babbling in response to different stimuli, the being’s first attempt at speech which was nothing more than a combination of inarticulate sounds he muttered that left Victor uncertain if he even heard him speak (Shelley 54).  Later in the book, the creation himself admits the sounds that came from his mouth scared him back into silence when trying to recreate the sweet songs of birds (Shelley 112).  This is an anticipated event for a creature so young in life, but it did not remain this way.  A large portion of the book is actually from the mouth of the creation, himself telling the story of his existence to Victor.  The stammering screeches are transformed with eloquence, displayed when he comes into contact with Victor for the first time after his creation, “Be calm! I entreat you to hear me, before you give bent to your hatred on my devoted head…” (Shelley 106)  The creature learned language from exposure and observation, starting with picking up simple words, “fire, milk, bread, and wood,…and I learned the names of the cottagers themselves.” (Shelley 122) He progressed with these types of words only by way of observation, until the arrival of the Arabian girl to the house.  From this point on, the creature was able to learn language more in depth as the cottagers taught her (Shelley 129).  The rate at which he develops this level of communication is at an incredible rate, similar to the massive amounts of development that occur within the first couple years of human life.  Just as that of a growing child starting to use motor function in connection with cognition, he becomes able to distinguish objects from one another such as an insect from an herb then one herb from another (Shelley 112).  His brain transforms from a ball of ideas confused in an inseparable mess to being able to keeps things as distinct entities in his mind (Shelley 111).  (Note, the development from brain to mind).  From these basal determinations sprout the heartiest evidence of the creation’s human nature.  When observing the family of cottagers, the De Lacey family, he learns the complex relationships of the family and 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 surrounding the Arabian girl.  With the growing compassion for the family, he displays altruism: finding his own food each night because he understood the family to be poor, and then doing some of the chores at night, like gathering of firewood and creating paths when he observes the hard work the children perform due to the blindness of their caretaker.  (Shelley 121) It is a stark contrast to his original obliviousness of situation, thinking about himself, in taking vegetables from the family garden, of which isn’t of high fertility to begin with.  In observing this family through his development, they act as the primary emotional connection in his life, as a mother would to her young children.  The being is able to comprehend and verbalize what it means to him, a unification of cognition and speech similar to a more fruitful development of human tendencies.  It grows more, and the mature being of human nature speaks of life, and what he wants from it, “Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.” (Shelley 107) His attempt then is to extinguish this anguish in asking Victor to create a companion for himself, so he must not live alone.  This importantly demonstrates his yearning for social interaction of his own, which to that point had always been consumed with human horror of his stature. (Shelley 162).  The number of human activities under biological control is greatly reduced in comparison with (other) animals, giving way to conscious behavior (Kolstad).
            Victor’s being is intrinsically human.  He displays human character on the large scale of man’s evolution through time, mirroring different over reaching advancements in drawing bigger conclusions.  He exhibits human virtues on a more intricate scale of cognitive development and a higher awareness of mind.  His presentation and development are concluded in this, “What was I?” of which there was no immediate answer (and some adult humans never come to understand what they are or who they are).  The definitive human knowledge in response to his life questions: “but I learned that there was but one means to overcome the sensation of pain, and that was death – a state which I feared yet did not understand.” (Shelley 132)

Works Cited:

Choi, Charles. "Humans Used Fire 1 Million Years Ago."Discovery News: Archeology.
            Discovery, 02 Apr 2012. Web. 28 Mar 2014.
"HistoryWorld." Hunters-Gatherers to Farmers. N.p.. Web. 28 Mar 2014.
Kagan, Jerome. (2004). The Uniquely Human in Human Nature.  Source: Daedalus, Vol. 133
            No. 4, On Human Nature. Retrieved from
Kolstad, A. (2013). Human psychological characteristics versus animal characteristics.
            Psychology, 4(5), 488-493. Retrieved from
"Merriam-Webster." . Merriam-Webster Inc., n.d. Web. 28 Mar 2014. <http://www.merriam-
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Lynd Ward. Frankenstein: The Lynd Ward Illustrated
            Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.

1 comment:

Adam said...

The intro actually says some interesting things, but it's overly longwinded and complex. It could have been, say, 4 sentences long.

Animals, of course, shape their environments too (the extreme examples, like beavers, are obvious; ants are another good one). That doesn't mean that your argument is exactly wrong, but I do feel like you are focusing on things which are mostly/ambivalently characteristic of humans vs. other animals.

One way I think this could have been clarified a little (as well as leading into a more precise and compelling argument) is to think more historically. In other words, how does this part of the novel relate to how human vs. animal development was seen in Shelley's own time? That would require some serious researching and thinking, but could also be rewarding (and it works - Shelley is quite interested in the ideas of human development current in her time).

While your approach on the topic of cognition is similar, I think it works better. I still have the fundamental criticism that you are writing about contemporary ideas about cognition vs. Shelley, without ever trying to get involved with ideas about cognition which existed in her time. For my part, what I find *really* interesting here is that her ideas about cognition seem to map very well to our much more scientific (or are they?) ideas about cognition and how it develops. You do a good job going through many of the relevant details - I especially appreciated your discussion of altruism.

Overall: The evolution part was much weaker than the cognition part, and they really don't fit all that well. It would have worked better if you'd just focused on cognitive development, especially since you then would have had the space to ask the really interesting questions. Why are Shelley's ideas so close to our own? What does that continuity mean? Is she trying to make an argument about the nature of human life, based on the monster's cognitive development? So we have an ok part connected to a good part, and an argument that doesn't do all that it could, because it connects the good to the ok rather than pushing the good part farther.