Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Creature Speaks: Why I Still Teach Frankenstein


“Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous” (Shelley 84).  In the 1800s, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as the answer to a bet made on a stormy night.  She and several companions told ghost stories and dared each other to come up with the scariest.  Out of Shelley’s tormented personal life, the creature and Victor Frankenstein were born. Why does the modern person still read Frankenstein? While Frankenstein and the creature symbolized Shelley’s own personal life, the modern reader finds him/herself mirrored in the classic pages: the creature speaks for humankind.  
The creature never asked to be “born.” Similarly, society’s “minorities” or “others” do not request minority status, with the accompanying loathing and discrimination. Society created these “creatures” by dictating what is normal and acceptable, thereby, making anyone who falls outside those strictures an outsider. When the creator abhors what he/she created, why would his/her creation not also feel loathing? The creation simply imitates his/her creator: “You tell me I am not normal and, therefore, unacceptable? You tell me I cannot be part of your society or enjoy the same privileges? Then why should I care for you or your world? You turn me into a stereotype, an other, a creature—then I will become how you see me.” When love and acceptance are denied, especially when it is actively sought, humans tend to react antagonistically. Love and kindness can cross all boundaries and turn all society’s “monsters” into humans.
However, when parents cannot or will not embrace their children, those children lash out or act our their negative feelings. If my own parent cannot receive me, how can I accept myself or anyone else—or hope to find acceptance with anyone else? Children may then become violent toward others or themselves. We see this behavior with the creature. His “parent” ran away upon first glimpsing his physically ugly “child.” Victor Frankenstein immediately begins wallowing in self-pity and disappointment the creature did not look or behave exactly the way Victor dreamed. While he occasionally blames himself for the creature’s later actions, Victor spends most of the rest of the novel vacillating between martyrdom and intense hatred for his creation. How many times do parents react the same way about their children? Yes, there are certain tools parents can utilize to raise productive, empathetic people, but children are still going to choose their own paths. They’re going to sometimes behave poorly and make poor decisions and act ugly towards others and on and on; however, by treating them as the embodiment of our hopes and dreams instead of individuals, we risk furthering harming and alienating them. Parents turn their creations into creatures by not seeing them as people worthy of love and respect—not for the accolades they can bring their parents, but rather for simply existing.
Frankenstein still resonates with the modern reader because the Creature symbolizes everyone who has been marginalized: Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, homosexuals, women—everyone. If one believes in God, He lovingly created all. Is He the type to simply create something, then throw it away or ignore it? No. Humans push aside the creation based on shallow reasons: skin color, religious differences, and sexual preferences. Those reasons are just as simplistic and ludicrous as society fearing and loathing the Creature because of his hideous appearance. They refused to look past that façade and see the beauty burning within. Humans continue to perpetrate this travesty. Humans refuse to look past the minor differences and find the beauty inherent in most other humans. We may not believe in the same form of God, but that does not negate my belief God loves us all. We may not have the same skin color or speak the same language, but that does not negate God loves us all. You may choose someone of the same gender with which to have a relationship, but that does not negate God loves us all. Humanity’s weaknesses magnify the differences between us. Looking for reasons to discard people becomes much easier than looking for reasons to accept them. God did not tenderly and thoughtfully form humans and throw them away when they became ugly—even though He knew they would become hideous. Instead, He looks past the exterior and sees the heart. As beings created in His image, we should strive to emulate our creator. There, and only there, is where one may find true, lasting beauty.
Every chance I get, I will continue teaching Frankenstein because it can still speak to a modern audience. With public shaming, bullying, and discrimination seemingly on the rise, our society needs to listen to the Creature. He represents every person society pushes to the fringes; he represents every child seen as not good enough by society; he represents every human made to feel ugly and unlovable. As Mary Shelley quotes in her book, “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay/To mould me man?” (Paradise Lost, X, 743-744). The creature did not ask to be molded, but it lay in Victor’s hands to help him on a path to creativity or a path to destruction. Victor chose irresponsibility and hatred, which paved the way to his and the creature’s destruction. As parents, educators, and citizens, we also have that power. If society continues to destroy each other, we can only blame ourselves, not our “creatures.” 

2 comments:

  1. Brilliant! Great commentary on one of the most important books ever written. Frankenstein has been so dumbed-down through movie adaptations that the more important transcendent themes are obfuscated.

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    1. Sorry I didn't respond sooner. It's been crazy! Thank you for your kind words. I know our mutual love for Frankenstein, so I'm thrilled you enjoyed my blog.

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