Reading of Frankenstein

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In several of our readings, the concept of humanity has been debated. Computers and machines that have human qualities are usually perceived as less than human. Mary Shelly's Frankenstein can contribute to this debate due to the similarities between the Frankenstein monster and other characters we have encountered, who blurr the line between humanity and inhumanity. 
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Contents

Summary and Analysis

Mary Shelly’s writing of the novel “Frankenstein” is largely a criticism of humanity. Considering the story was narrated from different perspectives, Frankenstein is not necessarily the protagonist of the story. Rather, the story had no definite protagonist; with such, there were different conceptions of the character of the climax with respect to what was ‘good’ and what was ‘evil’ in the battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Thus the criticism is particularly focused on the boundary between the monster’s moral reasoning and human moral reasoning.

The story started off with Victor Frankenstein telling of his background, including his family history and status (a human narrative). Victor grew up being interested in such things as alchemy and astrology. Upon entering university, Victor set forth in his studies in the laws of nature by pursuing science. This led to his rapid gain of knowledge and thus to his ‘feat’ of the development of life. He, however, deemed his creation hideous and abandoned responsibility of it. Throughout this time, Victor held a strong passion for his work, though it was not necessarily mentioned what the exact source was (it may have been something innate considering he had an initial interest in alchemy and astrology). Despite not knowing the source, it can be said that whatever the engine was, it also gave him a thirst for power (power over the workings of nature). He worked, all the while repeating to himself of his ‘immoral actions’, but continued anyways; his understanding of morality was being overshadowed by his thirst for power. Victor was working in ignorance. In the progression of events after creating the monster, he eventually turned from the sciences in pursuit of simpler ‘happiness’ (which was altogether an attempt to escape from his own doings). However, his creation caught up to him in the end, leading to his death along with the death of others. The ignorance Victor was working in was not unique to the moment; it was something he held from the start, as signified by his initial interests (alchemy and astrology). Indeed this ignorance was blissful, for ever since Victor created the monster, he described his time with greater pessimism; with respect to this, whatever Victor did not do out of this ignorance, he did out of fear.

The monster’s narrative held a different voice than Victor’s, but it cannot be said that this voice was inhuman. The narrative started around the middle of the story, in which it gave an account of what happened to the monster after Frankenstein abandoned him. The monster wandered around and eventually hid somewhere where he was able to observe ‘humans’ (he realized that humans did not like him for some reason and so he only observed them). During that time, he devoted himself to good and helpful deeds for the humans and to learning more about them. He was also fascinated at the beauty of humans. When he looked at his own reflection to see his ‘hideous’ complexion, he understood why others feared him; this also made it clear that he, in some sense, considered himself human before this. In his loneliness, the monster gained a grudge against Frankenstein. When he later on met with Frankenstein, he explained his condition to him and told him that he sought a companion to suffer with and asked that he receive one. Thus, he held his own understanding of ‘suffering.’ His use of the word also shows his gained perception of the world he is in. When Frankenstein cut back on his promise to make a companion, the grudge the monster had cultivated led him to several actions of murder. These actions were viewed as ‘inhuman’ by Frankenstein but as a ‘sad and expected consequence’ by the monster. The monster’s character began somewhat more straightforward than Frankenstein’s, but it grew to encapsulate contradictions (he yearned for companionship, yet killed in anger against Frankenstein, and still mourned for the deaths as well as for himself).

The last narration was done by Robert Walton, who viewed Frankenstein as an admirable hero. He was also in the last scene, in which he encountered the monster. The monster told Walton of his intentions to die a hero who lived in torture, whereas Walton continued to see him as a hideous monster. Thus, the primary conflicts in perception were between the monster’s account and humanity’s account. Victor Frankenstein had a character that can be seen as someone blinded from the consequences. He was aware of the issue of the morality of his work, but did not give consent to it. He held ignorance that was not uncommon amongst humans in general (human society continuously advances without full awareness or full consent of the consequences). Once ignorance of something fades, humans either fear that something or they embrace it, all the while being ignorant of something else. Victor feared his creation. The monster, in turn, initially held a more modest and innocent character. It was the gain of knowledge that led the monster to grow a grudge and to justify it. He developed his own conception of the world and of a supposed equality between humans; he eventually began to believe that he did not share this ‘equality’ between humans. Because the monster could not simply ‘reshape’ or escape from the world he was in, he embraced it. The grudge the monster carried was human. It was a loss of his ‘innocence’ and a gain of his understanding. Thus the monster grew to be a ‘monster,’ but one that was not so different from Frankenstein and other humans.

The lack of difference between the monster’s moral reasoning and human moral reasoning signifies Shelley’s criticism of human morality. The monster is a monster because it was deemed a ‘monster’ by what are normally considered ‘humans.’ But to think that being human paves way to proper moral judgment does not make the judgment an absolute circumstance. Because the moral nature of humanity is not absolute, humanity is open to ignorance.

Connections to He, She and It

Yod and the Frankenstein Monster

In chapter 17, Gadi refers to Avram as Frankenstein, and to Yod as the Frankenstein monster. Yod seems to take this to heart, and appears before Shira in the Base as the monster. The similarities between Yod and the monster are clear: both simulate humanity, both try to understand humans, and they both have violent tendencies. Both Yod and the monster were created--not born. They were each intended to serve their creators, (Avram and Frankenstein, respectively) and to appear human. The monster was a product of Frankenstein's desire for power and Yod was a product of Avram's desire for an intelligent weapon. However, Yod and the monster deviate from their intended purposes by rebelling against their creators and by desiring more freedom, by developing emotions, and by desiring human companionship. Perhaps the most important similarity is that they both strive to become more human, although they are considered by their respective societies to only mimic humanity. They each blurr the line between the human and the non-human and make us question what our definition of humanity is.

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Avram and Frankenstein

There are also some clear similarities between Avram and Frankenstein, Yod and the monster's respective creators. Both are scientists who create potentially dangerous creatures that simulate humanity. They both attempt to control their creations, but this control eventually leads to their demise. Frankenstein does not allow his monster the freedom to have a companion and Avram forces Yod to sacrifice himself for the sake of Tikva. Avram and Frankenstein also fail to acknowledge their creations' humanity. In both stories, we see that it is impossible to create someone (or perhaps something) which is both human and controllable. Freedom is closely intertwined with humanity, and these novels suggest that  humanity cannot exist without freedom.

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