The Monstrous in Frankenstein
Mary Shelley Frankincense or; The Modern Prometheus, published In 1818, is a product of Its time. Written in a world of social. Political, scientific and economic upheaval it highlights human desire to uncover the scientific secrets of our universe, yet also confirms the importance of emotions and individual relationships that define us as human, in contrast to the monstrous. Here we question what is meant by the terms ‘human’ and ‘monstrous’ as defined by the novel. Yet to fully understand how Frankincense defines these terms we must look to the etymology of them.
The novel forever, defines the terms through Its main characters, through the themes of language, nature versus nurture, forbidden knowledge, and the doppelgänger motif. Shelley also shows us, In Frankincense, that although Juxtaposing terms, the monstrous being everything human Is not, they are also Intertwined, In that you can not have one without the other. There is also an overwhelming desire to know the monstrous, if only temporarily and this calls into question the influence the monstrous has on the human definition.The Oxford English Dictionary (ODE) describes human’ as being ‘Of, belonging to, or harmonistic of mankind, distinguished from animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright posture. ‘ (ODE). The term monstrous’ Is described as ‘The condition or fact of being abnormally developed or grossly malformed. ‘ (ODE) Yet, we as humans define ourselves not just on biological terms but socially and spiritually too.
In Frankincense the Monster, who by his very label and beginnings implies a perfect example of monstrosity is, in fact, articulate and erect yet is still not considered human In the traditional sense.It Is his eventual virtual and social malformation that fully defines him as monstrous. Even as language plays a huge part in the definition of human, as taken from the ODE, the narration, and thus language, in Frankincense also helps to define the terms ‘monstrous’ and ‘human’. As the monster discovered, language is Intertwined with culture (Brooks 594). He is on the side of nature, a deformed creature of appearance, and upon catching sight of his reflection understands not to show himself to the cottagers, of whom he yearns to win the love of, for fear of them fleeing (595). He is ‘excluded but learning the means. Which to be Included’ (595) with language.
It Is the novels stark definition of monstrosity through physical appearance not through acquisition of language that starts the catalyst for corruption of the Monster spiritually and mentally. Yet, the monstrous can not be easily classified through physical appearance alone. The age old debate of nature versus nurture is a theme that runs strongly through the novel. Shelley defines ‘human’ and ‘monstrous’ through examining the nurturing relationships of the characters, for Frankincense’s lack of parental role with his creation, Is ‘monstrously neglectful.We see Caroline, Frankincense’s Mother, nurturing Elizabeth, his sister, back to health, in which his Mother looses her own life 1 OFF The De Lackey’s nurturing home also becomes a source of nurturing love for the Monster, as he begins to return their love, and complete truly ‘human’ acts of kindness towards them; for instance; leaving firewood and clearing snow in the winter (Shelley 83). Each nurturing act contrasts strongly with Frankincense’s monstrous neglect of the Monster’s needs.Although Frankincense receives the human quality of love in all its forms, from his family and friends, he never fully gives t in return, so obsessed is he with his creation.
However, the Monster easily gives his love to the cottagers and through his expressed wish for companionship shows that his capacity for love is great. ‘He requires love in order to become less monstrous, but as he is a monster, love is denied him. ‘ (Dates 546). Shelley is thus blurring the lines between the definitions of monstrous and human by questioning if monstrous is when one is unable to be loved or unable to give love.On the outskirts of scientific and moral forbidden territory roams the monstrous Cohen 3) Patrolling the boarders with striking images of what may happen if we ever crossed them. Robert Walton, the frame narrator, and Frankincense are connected through this desire to cross the borders, either physically into a region that may bring death, or through discoveries in science that bring moral monstrosities. These characters are another example of how Shelley definitions of the terms ‘human’ and ‘monstrous’ are intertwined in Frankincense.
Frankincense’s relentless pursuit to cross into the forbidden destroys lives, the opposite of what he was trying to achieve. Conversely, Walton wisely takes the path that Frankincense refused, returning home when reaching the boundary of almost certain destruction, in his quest for the North Pole. Shelley allows us to see, through the frame narration of Walton and his epiphany to return home, that Frankincense’s hubris pursuit of knowledge leads to his downfall. ‘l trod heaven in my thoughts, now exulting in my powers, now burning with the ideas of their effects…Oh! My friend, if you had known me as I once was, you would not recognize me in that state of degradation.
‘ (Shelley 167) Walton see’s that Frankincense’s quest for knowledge, his isolation from those who love him, led to the destruction of himself and those he loved and so turns back from the brink of his own destruction. However, it is only after Frankincense dies, that he fully accepts that it is the right decision, as if the monstrous in Frankincense can be defined as an influence on human actions.Not only does the monstrous protect against the unknown, it stands along side of us, representing something ‘other’ to ourselves (Cohen, 6). Traditionally the term ‘human’ could be defined through ‘monstrous’ being everything human is not. Just as the Monster in Frankincense kills William, Justine (although not directly), Elizabeth and Cleaver he does not view it as murder, but as Justified revenge against his creator. ‘Have a care: I will work at your destruction, not finish until I desolate your heart, so that you curse the house of your birth. (Shelley 1 11).
This defines the monstrous as being able to roam outside the boarders of moral convention. However, Frankincense puts a human persona on the definition of monstrous, we see the Monster yearning to be human; he learns language and craves love, and conversely Frankincense as extraction of them all. Again, Shelley interweaves the definitions of the two terms through showing that the monstrous is human and the conventional definition of human can incorporate monstrous.The strong bond found between Frankincense and his Monster is traditionally known as the doppelgänger effect (Dates 550), where a living person has a ghostly double haunting him. Here Shelley illustrates that the definitions of ‘monstrous’ and ‘human’ are often Just parodies of each other. The Monster represents Frankincense’s dark side and Frankincense is the creature’s haunting darkness, both denying the other peppiness. They are inextricably entwined with each other, often resembling that of a mind which is torn over a decision; running backwards and forwards from each other, never coming to a safe conclusion.
When considered as one person, the combination of Frankincense and his Monster represents a true definition of human. To express and express and experience that of love and to be loved, Joy and compassion, to feel and express the full range of emotions from love of humanity to the need for hateful revenge, desire for knowledge, happiness and fear of death. Frankincense, defines the terms human and monstrous through questioning what constitutes them.Love, compassion, a sense of Justice defines human yet these same qualities can be found co-existing along side the monstrous. They are terms that represent good and evil but unlike the clear cut definition of good and evil Frankincense shows us that the human and monstrous are interchangeable. As shown in Frankincense, our fascination for the monstrous leads us to be influenced by it. So although we define human as being everything the monstrous is not, the monstrous is also part of the definition of human.