Freaks in Literature Term Paper

Pages: 15 (4437 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

¶ … Romantic Monster: The Human Within Introduction

Throughout the history of Western Literature, the "monster" as both a central character, as well as a literary device has been common. Indeed, within Western cultures, the monster theme is pervasive from early religious, cultural, and even linguistic sources as represented in familiar oral traditions, passed down from generation to generation. Although the prevailing function of the monster within these stories and traditions vary (whether rhetorical, moralistic, or simple entertainment), there nonetheless runs a central theme through many of the "major" works of the Western cannon, and that is the way in which even the most hideous monster mirrors the evil nature of the human heart.

Frankenstein: Who Was the Real Monster?

Of all of the famous "dark" or "gothic-style" novels to arise out of Literature, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Victor Hugo's the Hunchback of Notre Dame are perhaps the most familiar. Born and bred in the great northern European nations of England and France, both tales sprung from the Romantic literary style -- characterized by an emphasis on introspection, emotion, passion, the spirit, and nature (both worldly and psychological) (Lye, 1996). Further, it is this very Romantic style that gives one clues into the deeper resonance that lurks beneath the surface of both tales, much the same as the respective monsters, themselves.

When one considers the way in which Shelley's Frankenstein fits into the "monster mirror" pattern, it is helpful to first consider not the monster, but the monster's creator, Victor Frankenstein. This is important, not only in its obvious sense -- as the representation of the way in which evil can spring from the human psyche -- in this case, literally, but also in its symbolic sense. After all, it is clear from the beginning that Victor is a clear representation of the personification of human folly melding into evil. This is not only due to the morbid and gruesome way in which Victor pursues his passion to "reanimate" the dead (after all, in its own way that can perhaps be considered a noble pursuit), but also how evil, pain, suffering, fear and destruction can arise from humanity.

Not only does the reader intuitively recognize the nature of Victor's humanity as a source of evil, literal monstrosity, but one also glimpses through the internal dialogue of the character the depths of human self-denial and justification from which such evil springs. Victor (a highly ironic name), notes, "...from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me -- a light so brilliant and wondrous... (37)." Given the fact that the character is referring to the literal creation of a monster, yet uses words traditionally associated with goodness, purity, and even religious faith -- "darkness" to "light," "brilliant" and "wondrous," it becomes clear that Shelley is about to frame a very striking tale intended not just to entertain, but to "illuminate" the human source of all monsters.

Of course, just to be sure the point is not lost -- that evil springs from the breast of normal, even all human hearts, the author clearly points out the normalcy, even privileged and pampered upbringing that Victor enjoyed as a child. He relates:

No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself. My parents were possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence. We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed. (37)

Thus, in this passage, it becomes all too clear that even the best of circumstances, alliances, moral upbringing, or the thousand other contrivances that lead one to imagine that one is safe from producing true evil, is not enough to erase the inherent human tendency to produce the monstrous (literally or figuratively). It is almost as if Shelley contrived in the character's conception to remove all of the possible "variables" almost as in a controlled scientific study, to drive home the point of the universality of human evil. Indeed, she clearly points out that Victor's disastrous folly is common and possible in us all.

So, too, in the very visual representation of the monster within the work, the nature of evil is illuminated as something large, uncontrollable, yet springing from the small place of Victor's human intention and desire. The monster relates, "...My person was hideous and my stature gigantic (142)." Even Victor describes him, despite the fact that the monster is composed of body parts of his own selection, to be beyond disgusting. In fact, as soon as the deed of creation has been accomplished (the fruits of his heart's yearning), his hope turns to disgust:

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips. (52)

Moreover, it is here that the reader also notes that, despite the fact that Victor is by all accounts highly intelligent (after all, he brought dead body parts to life), and despite the fact that he logically could have foreseen the ultimate manifestation of his efforts, he seems nonetheless taken by surprise by the true horror that the monster embodies. He relates:

Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not he so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.(52)

It is then that the reader sees that an aghast Victor sees the horror of his actions, but still is incapable of taking true responsibility for them. Thus, he rejects the monster, who, even affectionately, reaches out to the man who conceived him, while still avoiding his responsibility with regard to what he has alone created -- a common theme in human history. Further, the reader also notes that Victor, while on some levels recognizes his folly, still demonstrates a real lack of personal blame, which is epitomized in the way he engages in self-pity during the first night:

passed the night wretchedly. Sometimes my pulse beat so quickly and hardly that I felt the palpitation of every artery; at others, I nearly sank to the ground through languor and extreme weakness. Mingled with this horror, I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete! (52)

Of course, of equal interest is the behavior of the monster, himself, and how it corresponds to a real and striking illumination of the "nature" of mankind as evil. Although it may be said that the "monster" is by his very nature "inhuman," the fact that he is made of human material, and that he echoes the developmental and learning stages of the human infant during his isolation in the woods and subsequent time near the peasant family places him squarely in the realm of the classical human psyche (complete with its flaws and propensities for evil).

Clearly, the Shelley intends the reader to recognize the human in the monster (as she previously illustrated the monster in the human with Victor). Here, not only does the reader note that the monster has the opportunity to develop compassion and understanding -- as demonstrated by his pain at being rejected by his "father/creator," but that he at times demonstrates a real understanding of the possibilities of "goodness" as opposed to evil, particularly as he grows to understand the compassionate workings of the family.

Although the author could have satisfied the reader's natural desire to see the monster prevail against the kind of evil portrayed by Victor, Shelley seemed to have no intention of departing from reality in this sense. Further, the fact that the reader nonetheless glimpses the possibility of the monster's goodness only further drives home the message of inherent evil within that is all to ready to escape.

Finally, as Shelley begins to wrap up the story, the reader again is hopeful that some good will come of Victor's realization of his evil -- if unrecognized in its true form and origin. We see that Victor is determined to "save the world" from the dangers of the monster he has unleashed, and he begins the arduous task of chasing him to the Artic, where he intends to destroy… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Freaks in Literature.  (2005, July 8).  Retrieved January 15, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Freaks in Literature."  8 July 2005.  Web.  15 January 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Freaks in Literature."  Essay.  July 8, 2005.  Accessed January 15, 2019.