CRITIC’S CORNER COLUMNIST
It’s a dark and stormy night. Thunder booms and lightning flashes across the sky, when suddenly – “It’s alive!” the scientist cries. The monstrous creature rises from the table, lumbers around the room and wanders off to send a few villages up in flames. That’s all there is to the story, right?
Even if you know that “Frankenstein” is not the name of the monster, but of the scientist, the film retellings of Mary Shelley’s brilliant novel present so many misunderstandings that cloud our view of the real themes. “Frankenstein” has so much more to offer us than just a Halloween costume idea. It leads readers to ask themselves: what makes a monster and what makes a man?
In the novel, Victor Frankenstein is a young college student obsessed with philosophy, science and thinking he’s better than everyone else. He works for two years to build a human body, sewing veins and limbs together with the insane goal of bringing a dead thing to life. One night, it works. The creature – gigantic and hideous – comes to life.
That’s it. There’s no fancy explanation of sciencey stuff or a dark, stormy night. It just happens – because the theatrics are not the important part.
What is more important is that as soon as Frankenstein sees the being come alive, he runs. He runs away and only comes back when he’s sure the creature has gone. Instead of going after the creature to feed him, clothe him and teach him to survive, Frankenstein completely abandons him.
For the next year, the creature survives alone. Everyone who sees him rejects and hates him, and he doesn’t understand why. He learns how to read, write and speak (for more details, read the book!), and he wonders why his creator left him. What made him less worthy of love than any other human being?
The rest of the story follows the struggle between father and son as the creature begs Frankenstein to help him, or to give him the chance for companionship. Frankenstein refuses, and the creature goes on to torment him in revenge.
The creature never gets a name because Frankenstein deems him so unworthy of love that he should have nothing to identify himself by except the word “monster.” In an ironic twist, the characters now share the name in pop culture. So, who is the monster and who is the man?
This question forces readers to explore the core of human nature. What does it mean to be human? What connects us all, regardless of where we come from, who our parents are or what choices we have made?
Answer: everyone needs to be loved.
We are made for relationships, to be in community with others. So what happens when this need is not met? How does a man become a monster?
We would call the scientist a man because his human body is similar to ours. However, as soon as he is faced with the consequences of his actions, he doesn’t own up to what he has done. His irresponsibility ruins other people’s lives and denies his son any chance for human relationship. He becomes the monster we didn’t expect.
On the other hand, the creature is the one we naturally call a monster because of how he looks, how different his body is from our own. But every time he reaches out to someone, whether it be the little girl he saves from drowning or his creator, we realize he has the same human desire for love that we all do.
Despite his humanity, he experiences so much rejection and pain due to his father’s negligence that the hurt turns to anger. He has no father to guide him, accept him and teach him how to be a man. He takes his anger out on the people around him, and through his bad choices he becomes the monster everyone fears.
This is not to excuse his actions, but rather to emphasize that both men begin as human, and, through a deficit of love, they become monsters.
No matter who you are or what you’ve been through, everyone can take something away from this novel. Maybe you know people who relate to Frankenstein’s irresponsibility or the creature’s loneliness and pain. Maybe you’ve been hurt by someone who acted monstrously, and you’re trying to figure out what made them that way.
Shelley might not provide all the answers, but she allows us to ask the deep questions and form our own conclusions. It is okay to recognize that others’ choices affect us and can play a part in the people we become. But we are also reminded that we decide our own actions, and we can always choose to love both the monster and the man.