Is it just a figment of our imagination? I recently heard someone say the novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelly, is just a “silly monster story”. Due to all the commercialization of “monsters”, like in “Addams Family”, super hero cartoons, etc., I can understand this.
But can anyone say they have never met a “monster,” silly or otherwise? Just look at some of the leaders of the world. “Silly” can be pretty scary.
Could it be possible that this stunning novel is dismissed as “silly” because at some level we can relate to it and it scares us? Maybe it brings out fears and anxieties that we would rather not face, even reminds us of thoughts we might have all had at one point or other in our lives that we might be ashamed of. Maybe it’s because sometimes “monsters” get to the heart of some of the most important issues of humankind.
All literature is drawn from life. As the master of modern day horror said: “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” – Stephen King.
In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein, scientist, builds a man out of body parts from different corpses. The result is not “silly” at all. It is grotesque, a wretched atrocity spawned by a demented mind. And then he runs away, leaving his mutant child to find its own way in the world, an act that forever condemns the thing to the realm of the unaccepted. After all, if a parent cannot accept the child he/she gave life to, why would the world? Hence, he creates the monster; physically by making him hideous to look at, and emotionally by his devastating rejection of him. Who is the monster here?
When Victor’s younger brother is murdered, he immediately assumes that the creature is responsible for it. A thing that ugly must surely be violent. As it turns out, he is right about who killed the boy, not because ugliness is bound to violence as he thinks, but because the creature, in his misery, wants revenge on his maker.
“I am malicious because I am miserable; am I not shunned and hated by all mankind?…You, my creator, would tear me to pieces and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me?…Shall I respect man, when he condemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and instead of injury, I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be; the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union…I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear. ”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
When someone is treated with intolerance and hatred, the creature is saying, even by their own parent, they do not know how to be anything but hateful and angry themselves. How can they? Children learn how to love, respect, tolerate, be kind, and yes, hate, from their parents. How can a child who is mistreated learn how to do anything but mistreat? But deep down inside, we don’t need anyone to tell us what is wrong because we all have an innate sense of good and bad. “Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and instead of injury, I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance,” the creature says. Even though he has known no kindness, he knows what it is. Babies respond to love with smiles and laughter the very first time they experience it because they are born with a sense of what feels good and what feels bad.
It’s a story of the dark ambition of man to conquer nature; of betrayal, agony, revenge, and the horrors that come from unbridled emotions, from forces that are unleashed when someone is denied love and acceptance. It’s a story of prejudice and ignorant assumptions about those who look different, which abounds in the world. People are judged for being too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, race, culture, gender, religion, sexual orientation and anything else out there. Because it makes those who are judging feel better about themselves and take less responsibility for their own problems. Maybe it’s impossible not to have ugly thoughts now and then. Maybe the best we can do is be mindful of them, and not act on them. If we want to, that is.
Not only is Frankenstein not just a silly monster story, but it is a classic, which means its relevance will outlive us all.
Love to hear some thoughts!