Q. “Self education plays a critical role in shaping the subjectivity of Victor Frankenstein’s monster”. Do you agree? Discuss. Rousseau believed that humans were intrinsically good when in their natural state (before civilization). According to him, humans were corrupted by society. Frankenstein’s creature is a case in point. So, calling him a monster in itself is a problematic view. Joyce Carol Oates focuses on the benevolent nature of the creature in his essay entitled, ‘Frankenstein’s Fallen Angel’.
According to him, the demon is human consciousness-in-the-making, naturally benevolent as Milton’s Satan is not, and received with horror and contempt solely because of his physical appearance. To substantiate his point, he gives an example of the good nature exhibited by the creature even after he has been rejected by his Creator himself. Joyce says, “When Frankenstein is tracking the demon into the arctic regions, for instance, it is clearly the demon who is helping him in his search, and even leaving food for him; but Frankenstein is so blind – in fact so comically blind – he believes that “spirits” are responsible,” who direct “my steps”.
Here, I would like to connect the dots. The very idea of the “noble savage” is linked to the romantic perception of looking at things from the point of view of the marginalised, rebellious and disobedient. Mary Shelley gives a voice to the marginal creature to explain his agony, pain and trauma of exclusion, isolation and alienation through his tale. In doing so, education of the monster plays an important role which imparts in him a sense of reason to question the society and his creator.
This paper will examine the process of education of the monster after he comes in contact with the De Lacey family: focusing on learning through observation. Thereafter, I will question the sense of identity that the critics feel is imparted to the monster through his reading of certain texts. Finally, the influence of the experiences he has had when he comes in touch with the civil society will form the crux of this essay. Loneliness of the creature torments him and he wants to become a part of the De Lacey family which he admires for its harmony and wants to be a part of their happiness at first.
Therefore, it became important for him to learn to communicate with them. For this purpose, he takes the first step to integrate within the society as a whole by observing the De Lacey family. He learns emotions and language from them. Peter Brooks says, “His [the creature’s] discovery of language implies Rousseau’s argument, in the Essai sur I’origine des langues, that language springs from passion rather than need… Passion… brings men together. ” He observes how to express one’s feelings through their expressions. “The young man and his companion often went apart, and appeared to weep. I saw no cause… ut I was deeply affected by it. ” He does not understand their sorrow and thus, tries hard to relate to their emotions. His observation skills help him learn many of their good qualities like helping others via the “invisible hand” (he places fuel for them and clears the snow from the road without letting them know about his presence). Apart from emotion, he learns French and calls it “godlike science”. The “science of letters” helps him later in the novel in two ways. He is able to read which helps in shaping his identity. It also helps him in reading Frankenstein’s diary which includes the details of the act of creation.
Thus, language becomes an important tool in educating the monster in the sense that it makes him aware of the process of his coming into being by reading that diary and relating to the texts that he reads (Paradise Lost: major influence); if he wouldn’t have equipped himself to the language, he would have remained unknown about the knowledge of the self. Knowledge is a source of discontent as well as a relief to the creature. Volney’s Ruins of Empires generated a sense of identity crisis in him. He starts questioning himself, “And what was I? … When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me. Martin Tropp in his essay entitled ‘The Monster’ says, “The recitation of man’s history [from Ruins of Empires] and culture teaches the monster the extent of its isolation; from here emerges its need for a counterpart like it. ” In addition, it teaches him the art of deceiving when he plans to put the blame of William’s death on Justine by placing the portrait of Frankenstein’s mother in the pocket of her dress, “… thanks to the lessons of Felix and the sanguinary laws of man, I have learned how to work mischief. ” He reads three books apart from Ruins of Empires-Goethe’s Sorrows of Werter, Plutarch’s Lives and Milton’s Paradise Lost.
In the hero of Werter, it sees “a more divine being that I ever beheld or imagined,” but the novel leads him again to feel a sense of alienation; “I found myself similar, yet at the same time strangely unlike to the beings concerning whom I read… Who was I? What was I? ” In Plutarch it finds “high thoughts” but no answer to its question. But, Paradise Lost, which it reads as a “true history” contains the solution, “Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but… He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator… ut I was wretched, helpless and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition…. ” Martin Tropp says, “Milton, therefore, provides the monster with an identity. ”
In my opinion, it is worth noting that the creature though strong doesn’t use his force rather he convinces Frankenstein to listen to his tale by using reason and this reason comes from reading, “Listen to my tale: when you have heard that, abandon or commiserate me, as you shall judge that I deserve… The guilty are allowed, by human laws, bloody as they may be, to speak in their own defence before they are condemned. In that sense, he truly appears to be the Satan as portrayed in Paradise Lost who also uses reason to convince Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. But the situation gets problematical when the creature alienates itself from the figure of Satan as well. He feels, “Satan had his companions… but I am solitary… ” In that situation, it’s for us, the readers to figure out if the creature gets a sense of identity at all. While struggling to find an identity for himself, the creature’s compassion takes the form of revenge. This shift as P. B. Shelley points out is because of the experiences he has had.
People literally “stone” him, “attack” him and once he is shot while trying to save a girl. The family he cares for the most also doesn’t understand his emotions rather he is rejected by them as well because of his appearance. He is hurt, “This was the reward of my benevolence! ”, “Should I feel kindness towards my enemies? ” P. B Shelley reflects the romanticists’ point of view when he says that the crimes committed by the creature are not “the offspring of any unaccountable propensity to evil, but flow irresistibly from certain causes fully adequate to their production. They are the children as it were of Necessity and Human Nature…
In this the direct moral of the book consists… Treat a person wicked and he will become wicked. ” These lines also reflect Rousseau’s theory about the “noble savage”. According to him, the two most important traits that can be attributed to the human animal in a precivilized state are self preservation and compassion. The creature wants compassion from other human beings. He helps them and tries to live in harmony with them. In spite of that the society is evil to him and beats him up. Since, the monster is continually exposed to the negative side of human relations, he tends to attack men else they may hit him.
In addition, there is an urge for revenge which stems from his traumatic experience when in human contact. This implies that it’s not his “ugly” form that makes him a monster, but his “wretched” experiences that make him seem like one. In fact, one can say that the society transfers its monstrosity to the creature and paradoxically, the monstrous society calls him the “monster”. To sum up, Frankenstein is a journey of a marginalised creature which turns out to be a monster and self education plays a vital role in making him what he is.
It is important to note that Mary Shelley was not imparted formal education rather she educated herself in her father’s study. The education of the monster/marginalised can be seen as the education of the women/marginalised. The society doesn’t allow either of them any means to education for the fear of being questioned. Mary Shelley, thus, allows the monster to educate himself and gives him a voice to raise the questions and challenge the authority of the society. In that sense, the monster can be seen as a metaphor for the women of the time-being marginalised and not understood.