As Halloween approaches, decorations and displays of classic creatures of the occult such as vampires, werewolves, mummies, and zombies go up on storefronts and homes. Frankenstein is no stranger to it. His combination of green skin, bolts and stitches, staggering height, and strange black and white hair should paint an image of terror, but through consumerism, marketing, and the media Frankenstein has become less of a horrifying monster and more of a pop culture icon.
The original Frankenstein was a much more terrifying creature, who was more human-like than a brain dead zombie, as depicted in the 1931 film Frankenstein, directed by James Whale. Of course, the original Frankenstein wasn’t even called Frankenstein. He didn’t have a name, besides Mary Shelley, the author of the novel Frankenstein, calling it “The Modern Prometheus.” He was also called “the creature,” “the fiend,” “the wretch,” and “the daemon” at various points in the book.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s origins were eerie in nature. Frankenstein was born out of a ghost story writing competition on a stormy afternoon in a Genevan villa, proposed by the Lord Byron. Accompanying him was Mary Shelley, her husband Lord Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron’s physician, John Polidori (who went on to write The Vampyre). (“Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ is published”).
Though the creature is commonly known as Frankenstein, the name actually belongs to Victor Frankenstein, the creator of it. The creation of the creature is disturbing in itself as Frankenstein gathered “the instruments of life around [him]” (Shelley, ch.5). Though he doesn’t go into much detail, it is insinuated that Frankenstein used dead human body parts to create the monster. Frankenstein goes on to describe the creature with horror; “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 color as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips” (Shelley, ch.5). Frankenstein is so disturbed of the creature he rushes out of the room.
The creature’s original appearance is more haunting and grotesque than how it’s usually depicted in pop culture. Due to pop culture, many seem to forget how terrifying the creature truly is. After all, it’s a huge towering thing made up of dead human body parts, which muscles and arteries can be seen beneath yellow skin. It is a dead being come to life. Furthermore, the creature also goes on to murder several people in the novel such as Frankenstein’s younger brother William, his best friend Henry Clerval, and his fiancée Elizabeth Lavenza all through strangulation. He also indirectly kills Justine Moritz, who has been executed due to being framed as William’s killer as well as Frankenstein’s father who dies of shock from Elizabeth’s death.
It’s more terrifying to know that the creature, perceived to be a horrifying infernal monster has agency, intellect, and emotions. When Frankenstein finds the creature and curses him, the creature urges Frankenstein to be calm and responds with eloquence and sensitivity. The creature also asks, “have I not suffered enough, that you seek to increase my misery?” (Shelley, ch.10). The creature clearly feels hurt and displays emotions of despair and misery. The creature also proceeds to tell its story after fleeing from Frankenstein’s apartment and into the wilderness. He mentions that he meets the de Lacey family whom he steals food from. When he understands that the family’s despair results from lack of food and poverty, which the creature contributes to, he feels guilt (Shelley, ch.11). After his realization, the creature proceeds to help the family by stopping his stealing and gathers wood at night to leave at their door so they can use it. (Shelley, ch.11). This shows that the creature has human like features such as a conscience and empathy for others. Furthermore, the creature mentions that he “improved rapidly in the knowledge of language, so that in two months [he] began to comprehend most of the words uttered by [his] protectors” (Shelley, ch.13). The creature shows his intelligence in this passage.
Meanwhile, Victor Frankenstein shows selfishness and greed through his ambition to play God by creating the creature who becomes a blood thirsty killing machine through social rejection. The creature recalled he horrible scene where “Agatha fainted, and Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the cottage. Felix darted forward, and with supernatural force tore me from his father” (Shelley, ch. 15). The creature mentioned that he “could have torn him from limb to limb…but [his] heart sank within [him] as bitter sickness, and [he] refrained” (Shelley, ch.15). The creature becomes bitter and vengeful against humans when he is socially rejected and feared for his appearance by the family he has grown so fond of. Furthermore, he is punished when he attempts to save a little girl from drowning by her father, who shoots the creature (Shelley, ch. 16). This only strengthens his hatred.
Shelley does well to incorporate themes of social rejection in the novel and to show that the gap between a monster and human is closer than one might believe. She also shows how easy it is for someone to turn to hatred, anger, and darkness through one hateful act.
Many people seem to forget that with the novel Frankenstein, emerged the science fiction genre and a new kind of horror that has been dulled down with time. Along with Victor Frankenstein’s
attempt to play God and the familiar feelings of social isolation and rejection, Frankenstein is truly a disturbing and revolutionary novel that should be recognized for its eeriness and powerful message. It is much more than a green skinned Halloween icon.
“Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ is published.” History, December 20 2019, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/frankenstein-published. Accessed 30 October 2020.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818. Ebook. Kindle, https://www.amazon.ca/b?node=2980423011&ref_=kcp_kcr_shop&targetCOR=CA&targetDeviceType=A2CTZ977SKFQZY.