Felix of all people should know not to judge a book by its cover. He is in love with Safie, an Arabian woman who doesn’t even speak his language. He was quick to help her father despite their differences, but now, Felix rejects the creature and abuses him like an animal. It’s a very sharp contrast from how Felix reacted to strangers before. Perhaps he still has lingering ill feelings towards helping strangers because of what occurred with Safie’s father.
While the creature reads these three books, I realize that he is taking them so seriously without a thought of the bias woven into the books. The three different perspectives these books are written in are the only one on one interaction the creature has with humanity. He is facing, death, compassion and history all at once , and the confusion is obvious. He questions his identity in “Sorrows of Werter”, he faces history in “Plutarch’s Lives” and then shown mercy and peace in “Paradise Lost”. It’s ironic that even though he has experienced so much neglect and pain , the creature still has hope for humanity. Paradise Lost has a greater impact on the creature, comparing himself to Adam and Satan shows the turmoil going inside his being. The creature is utterly torn and his creator is to blame.
Interesting that the creature considers kindness and sympathy to be ‘greater treasures’ than food and a place to stay. While the creature has been the denied the former, he has been able to acquire the material necessities, but he has not received the love and kindness he longs for.
The Creature despite being rejected by his creator and any other human he encountered on his journey, had learned what kindness is. He found kindness by watching the De Lacey’s interact. Despite the creature not being human, he has found himself desiring human emotions, which prove that he is not the monster Victor believes he is.
In this moment, it shows how the creature feels rejection similar to the story of Adam and Eve. Based on the story from the Bible, the two were rejected from heaven by their creator, God, after listening to the serpent to eat the forbidden apple. Whereas, the creature was rejected from his people that he loved and watched over due to his appearance. They both share similar stories due to the desire of wanting something that they cannot have.
On the contrary, the creature also depicts the story of Adam and Eve as shame for his own self. He states, “But it was all a dream: no Eve soothed my sorrows or shared my thoughts’ I was alone…Adam’s supplication to his Creator; but where was mine? he abandoned me, and, in the bitterness of my heart, I cursed him.” This shows the opposite side, as the two were there for each other as they continued to experience trouble. They also knew their creator during the time period of being accepted before descending from heaven. Sadly, the creature had no one to cope with and experienced anger from being alone. From this, the two stories show similar stories and emotions.
The creature cannot fully comprehend man's emotion or drive; however, he tends to sympathize for others and believe that man is good at heart. The creature's experience reflects the theory of tabula rasa developed by philosophes such as John Locke and Rousseau; while the creature is born with a natural attraction to benevolence and tranquility, he gathers information through society, which in return alter his identity. The monster initially has no ill intentions; he is not able to see why men behave in a malevolent way.
This repetition of questions regarding the creature’s identity can be interpreted as an existential crisis. In the past chapters, the creature has been comparing himself to the cottagers: “that I, an imperfect and solitary being, should be wretched” (V. II, Ch. III). However, once he begins to read and comprehend these texts of classical literature, he begins to fully wrap his head around the concept of his differences. This particular moment is special because he gains a grasp of identity and what it truly means to exist. It’s this assumption of an identity that prompts him to introduce himself to DeLacy, and he fully identifies himself as vengeful and incompatible of assimilating with humans once the cottagers betray him.
With the initial observation of the cottagers, the monster was socially reconditioned to have a more grey view of humanity, rather than his initial negative view after being attacked the first time. He was able to understand and admire the concepts of empathy, but also deplore human vices. This was a good idea at the time, as the monster was becoming more human in his social perspective, and had he been given a more positive reception from the cottagers, he would’ve become more human in thought.
According to literary historian Martin Garrett, Mary read Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (which Mary refers to as “the Sorrows of Werter” in this passage) in 1815, just months before she conceived of the story that became Frankenstein in the summer of 1816. Werther is an epistolary novel, narrated through a series of letters, and it may have inspired Mary’s structural choices in writing Frankenstein, where she uses letters in a number of different ways to tell the story.
Like the creature, Mary was exposed to Paradise Lost early in life—and judging by its prominence in Frankenstein, the epic poem had as profound an impact on her developing mind as it does the creature’s. In 1810, Mary’s father William Godwin published The Poetical Class-Book, which he coedited with William Frederick Mylius. The book included poems by many of the era’s literary luminaries, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Helen Maria Williams, and Lord Byron, as well as extracts from John Milton’s Paradise Lost (which was much older than the other entries, having been first published in 1667). In his A Mary Shelley Chronology, literary historian Martin Garrett speculates that The Poetical Class-Book may have been the first time that Mary read Paradise Lost, at around age 13. Later, in January 1812, when she was 14, Mary attended a series of three public lectures given by Coleridge on Milton’s work.
In this instance, the creation’s greatest fears come true. After having watched the family in the cottage for such a long time, he decides to confront the blind De Lacey in hopes that they could interact and empathize. Because the monster has been deprived for so long of interaction with other sentient beings, he was left deprived of the affection needed for his happiness. So, when he confronts De Lacey and is welcomed as a regular human, he feels a sense of accomplishment and is more open to the idea of people. All of these hopes are “quitted” when the rest of the family returns home to find him sitting alongside De Lacey, and their reaction is of horror. This fulfills the monster’s worst nightmares of the situation, and he allows Felix to beat him because he feels defeated. To describe this sensation, the simile “I could have torn him limb from limb, as the lion rends the antelope” portrays how when the monster is full of rage and power, he can physically overpower the humans. But in reality, the people play the role of the lion that “rends” apart the helpless monster’s soul and defeats him. This quote overall portrays a climax in the monster’s development where after he meekly sought sympathy from people, he was rejected epically, “rending” apart his future hopes of ever living with humanity and his tolerance for people. This marks the point at which the monster resolves to lash out at mankind for not accepting him, and his monstrous behavior begins.
The monster decided to first meet Delacy, thinking that his blindness will remove the bias most people have against the monster’s looks. He hopes that he can speak to Delacy and get him to see the monster for who he is, beyond his looks, and then Delacy will convince the other cottagers to give the monster a chance. Unfortunately, his interaction with Delacy is cut short by Agatha, Safie and Felix arriving early back at the cottage. They have the worst possible reaction to the monster. They are terrified of him before he even has a chance to speak. Felix begins to beat him, and instead of fighting back he just accepts the pain. Because the pain of the beatings can’t compare to the emotional pain of being rejected instantly by people he wishes to befriend. In this moment he gives up. He no longer considers the possibility of family, friends or happiness. He knows that he is doomed to a life of isolation, because no person could ever love a monster. This may be the event that triggers his idea of getting a monster for a companion. People will never accept him, maybe the only one who ever will is somebody just as ugly and lonely.
The monster picks up information very fast, as he also applies everything he learns directly to himself. He read the fiction book Paradise Lost as if it were an autobiography and thought of everything it had as real life. The monster knows loved but has never been loved. What he did know was that in these stories god was the creator, and the creator cared for his humans. God looked out for and wanted his humans to succeed. That is where the monster was different. He knew his creator was not God but Victor. Who didn’t care for him or wanted him to succeed, but instead was frightened by him and left him. I think the monster made a connection to the fact that he may be too ugly and unfixable. That is why in the monster’s mind, Victor left him. Being so innocent to the world and the meaning of feeling, the monster has nothing to do but sorrow in his hovel. The monsters lack of knowledge was his own defeat.
The monster is at a loss when he finds books in the woods. The things in the books seem so ordinary to common humans, but he has a hard time grasping things. Daily life for the monster is not quite living but more watching others live and thinking to himself. He has few interactions, the majority of which have a negative outcome. When he finds books, which are a good summary of normal human culture, it puzzles him and makes him feel left out, because he is. Stories are written to be relatable to an extent, and make sense to an extent. However, when he reads them, he just feels upset that he has none of the experiences or relationships described in the book. He realizes that he has nothing, and that he is different from everybody else and will never be the same. The monster knows what humans are supposed to look like, and he knows he is not it. The book almost gloats to him and makes fun at how he isn’t like the rest of people. He was created and since then has had no real interactions and no learning experiences outside of what he figured out himself.
Knowledge is acquired throughout our entire lives, and there’s always room for more. Though it helps us progress, it can be harmful when fixated on, and this is very evident in the story of Frankenstein. From the very beginning, Robert Walton’s quest for knowledge led him to a weakened Victor who wished to tell his story (as seen in Letters 1-4). Then, the Monster’s desire for knowledge made him learn how to read and speak, and how to think about his own life and who made him, and why he was made (as seen in Chapters 12, 13, and 14). Much later on, Victor’s thirst for knowledge led him into making a monster that became self aware of its creation and began killing everything and everyone that made Victor happy (Shown in Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 21). While a quest for knowledge can lead to great things, such as advancements in technology today, sometimes it can raise some ethical questions on its intended use. For example, gene editing tools like CRISPR could be a great leap in biological technology, but it could also have some great consequences. It raises many questions like ‘Who gets the right to have their life changed/prolonged?” and “Who doesn’t?”. Even if we have achieved the level of knowledge needed to make this innovation possible, should we really continue with it? Some knowledge seeking quests can lead to terrible devastation and may have not been necessary in the first place, as shown in Frankenstein.
The monster describes the moment he obtained and read literature for the first time. Reading for the first time the monster experiences various different emotions as one does when reading and interpreting art. He learns to equate art and other people’s experiences to that of his own. In Sorrows of Werter he observes that sorrow can occur in even a simple country life, this ultimately helps him connect and understand the family he observes. Not only does he gain a better understanding of Felix, De Lacey, and Agatha but he also learns more about human nature from the books he reads. The monster later talks about the great emotion he felt when the main character of In Sorrows of Werter kills themselves. He cries without understanding why which is a power metaphor for the monsters existence. He exists without knowing why, he was created without knowing why, and he was abandoned and hated with knowing why.
As the monster began to understand human behavior, he began to identify himself in terms of the feelings he observed from the De Laceys. Having done nothing wrong, the monster saw himself as a being capable of benevolence and generosity, though he did not understand why people commit wrong acts. This is alluded to when he says that he looked at crime as “a distant evil,” and not something he thought himself capable of. Observing the De Laceys made the monster want to reflect their mannerisms, and thus become more human. When he says that he desires to “become an actor in the busy scene where so many admirable qualities were called forth,” he alludes to the fact that he now understands more fully what it is to be human, as he has committed atrocious acts since then, such as killing William. The monster now understands that no human is entirely benevolent, and by wanting to act like he was he played the role of an actor, lying to himself.
He talks to Frankenstein, his creator, of how he changed from being naive of what emotions came to play with different situations to being aware of all different emotions. He talks about the fact that when he stalked the cottager’s he only saw good but as his learned and became aware of things his scope of human emotions widened. This connects to the theme of coming into consciousness. While he learns from the cottager’s he thinks they only experience happiness and love but as he spend more time stalking and studying them he begins to unravel what truly is being the veil of emotions. He starts to see pain, sadness and the feeling of losing something or someone. He wanted to participate in the act of feeling all these wonderful emotions. He wanted to be part of a family, have connections and contact. He wanted to experience things that he has never felt. From the limited access he has he thinks that what they have is normal, that that is what he should be experience not hate and fear. When he talks about expanding his intellect, he acknowledges that he has learned from his experiences and that the mistakes or misjudgements he made a few months ago will not be repeated.
Here it is clearly shown that if one is only exposed to one thing then they come to believe that is all that exists. Similar to Plato’s Allegory yet a happy family is the shadows he sees. However his situation is also different because the monster still knows that crime exists. The monster says that crime was seen as a distant evil just as those who live in certain areas of the world, raised in a bubble, also see it as a distant concept they need not worry about. I find that many people in sub-urban areas and first world countries are distracted from the problems in the world. This cottage home is like the painted veil, it is a mask of a happy family to cover up the “far off” horrors which in reality lie not so far away. He bears such a resemblance to a child, one shielded away from foreign beliefs and mostly exposed to peace. Yet he is still very rational and smart at the same time. He wishes to take part in their happiness yet he is still smart enough to know they would not accept him because of his appearance. Yet the continual exposure to this loving family shall become unbearable and he soon devises a plan to introduce himself.
In this passage, the creature acknowledges that the stimuli he encountered early in his conscious life was essential in shaping his identity and beliefs. Machines learn in much the same way, socialized by ingesting vast sets of “training data,” which can be imperfect and potentially damaging. In simple terms, the quality of the output is determined by the quality of the input, hence the computer science acronym GIGO, or garbage in, garbage out.
Want to learn more about artificial intelligence and machine learning? Watch “Monsters in the Machine,” with commentary by Daniel Bear, a neuroscientist and AI researcher at Stanford University; Margaret Wertheim, a science writer and curator; and Braden Allenby, an engineer, technology ethicist, and environmental attorney at Arizona State University.
Watch more episodes of our Reanimation! series on our Media page.
Want to learn more about philosophy and science of cognition? Watch “A Spark of Consciousness,” featuring commentary by David Chalmers, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at New York University, and Danbee Kim, a PhD candidate at the International Neuroscience Doctoral Programme, headquartered at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisboa, Portugal.
Watch more episodes of our Reanimation! series on our Media page.
Animal behavior has been shaped by millions of years of evolution. As animals, humans have some behaviors that are conserved and shared with many other species. Fear, for example, is common in the animal kingdom, and it serves a useful purpose by making sure we stay out of dangerous situations. Similarly, selfishness, or the focus on getting the resources we need to survive, is something life has practiced since it began. But what about love? And compassion? What about altruism? Are humans the only creatures to do things that benefit others but don’t directly benefit themselves? No. It turns out that altruistic behavior is observed across life—from the prairie dog that will alert its neighbors to a nearby predator (but in doing so puts itself at risk) to slime molds that live most of their lives as single cells but must decide to cooperate if they are to reproduce (and in making that decision become part of the 20 percent that sacrifice themselves). Like many other life forms, humans may be selfish at times but have a tremendous capacity to put the needs of others before themselves. The question is, under what circumstances?
Victor’s creature has learned about humanity by observing humans and by reading poetry, classical philosophy, and a highly sentimental novel. He believes himself to be worthy of or at least not disqualified from receiving the kindly treatment that he has seen humans accord one another. He has evaluated himself and found himself human.
Self-esteem, the assessment of value that people give themselves and their own behavior, is a relatively recent psychological concept, dating from the late nineteenth century, and this passage can be interpreted as an example of the increased focus on the individual that is associated with the advent of romanticism. However, the process of evaluating one’s behavior and ranking it relative to that of other people has been a human concern since the dawn of history. Self-esteem presupposes awareness of self; it may be related to survival-enhancing, neurologically based behaviors common to the many nonhuman social animals in whom self-awareness has been identified. Research has recently been directed at identifying self-esteem-like behavior in primates and other animals.
Victor’s creature seems to have, in addition to the desire to evaluate his own behavior, the ability to judge the fairness of that behavior and the behavior of others: that is, he has a sense of justice. There is evidence that an understanding of fairness or equity is a trait shared by many animals, but research remains to be done to understand the mechanism by which various kinds of animals assess whether another’s behavior is equitable or not. Even human concepts of justice can be vague and contradictory and may differ from one culture to another, just as individual humans’ evaluation of their own behavior is not necessarily accurate and their opinion of themselves is not necessarily shared by others (see Blanchard and Blanchard 2003; Blanchard, Blanchard, and McKittrick 2001; Brosnan 2012; Christen and Glock 2012; and Heatherton and Vohs 2000).
Communion represents connection, a sharing or holding of things in common that is central to achieving our full humanity. Social scientists today refer to communion in terms of intimacy or perhaps love or even social support. Research has recently discovered what Mary intuited two centuries ago—positive relationships are what keep us healthy and happy. We experience the irony of watching Victor pursue his goal of creating life while isolating himself from what he later learns is most life-giving—communion with family, friends, and lovers. And though he gives biological life to his creation, he fails to give him what is most meaningful—communion. Many of us seem driven to try alternative means of happiness (creation of our own monsters, perhaps) before we realize that relationships are not superfluous but are instead essential in our lives. Victor’s disdain for and rejection of his own creation (his dehumanization of the creation) become not only his own undoing but also the causal agent for the transfiguration of his creation’s natural state of benevolence to one of violence (the creation’s ill-guided attempts at discharging existential loneliness and pain). Had Victor considered communion an essential part of “life,” he would have changed the plight of his creation (who notes that communion, with even one person, would change his course) and his own plight. Mary artfully presents the human experience as a process of seeking communion and discharging the pain of disconnection. One is left to wonder if every person must endure loss before understanding the value of communion and whether today’s inventors and innovators keep communion more central in their imaginations than Victor does.
Who are we really? What are we made of? What is the self? What makes the creation a monster? Of course, answers to the latter question depend on how we define the term monster. Victor makes his creation by sewing together the body parts of many individuals, leaving the creation unaware of his own identity. The creature’s composite nature, his lack of a singular physical and mental identity, is an important aspect of his monstrosity.
Our current scientific understanding of what we are made of can help us in understanding this idea of monstrosity. Humans and most other forms of life have a genetic conflict within them. This conflict arises from being composed of genetically distinct entities. For example, in “microchimerism,” there are genetically distinct cells in a human body that come from a mother or an elder sibling (from the child’s perspective) or from a child (from the mother’s perspective). There are also genetically distinct gut microbiota, which can influence behavior, as can viral infections such as rabies. In these cases, our physiology and behavior can be influenced by genetically distinct entities that have fitness interests different from our own.
Taking Mary’s idea of a monster and joining it with current knowledge about our genetically heterogeneous nature, we arrive at a potentially useful conception of a monster as an individual whose physiology and behavior are (fully or partially) under the control of a genetically distinct individual or population of individuals. Understanding ourselves as biologically heterogeneous, we can more easily and perhaps more sympathetically explore the idea of the monster’s composite nature and Victor’s struggle with his creation. Unlike Victor, we must face the fact that we are all monsters.
These three texts were on Mary’s reading list the summer before she began writing Frankenstein. They represent a kind of literary education for the creature. From Plutarch, he would learn about the great leaders of the Greco-Roman world and the nature of politics and public affairs. In Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), he would read about domestic life and social relationships, particularly as they apply to the difficult business of adolescence and growing up. Finally, from John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) the creature would learn about faith and the complexities of good and evil. In Milton’s story, Satan, the fallen angel, is a charismatic antihero who challenges his creator.
A significant part of who we are as individuals is created in response to what we observe in others. The creature, abandoned by his creator, has the good fortune to find a loving and admirable family to watch and attempt to mimic. It is unclear how many of the De Laceys’ admirable qualities are genuine and how many are a product of the creature’s desire to find in others the qualities he wishes he had found in his creator. What is clear, however, is that the act of creation is only one small component of the creature’s tale, and the same is true for any scientific or technological endeavor. The wider social context in which the act of creation takes place will have an impact on the final place and shape of the knowledge or technologies created by the scientist or engineer.