Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein | Human and Social Monsters

Victor meets his creation, finding more of himself reflected back than he desires.

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley offers humans as real monsters. We are the society that offers up the parts to create Victor’s monster. Indeed, the animated monster is merely a reflection of all our worst parts, eyes that covet, one hand to steal, one to kill. Though Victor refuses to animate the female monster he makes as a mate for the monster, the latent threat is that the horror she represents is already fully formed, ready for animation. These monsters merely mirror frightening elements we conceal in our own selves, elements unleashed and at work in the world and elements still in the process of formation.

Monster and Man

Not only do the monsters reflect all that is actively wrong with society, but they also reflect the uncontrollable in the psyche of mankind. Frankenstein’s animated and unanimated monsters represent fears of the unconscious. That is, elements that humans have no control of in their conscious, phenomenological experience. The thoughts from the unconscious appear as dreams and sometimes bubble up in moments of high passion. The thoughts of man during sleep, appearing as dreams, are uncontrollable through the active power of the will. And, since individuals make up larger society, dreams are also an unmediated view into potential social realities. The individual’s lack of control of the unconscious mind in dreams reflects his lack of control over larger society. That other appearance of the unconscious, during moments of high passion are, is perhaps more frightening than the dream version of the unconscious, since it produces spontaneous and often dangerous actions.

Monsters and Repression

Shelley’s monsters represent what society and individuals repress. In Frankenstein, Victor’s creation attacks Victor's family when its creator, Victor, is asleep. Asleep, the will is no longer active and the repressed thoughts of the shadow self go unchecked. The attacks are mapped to Victor because the monster is Victor’s shadow self, an embodied extension of Victor’s subconscious. Though Victor may fear that those people he loves best might come to harm, the worst fear is that they would come to harm by his own hand. Carl Jung describes the shadow self as “the shadow cast by the conscious mind of the individual,”  containing “the hidden, repressed, and unfavorable (or nefarious) aspects of the personality.” (Jung 110).
             When Victor sleeps, the monster does his worst work, unleashing Victor's fears, repressed feelings, and negative aspects. The question we should ask ourselves is, to which negative elements of our society have we fallen asleep? What sicknesses have we animated and let pass from our thoughts?

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