Was Frankenstein’s creature really a monster?

The word most often applied to the creature stitched together by Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s novel is ‘monster’ – but does he really deserve this epithet of abuse?

When he first becomes alive, the creature realises that he is frightening to humans and hides. This shows sensitivity and consideration for the feelings of others. He hides out on a farm where a blind man is teaching a little girl English, and by eavesdropping on the lessons learns our language, showing a desire to better himself and understand others.

The change comes about when the creature confronts Victor over his responsibilities of playing the creator. The creature knows he cannot live in human society and volunteers to exile himself in the wastes of South America where he will cause no alarm. But he cannot endure the idea of spending the rest of his life alone. He makes one demand of his creator: Victor must make him a woman, then he and his bride will quit human society and live alone.

Victor agrees to the demand and begins work on a female. But he has doubts. He has already created one being who is potentially very dangerous. If he creates another isn’t he putting mankind in even more danger? What if they manage to breed?

Victor reneges on his promise to the creature. It is this betrayal, condemning his creation to a life of lonliness and exile that drives the creature wild and sets him on a destructive course.

He is no monster before this betrayal but a thoughtful, sensitive being. It is the denial of his basic human rights that drives him mad. The creature’s rampage is a violent protest against being denied the most basic human right of all – the right of human companionship.

There is also an ironic element to Shelley’s story. At the time she wrote, surgical technique was so crude that she had Victor make or find parts bigger than usual so that he could work with them. The result was that his creature was eight feet tall. The stitching together was so crude that the creature’s skin was yellow, his veins visible, his appearance horrifying.

In 2015, it is technically feasible to re-animate the dead by giving them new parts. It might well be possible to cobble together a being from components and re-animate him. Using modern surgical techniques, including plastic surgery, such a creature might be more attractive than usual, rather than less. If so, then far from being monstrous, such a creation might be a more highly evolved being than us. If written today, her novel might have a very different outcome.

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