May 6, 2019
Among vampires and werewolves, Frankenstein seems to be the most ambiguous and misunderstood storyline that Hollywood has taken and morphed into various depictions. The original, Classical Romantic novel by Mary Shelley, portrays the Creature as a symbol of intellectuality and sensitivity in the body of a nonconformooist. However, the film adaptations devolve from this and do not reveal the emotional tragedy that Shelley intended. The different portrayals of Frankenstein highlight Theses One and Four of Cohen’s Monster Theory, exposing a cultural stigma behind the symbolic difference that the Creature inspires, showing how society dehumanizes this individual to facilitate their demonization.
Mary Shelley epitomizes the theme of Romanticism in her novel, emphasizing on the tragic dynamic between Victor Frankenstein and his Creation. Victor’s erudition is obvious from his childhood and as his collegiate endeavors begin to push the boundaries of science. He sets out to build the perfectly horrific being, with immense physical and mental capabilities. He is “8-foot-tall, hideously ugly creation, with translucent yellowish skin… watery, glowing eyes, flowing black hair, black lips, and prominent white teeth” (Shelley). Despite this, the Creature is “born” with an extreme desire to hug his “father”. He feels an intense need for comfort and faces rejection from the start of his consciousness. As his intellect progresses, the Creature becomes invigorated by literature and nature, showing the deep Romantic qualities he possesses.
Through this, Jeffrey Cohen’s Thesis I explains that the Creature is an embodiment of the culture in it’s fictional setting and, also, reflects the ideologies of culture at the period of writing. He is abstract in thinking and he is chronological in his development, emanating a childlike curiosity and then becoming a strategically resentful being. The Creature is the epitome of intellectuality and paganism, expressing the attributes admirable in the period of Romanticism, whilst being faced with societal prosecution. In his loneliness, the Creature finds comfort in nature, becoming aware of the greenery and beauty in his surroundings.. He begins to delve into literature, reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and constantly alluding to it as his character develops. He is entirely symbolic of Mary Shelley’s ideology, mirroring the deep enlightenment around the Romantic era that focused on reverence of nature and arts rather than institution and structure.
The Creature, however, does acquire a violent demeanor, with his first murder being completely unintended. Though he murdered his creator’s very brother, he shows qualities of emotional awareness, and expresses his troubling loneliness. Society imposes this feeling of inadequacy within the Creature, distorting his own soul, causing him to assume a vengeful agenda. The audience feels sympathy for the Creature, understanding that it is not his own fault for his behaviors and feeling the sense of utter tragedy that has and is to come. Contrary to this, more modern depictions of the Creature do not instill this sense of emotional distress among the audience. It, instead, reeks of shallowness and takes the Creature from a beautiful disaster to a worldwide Halloween stereotype.
Hollywood became fascinated with Shelley’s narrative, dismissing the literary merit and thematic importance of her characters, and morphed it into a plethora of adaptations. As a result, the personas of the Creature and Victor Frankenstein were misconceived. In the 1931 adaptation, directed by James Whale, we see a mad scientist curating the impossible; he creates a monster with the brain of a criminal through feverish determination. The Creature is now depicted as innately evil and frightening from the start. He shows very little sign of awareness or intelligence and is certainly not an empathetic being anymore. Through this, Cohen’s fourth Thesis is revealed in which a “lack of humanity” is imposed onto the character of the Creature to facilitate a justification for his differences in society. Although he is a fictional character, Hollywood distorted the emotional, tragic, heartfelt being into an absent-minded, Hallmark monster, easily a Halloween-time staple. As a result, society today is introduced to the Creature differently than intended and is desensitized to the message initially conveyed upon by Shelley.
The disparity between these two variations of the Creature continues in the way the characters within the setting and intended audience react. Shelley’s character reveals a wretched internal conflict, demonstrating how and why he assumed the serial, vengeful persona that modern culture has come to superficially comprehend. Because the audience can sympathize and understand the reasons for his volatile manner and even begins to rationalize it. Mary Shelley has created the perfect monster, who’s physicality and consuming mental ability intimidates the audience yet also creates a vindication for his turbulent actions. The Romantic Creature is contrasting from other infamous monsters all due to the emphasis on culture that Shelley placed within him. In David Urizar’s analyzation of the monster, he explains that the “only indication that Victor is insane is when it comes to the monster” (22). He embodies everything that Victor hoped to achieve intellectually but ultimately frightened him most, demonstrating that the real monster was the very own creator. Through this dynamic, a sense of complexity in the relationship between creator and creation sparks a deepened sense of torment and crisis within the audience.
In the film, this intricate dynamic shifts, in which Frankenstein is less emotionally attached to his academic experiment and instead delves into a more supernatural, unrealistic attempt to invent a being from obsolete body parts. The Creature, here, has little ability to recognize and appreciate his environment, taking away from his potential humanity. This is where Jeffrey Cohen continues to explain how monsters become considered as such in society, saying that “any kind of alterity can be inscribed across the monstrous body” but that this difference is constituted by the standards set by the culture in this time and place (7). Aside from the acts that take place within the film, the manner in which the audience reacted and capitalized off of the Creature because of a lack of willingness to understand only catalyzes Cohen’s criticism of society. It is ironic that the overdramatized, impractical portrayal of the Creature is what we have become fixated upon, mostly because it is easier to accept that a nonconforming being does not possess the qualities of sentiment that we are so humanly familiar with.
The contrast of these two depictions of Frankenstein is vast, highlighting different stereotypes and cultural aspects of societies both in these portrayals and reality. The abstract, keen character that Mary Shelley created in contrast to the way in which he was adapted, reveals the very judgement she had conveyed in the novel; society births the things it is afraid of. All in all, the film adaptation presents a watered down vision of what is fearful and takes away from the impact that the original Creature had imposed on his audience. Cohen’s theses analyzing the psychological nature behind monsters emphasizes on how society produces monsters such as Victor Frankenstein produced his.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture: Seven Theses.” From Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 3-25
The first chapter of Cohen’s theory summaries the theses revolving around the concept of a monster. He explains the cultural stigma of monsters and the dynamic between society and the individual, which I feel explains the development of Victor’s creature and his environment. Cohen is a professor and the director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies at George Washington University
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus : the 1818 Text. Oxford ; New York :Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.
The literary classic written by Mary Shelley invented a character that much of modern culture easily recognizes. She invented a plot that was iconic in Romanticism and forever will shape society’s perception of an exemplary monster. Through her deep understanding of Romanticism in the aspects of freedom versus structure, she has immense credibility in being able to understand what comprises the established characteristics that we tend to search for in a monster.
Urizar, D. O. (2016). The Real “Monster” in Frankenstein. Arsenal: The undergraduate research journal of Augusta University, 1(1), 20-27. http://doi.org/10.21633/issn.2380.5064/f.2016.01.20
This research journal highlights the contrast between the Creature and Victor Frankenstein. Urizar analyzes the details in Victor’s character to bring to light who the real monster of Shelley’s novel is. Urizar wrote this as an undergraduate researcher for Agusta U