200 Years of Frankenstein

You may be aware that 2018 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a book widely considered to be the first proper science fiction novel. I had not read it in many, many years, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit it. Here are my thoughts:

The “monster” in the story is the only character who ISN’T a monster. 

The moral of the story, as far as I can tell, is that people are shit. 

Frankenstein (the creator) is shit for not nurturing and accepting his creation, and for shirking his responsibility once his creation is “loose” in the world. Nowhere does he ever come to the realization that it is his action–or rather, inaction–that has made the monster a monster. He seeks only to ignore, to cover up, or to plot to destroy his “child” only after it is too late.

All the people (save one) that the creature encounters are shit because of their prejudice and bigotry. The universal reaction to the creature is fear, hatred and violence based solely on his physical appearance. 

It’s no wonder the creature–who is otherwise revealed as an intelligent, sensitive personality with normal needs and wants–turns into a bitter, vengeful devil. 

This story, intentionally or not, highlights the deleterious effects of bullying and violence, and how parents particularly shape children and need to bear responsibility for giving them the tools to survive as useful, sympathetic citizens. (Indeed, the creature explicitly refers to himself as an “abortion” near the end of the tale, hinting that there are times when the responsible act of a potential parent is to know when NOT to bring another life into the world.)

In the end, it is remarkable to me what a pessimistic novel Frankenstein is, a story that sets the tone for countless “mad scientist” and science-is-bad narratives that have arguably led to a dominant anti-science, anti-intellectual movement in Western society. How different might this book have been had Frankenstein accepted his creation and taught it that to be human is to act human.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *