Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Why We Love Frankenstein's "Monster"

by Lucy Cole


Johnny Lee Miller as Dr Frankenstein
and Benedict Cumberbatch as the Monster,
National Theatre production of Frankenstein, 2012

When we hear the name "Frankenstein", we all draw into our mind the generic image of the green monster, bolts protruding from his brain, that has been portrayed by the media ever since James Whale's Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein in the 1930s and repeated in numerous incarnations, including those of the Hammer House of Horror movies in the 1960s. But the original Frankenstein’s creature of Mary Shelley’s imagination (back in 1818) is far removed from this fumbling green being devoid of any kind of humanity. Whilst watching Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of Shelley’s infamous novel, I was struck by the extent to which Frankenstein’s creature resembled a human child. I found myself, instead of feeling disgusted by the ugly, pieced-together monster before me, empathising with him and his endless suffering.

"Alone Bad, Friend Good . . ."



From his ‘birth’ the creature is rejected by those who should love him most; Dr. Frankenstein immediately abandons his role as father, abhorring his creation and ignoring its human qualities. Due to his differences, the creature is rejected from society and denied his humanity. Within her novel, Shelley seems to be commenting on the role of the external appearance of an individual in society’s acceptance of them, a topic still highly relevant in our society today. Although seemingly an abstract and unnatural concept, the creature seems to represent all those who are regarded as different, whether due to their appearance, their race, their religion or their mental capabilities, and are thus excluded by society’s in-group.

The creature crucified in Bride of Frankenstein
The Frankensteins of today may not be green or gigantic, but, like Shelley’s creature, they have been marked out as different from birth or childhood, and have consequently suffered for it for the remainder of their lives. They have sometimes been shunned or persecuted, such as the Jews in Germany and Eastern Euurope in World War II due to their race, or perhaps just prevented from engaging in the activities available for ‘normal’ people, as is often found with those with mental illness or learning disabilities. This separation from society, rather than reducing their suffering in fact appears to increase it, as it reinforces society’s belief that they are abnormal. It seems that despite Shelley’s highlighting of this problem, things have not changed from when she published the novel nearly two hundred years ago.

However, perhaps things are improving, and society is becoming more accepting of those who are different. More awareness of mental illness and a better understanding of different cultures has taught us that those who are different from us are not ‘monsters’, but people with the same thoughts, needs and feelings that we experience every day. The government is constantly working in order to integrate out-groups into society and to reduce the isolation of people, such as those with mental illness or learning disabilities, who are not able to function in a normal society.

But it is clear that this exclusion and rejection can never be completely prevented; from the playground to the civil war in Syria between different sects due to their beliefs, as a species humans will continue to judge those that are different, and the different will continue to suffer. We can only do our bit to make sure the Frankenstein’s creatures that we know feel wanted and accepted, their green skin nothing but an irrelevance.


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