Re-reading Frankenstein During My Lunch Break

After reading this article about Frankenstein as an outgrowth of (and a self-reflexive commentary on) Mary Shelly’s world, I thought about the “monster” itself: a human-like creature, indeed made out of the parts of previously dead people, who, when shunned by a society refusing to acknolwedge its humanity, goes on a murderous rampage as an act of revolt. In the story, Dr. Frankenstein pursues his creation to the North Pole, but doesn’t kill it. Instead, Frankenstein dies while attempting to return south after his ship is trapped in the ice. In a reversal, the “monster” mourns the death of its creator, and vows to commit suicide via pyre so that nobody will learn of its existence.

There are of course many interpretations of the symbolism of this story, and some are elucidated in the aforementioned article. Most of these interpretations hold that the tale is ultimately a cautionary one. This is what happens when X runs amok, where X = science, hubris, boredom, etc.

But think about the story in another way. Think about the “monster” as the protagonist. Created against its will, forced to reconcile severing tensions arising from being made from humans but yet not being “whole,” the creature turns society’s violence back on the very structures that seek to confine and destroy it. Since society will not recognize the creature as human, the creature returns the favor to society.

After all that trouble, the creature realizes in the end that the resistence against its creator can not be fulfilled with the death of the creator, but instead by the death of his creation; by committing suicide, the creature defies the hope that is expected of it, and thus shows the ultimate insubordination to Frankenstein’s order, which is simply to live.

The Camusian revolt is, likewise, a sort of mental symbolic suicide, whereby what dies is hope in the deliverance of some external conductor or master. How, then, are we like the monster? Existentially, and indeed genetically, we are the product of a synthesis of several other humans, most of whom are dead. We also did not choose our births. We struggle constantly to become “whole” in a world that is accelleratingly fragmented. Obviously a murderous rampage is the stuff of ghost stories, and not a recipe for success in the material world. But an existential murderous rampage, an unscathing but level-headed questioning of all orders and assumptions, is what seems most appropriate, or else we suffer the repetition of the same cautionary tale, over and over again.

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