Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Human or Monster?

The saying “I’m only human” has a negative connotation, noting on the shortcomings of people. The fact that we were created, not the Creator means that we do not have the ability to be in control over everything. We rely on our emotions, knowledge, and abilities in order to make decisions and sometimes we make mistakes. But those characteristics are exactly what define us as being human. For that reason, Frankenstein’s monster is human.

It is natural for people to need and want to belong. We rely on our friends and families for support, companionship, security and even as a sense of identity. This particular human trait demonstrates how sensitive we can be because extreme cases of loneliness and ostracism can cause serious harm to our mental health. The monster is very much human in terms of his emotions. Just like any other person, the monster wants only to belong. But all his efforts only result in society shunning him. Right from the start he is abhorred by his creator, Victor Frankenstein. Unaware as to why, the monster makes an attempt to get close to him. Victor, disgusted by the sight of him, ran from him but the monster followed. According to Victor, “His eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me” (pg 54-55, Shelley). Victor may have assumed the monster’s intentions were malevolent, but it seems more like the actions a child would have for their parent. He was smiling at Victor and being uneducated, he communicated his joy in nonsensical noise like a newborn. After he was abandoned by Victor and forced to live in exile, the monster conveyed his anguish, saying, “Am I not alone, miserably alone? You, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow-creatures, who owe me nothing? They spurn and hate me” (pg 107, Shelley). Just like any human being would, the monster felt emotional distress from being unwanted, especially by Victor.

The monster also showed human tendencies as he became adapted to the world and the environment around him. As with humans, he learned everything he knew by trial and error. Upon finding warmth in the fire left by beggars, his first instinct was to reach in and touch it. Like a child who did not know any better and stuck their hand on a stove, he quickly learned a painful lesson. From that single event, he became more observant about the properties of fire and eventually figured how to keep the fire alive for heat and even cook food. Furthermore, upon observing the cottagers the monster picked up on simple words and terms he heard while eavesdropping. He also became astute in understanding the emotions of the cottagers and his sympathy lead him to doing acts of kindness for them. The monster told Victor, “This trait of kindness moved me sensibly. I had been accustomed, during the night, to steal a part of their store for my own consumption; but when I found that in doing this I inflicted pain on the cottagers, I abstained, and satisfied myself with berries, nuts, and roots” (pg 121, Shelley).

Another important aspect of the monster’s humanity lies in his mortality. The fact that he had no choice in his creation and no knowledge of what his future will hold exemplifies his humanity. As humans, we do not ask to be brought into the world. Similarly, we do not know how we will die. Because of that, we deem life to be precious. Despite how hard his life has been thus far, the monster told Victor, “Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it” (pg 107, Shelley). He criticizes his creator for being so lax about desiring his demise and belittling the responsibility that comes with giving life.

It may be argued that the monster is not human because he was born in an unnatural way. After all, he was created in a laboratory out of revived flesh, chemicals and an electrical spark. It is true that he was not conceived in the conventional sense, but considering the advancements in science and the option of surrogates nowadays unconventional births are not so uncommon anymore. To say that he is not human because he looks physically deformed is also an invalid claim because that argument is based on subjectivity and aesthetics rather than objectivity. Despite his strange appearance and abnormal creation, the monster’s need to belong, ability to learn, and his shortcomings are what ultimately make him human.


  1. Nice. You picked the same prompt and side that I did but used arguments and I didn't even think of. I particularly like the section comparing him to a child and needing to learn by trial and error. The part about life being precious was also very interesting. Comparing his creation to modern science was also a very good point.

  2. My response has two main components, one having to do with argument, the other having to do with evidence. Your strength (which is the opposite of what I expect from most people at the start of a class) is with evidence. While the example of the monster-as-baby was relatively easy, you still handle it well; the example of the monster learning to do with fire is better demonstration of your ability to read and use the text with care.

    But what argument are you supporting? You are arguing that the monster is human because he needs support/help, because he adapts/learns, and because he is mortal. This isn't a very careful definition of what it means to be human. The problem is that, while this definition describes people (say, me), it also describes many, many animals (including, for example, my dog - who needs emotional and material support, who adapts and learns from her mistakes, and who is mortal).

    One thing the prompt asked you to do is explain why your definition is a good one. This definition is problematic at best - a definition of "human" which also describes dogs, dolphins, and chimpanzees needs to be revisited. That being said, you *do* show detailed and thoughtful attention to the text, providing nuanced support for an argument with inherent flaws.