Thursday, September 15, 2011

Is the monster a human? - Abby Czulada

What do we call a creature that possesses nearly all of the necessary qualities of a human being, yet was brought to life in a way so abnormal and unlike our own beginnings of life? It’s hard to say that any human being would classify a creature eight feet tall, built in a laboratory, and brought to life with a spark as one of their own. On the other hand, how could we call something that speaks, feels, and looks (vaguely) like a human anything different? All of this said, is Victor Frankenstein’s monster really a human? I believe it is.

According to Merriam-Webster, the scientific definition is “a bipedal primate mammal.” By this definition, the monster is a human. To actually define something as a human, however, traits on another level must be considered. Another definition characterizes them as living things with “superior intelligence, articulate speech, and erect carriage.” In the moments between the time that the monster was sparked with life and when he first tried to interact with Victor, he had already shown signs of superior intelligence. The book describes the scene: the monsters eyes were fixed on Victor, “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, but I escaped, and rushed down the stairs.” I feel as though the monster recognized Victor’s fear ad that the grin and gestures were not to frighten him, but perhaps to comfort him instead, but he had not yet learned the proper way to do so.

The monster shows incredibly articulate speech when talking to Victor later on in the book. As Victor spent a day wandering through the valley, he came across the monster. During their exchange, the monster communicates flawlessly. His speech does not reflect his age, which at the time was equal to a young child who would only be learning basic words and sounds. Instead, he used words such as “dissoluble,” “annihilation,” and made a proposal only someone with human intelligence would think of. “Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions, I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends.” This passage shows extremely high intelligence by being well thought out and articulate.

During this same conversation in the valley, the monster displays emotion. He talks about the cycle of hate between mankind and himself. He uses his tale of the hatred and loneliness inflicted upon him to stir up some kind of compassion and curiosity in Victor to listen to him. While not exactly manipulative, there are traces of some scheming in order to keep Victor from running away – an absolutely human quality and indication of his intelligence.

The idea of calling the monster a human is also supported by how he learns by observation. Though it is already clear that the monster learns at an unthinkably fast rate for normal human beings, he still starts out his life learning the same way that babies and young children do. During his time living around the De Lacey farm, he first began learning about his senses just by experiencing them. His first attempts at speech occurred when he tried to emulate the sounds around him. He learned that fire could warm him when he was cold. He learned how to coax smoldering fire back to a burning flame. He learns a few simple words. He learns how to gather food, however scarce it might have been. Perhaps one of the most human things he does early on in his time there is how he realizes the family is unhappy and attributes it to the fact that they do not have much money. His ability to connect their crying and pain to their extreme poverty was something no other being but a human could do.

Humans have certain wants and needs. There are some needs that are shared by all humans, such as the need for food and water. While they are not total necessities, we also desire love and companionship. We have a thirst for knowledge engrained in us from birth, whether that is a want to be educated or just learn how to live. It is safe to say that the monster wants all of these things, and he certainly needs the same things as humans in order to maintain health, as is evident in his search for food while on the farm. He has a need for shelter, which he fulfills by camping out in cottages and caves.

It would be absurd to call the monster anything but a human when in reality, he is a better human than any “normal” human could ever hope to be. His speed of learning, magnificent size and strength, and ability to perceive the emotions of others are all traits to be envied. He may have entered this world in a way that makes him unique from every other human on the planet, but possesses all of the traits any human being would have and more.


  1. I thought your essay was well thought out and written. It was interesting that you brought up the monster's emotions as a sign of his humanity. In my essay (I chose the same topic) I looked at his emotions in terms of his sensitivity. I didn't even consider him using it as manipulation- great point! I think you can further elaborate on his emotions and the interaction between the monster and Victor- maybe provide a quotation?

  2. You did a nice job with many components of this essay. By way of example, I especially like your very specific discussion of the monster's budding analytical ability, figuring out poverty and the impact that it has. So you make able use of details.

    Your definitions are pretty good, too. Your first paragraph is useless, and your movement from the shallow dictionary definition to the better one is perhaps unnecessary - but the definition you end up with is fine.

    Here's what bothers me: I get no sense from anything here that *you* have any particular investment in any part of this big, complicated definition of what it means to be human. Why do you care? Why do we care?

    I'm not even saying that you *don't* care - but by having a list of components to your definition (following up a a discarded definition), it's hard to figure out where your priorities are. Speech is a fine topic, observation is a fine topic, but the end result (especially following the weak opening) is scattered. Many of the parts are good, but the whole is somewhat less than the sum of the parts.