Thursday, September 15, 2011

What makes us human, and does the monster qualify?

What does it mean to be human? There is an obvious scientific answer to this deceivingly simple question that involves, among other things, the presence of opposable thumbs and neurological structures. However this answer seems negligently incomplete to all but the most literal-minded people due to the fact that if fails to address the human experience. It is through our shared experiences, that we define what it means to be human. These are also experienced by the monster, albeit over an accelerated timeline. Through these fundamental human experiences, the monster develops those nonphysical, shared characteristics that lead us to consider him to be human.

The first trait that the monster possesses that is fundamentally human is his desire for self-preservation and avoidance of pain and harm. All people share this universal need to protect themselves. We first see evidence of this when the monster says, “Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.”(Shelly 107) This shows that he is self-aware and values his life. A second time when the monster shows this trait is when he goes into the town and is pelted by rocks then the monster runs from the villagers to protect himself. (Shelly 115)

The next quality that the monster possesses that makes him human is his need for human interaction and relationships. This is made clear by the fact that he wants to have a relationship with his creator, Frankenstein (Shelly 106-107). The monster clearly sees Frankenstein as a sort of parent, and wishes to have a relationship with him. Secondly when he meets the family on pg 110, it is apparent that he wants to be among them and be part of the mini-community they form. These actions show that the monster shares our human need to interact with other people; therefore he is human in that aspect.

The aspect that probably makes the monster most human is his ability to reason and learn. While he is telling his story of how he came to be after leaving the lab of his creation we get an insight into the development of his mind. First he becomes able to use his perceptive senses of sight and sound (Shelly 111). Then he develops an understanding of fire by discovering how to keep it burning, which shows his mastery of logical reasoning and deduction (Shelly 112). Finally he learns language; spoken language is one thing that separates humans from all other forms of life so it is elemental to what it means to be human. We see him begin by simple word association (Shelly 122) and evolve to a highly educated communicator by the time he is conversing with Dr. Frankenstein on the mountain.

Frankenstein’s monster, by experiencing the above three common human experiences, develops in much the same way any person would. Humans are defined, at least in my eyes, by their needs and desires and drives. The needs that are universal to all people include things like: the desire for self-preservation and security, the need for interpersonal relationships, and the desire for cognitive development. These three universal needs are clearly present in the psyche of the monster, evidenced by his experiences as he develops. This leads us to classify the monster as human.


  1. Anthony,

    I agree with your argument that the monster is human. The proof being his interactions with other humans. You made wonderful examples clearly showing human characteristics. For future reference you may want to expand those examples to show the deeper meaning. Overall, great proof to the monster being human!

  2. Question re: the first paragraph. Is a scientific definition of what it means to be human really opposed to understanding the human experience?

    That relates to what happens over the next several paragraphs. Rather than offering one, unified definition of humanity, you give several chained definitions.

    "Self preservation and avoidance of pain" - I've criticized other people for definitions which work for dogs as well as humans. This one, though, works for lizards and bacteria!

    "human interaction and relationships" - this one seems fine, until you realized that it's circular. You're defining "human" in terms of "human relationships"

    reasoning and learning is fine, but complicated - some people don't reason well (a 3 month old baby, a victim of dementia), and by some definition some chimpanzees or gorillas might be "human."

    This might seem like a series of nitpicks - and, in fact, your illustrations from the texts are solid. But your definitions are careless - you give far more thought to the evidence than to the premise.