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Monster and Morality in Frankenstein

by Stuart Sharp

In a lot of ways this wasn’t quite what I expected. I suppose the main thing was that most of the pieces that have based themselves around the Frankenstein story have placed quite a lot of emphasis on the act of creating the monster. The original, on the other hand, deals with it in just a couple of pages. Where I was perhaps expecting an extensive discourse on the nature of life and on the morality of bringing about new life, this is more a book about morality, belonging, and the vital importance of human connections in making us human.

For those who don’t know the basics of the story, Frankenstein gets obsessed with the nature of life, makes a creature, brings it to life, and rejects it. The monster then spends the rest of the book utterly destroying his life by preying on those around him, while simultaneously blaming Frankenstein for forcing it to be that way.

For the most part it’s well written, though there are times when you can see impatience in its nineteen-year old writer. The instant hate of Frankenstein for his creation doesn’t strike me as entirely convincing, while the ability of the thing to miraculously track down those around him doesn’t quite work either. The thing is, I’m not sure it matters that much.

The centre of the story is more the monster’s motivation than it is the actual mechanics of vengeance. Is it evil because it was created that way? Is it evil because of repeated rejection? Do human concepts of morality even apply to something non-human?

It raises some intriguing questions about the role of other people in making us who we are. The monster, cut off from others and abandoned, is left without a moral compass. As, it might be argued, is Frankenstein, who slips into solitude well away from his family while working on the thing. When the monster wants to destroy him, moreover, it is not Frankenstein he attacks, but those around him. I suspect, on the whole, that it’s a book not about what it means to make a monster, but about what others do to keep us human.

Copyright © 2008 by Stuart Sharp

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