Frankenstein as a Creature of Morality

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Ethan Mead
Beast in Body, Human in Spirit
In her novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley simultaneously spins both a gripping horror story and an intense line of philosophical questioning—specifically, what it means to be human. After the titular character imbues his gargantuan experiment with life, he is overcome with the repulsiveness of his creature and flees, rejecting it as a demon. However, in the years between his next meeting with his creator, the creature blossoms into a sentient being capable of many functions unique to humans. Though initially beast like in concerning himself solely with his survival, the creature almost immediately develops human emotions, including compassion, envy, and anger. These emotions would contrast to the creature's expanding capacity for reason, locking the creature in a bout of inner turmoil exclusive to humanity. Ultimately, the creature would eventually manage to obtain an advanced level of self-reflection that he might feel the complexities of regret and sorrow. In all of this, the creature shows that despite his abnormal appearance, his recognition of emotional needs, capacity for reason, and ability to experience feelings of self-reflection truly make him a human being, becoming ever more so as these traits are expanded. Shortly after being thrust into the realm of the living, the creature quickly develops the level of intelligence necessary for survival. Though initially dazed and confused by the alien sensations he experiences, the creatures manages to forage for food, clothe himself, and create a fire from loose coals. The creature’s mental capabilities at this point are severely limited, comparable to those of an infant. Like a newborn, the creature concerns himself only in physical needs, dedicating entire days to mollifying his hunger pangs. Furthermore, the creature displays utter naiveté and a lack of self-awareness in his first encounter with another person. As the man whom the creature encounters flees in terror, the creature recounts that, “his appearance [was] different from any I had ever seen before, and his flight somewhat surprised me.” (Shelley 73) In saying the stranger’s flight surprised him, the creature demonstrates he had not yet realized what he was, nor what that made him in relation to other people. The man’s frightened response genuinely confused the not-yet-self-aware creature, exemplifying his very basic mental state. However, in retelling his memories of his first days, the monster mentions he “greedily devoured the remnants of the shepherd’s breakfast.” The word “greedily” implies the significant intellectual development of the creature, seeing as he can reflect back on his actions and deliberate as to whether they were right or wrong. The creature’s emotional and rational development truly begins in the time he spends living in a hovel outside of the DeLacy family cabin. It is in observing the human behavior of the DeLacys that the creature comes to adapt a set of feelings of his own. For instance, the creature admits that he had originally stolen food from the cottagers, “but when I found that in doing this I inflicted pain on the cottagers, I abstained…” (Shelley 78) This is the first time the creature exhibits empathy in any form. He is not only able of comprehending the pain he causes the cottagers, but makes the logical and moral decision to cease the actions which bring them pain. However, aside from sharing in their joys and sorrow, the creature develops something else from his time with the DeLacys as well. By combining his newfound rationality and his discovery of sympathetic relationships, the creature comes to desire familial relationships of his own. Seeing the joy each DeLacy brought one another as they played guitar and read books sparked an ember of envy within the creature. Eventually, the creature’s naiveté and burning desire for reciprocated love overpower his reason, as he convinces himself that “once they should become...