Social Commentary through Ignorance

The rapid socialization of Frankenstein’s monster allows Shelley to critique her modern society through the lens of a tabula rasa. The description of the monster’s first forays into the world, including such scenes as the gradual differentiation of his senses (105-106) and his accidental burning of himself (106) firmly establish the monster as having a complete lack of any experience or inherent nature. With no meaningful cultural context to color his perceptions of the world, all of his emotions and reactions are brutally honest and fervent. Having experienced fear and brutalism in his encounter with the villagers (109) as well as tenderness and love in the interactions between Agatha and her father (110), the creature has been exposed to both sides of human nature.

This dichotomy in human behavior further troubles and confuses the creature upon the arrival of Safie, and the more formal education he then receives in history. The “stupendous genius and mental activity of the Grecians” is told in parallel with the “hapless fate of [America’s] original inhabitants.” These seemingly mutually exclusive realities inspire a sort of cognitive dissonance within the creature: “[Man] appeared at one time a mere scion of the evil principle, and at another as all that can be conceived as noble and godlike (122).”

The creature’s profound sensitivity gives a weight and sense of urgent abhorrence to the darker aspects of society that the average person views as simple realities of life. Concepts such as murder and violence are so repulsive to the creature that “for a long time [he] could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow, or even why there were laws and governments…(122)” Because of the fact that he has no experience to dull his senses, he is able to approach the harsh realities of society such as murder, violence, and social inequality with a unique sense of suffering.

By giving the “wretched” creature these haunting insights, Shelley challenges the reader to truly empathize, and to recognize the true horror and wretchedness of those aspects of society we accept as immutable. Shelley gives the most profoundly human insights into the failures of mankind to the one character inherently lacking in humanity.

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