Skin Deep

Appendix: ‘You, who call Frankestein your friend, seem to have a knowledge of my crimes and his misfortunes. But, in the detail which he gave you of them, he could not sum up the hours and months of misery which I endured, wasting in impotent passions. For while I have destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. They were forever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned. Was there no injustice in this? Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me? Why do you not hate Felix, who drove his friend from the door with contumely? Why do you not execrate the rustic who sought to destroy the saviour of his child? Nay, they are virtuous and immaculate beings! I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on. Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice.’ Shelley, page 223-224.

          Mary Shelley’s epistolary Frankenstein chronicles the descent into madness of its title character, Victor Frankestein, after his success in creating and animating a human-like being. The nameless creature chases and torments Frankenstein until his death in the Arctic, where the creature comes face-to-face with the man dictating the story. Published in 1818, the novel was surrounded by concepts and ideas that find their origins in the romantic ideals of the 18th century. Not to be confused with the Romanticism of some of Shelley’s contemporaries, the impressions of these romantic ideals can be felt strongly in the correlation drawn between outward beauty and inward virtuosity and goodness. Through the voice of Victor Frakenstein, the idea that one’s appearance is directly informed and shaped by the presence of natural goodness is reinforced repeatedly in the novel. This ideal is one that consistently informs the treatment of the creation, and the creature itself directly confronts this superficiality with a barrage of rhetorical questions. These questions force Walton and his audience, the readers, to turn a critical eye inwards and address the source of the fear that guided the treatment of the creature.

            The passage being addressed takes place on the penultimate page of the novel, at the moment when the creature visits the dead Frankenstein. Before delving into the heart of the passage, however, there’s a moment in the first line of the selection that casts an interesting shadow on the interpretation of this piece. Recalling again that Frankenstein has been narrating his story to a third party, the monster begins speaking to Walton by saying “You…seem to have a knowledge of my crimes and his misfortunes. But, in the detail which he gave you of them, he could not sum up…the misery which I endured” (Shelley, 223-224). Here the creature very fairly points out a blemish in the situation; Frankenstein has only imparted his half of the exchange with the creature; Victor relayed its crimes and his own suffering at the hands of the creature, but he wasn’t capable of expressing the misery that the creature would have endured during its existence. This immediately savors of unreliable narration, and the creature, having successfully undermined Frankenstein’s narrative authority, lays into Walton with a barrage of questions.

There’s a mild anaphoric element present in the rhetorical questions posed by the creature in the heart of this paragraph. Each statement begins with a form of a question: “Was there”, “Am I,” and “Why…Why” all pepper the reader with the creature’s pain and frustration at the responses he received from humans at no other provocation than his visage. The creature, all the while acknowledging the horrors he committed against Frankenstein in the line “while I have destroyed his hopes” (Shelley, 224), reminds Walton of what he has endured from people he caused no harm. The line “Am I to be thought the only criminal” begs the question of why the humans aren’t treated with the same amount of malice as him, but the sarcastic answer of “Nay, they are virtuous and immaculate beings!” (Shelley, 224) demonstrates the monster’s awareness of the fact that beauty is enough for absolution, and that he is thought to be deserving of rejection because of his appearance. The creature explains that all he desired was “love and fellowship” (Shelley, 224), and he heavily implies in the passage that his crimes are in direct response to the way he was dismissed. Looking at the evidence from this passage, we can begin to unravel how the creature became a monster under the influence of the beauty/morality concept, and in turn undermine the judgmental foundations for the humans’ treatment of the creature.

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