A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein A Marxist reading of the novel shows that this work is an active agent exposing and criticizing society’s oppressive economic and ideological systems. The fear played upon in this work is in actuality a fear of revolution. Many generations experience the horror and terror of this thought evoking novel in an entirely different light. What was once a so called transgression in the 19th century is widely accepted amongst the people of the 21st century.
Embedded in the text are several allegories which interrogate and ridicule the key beliefs and motivations of society. This essay will explore the ways in which Shelley presents the mind-set of human society and civilisation in one of the earliest science fiction novels. The main plot of the novel reflects in historical context of oppression as there were great social upheavals at the time it was written. The English, French and Haitian revolution all played upon Shelley’s conscience with her abolitionist parents having a large influence upon these views.
Shelley’s work plays on society’s fear of creating monsters that go out of control and create revolutions, this can been seen with the characterisation of the creature who is a symbol for the oppressed people. The creature is composed of different body parts, this is similar to the proletariat in that it “is recruited from all classes of the population”; a repulsive idea to humanity, however victor does not consider the wellbeing of the creature but merely considers his own gain of respect and power in the scientific community.
Similarly the citizens of 19th century Britain and France are controlled by authoritative figures whose higher intentions are for self-gain. In terms of Marxism, the creature represents the proletariats who are physically bigger and stronger ; “As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature; that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionally large”.
Victor could represent the bourgeoisie who are weak but wealthy and educated. This is comparable to aspects of working and upper class society in 18th and 19th century Europe. The creature with his grosse physical superiorities ensures Victor is reminded “thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine; my joints more supple”, this mirrors the bourgeois perception of life as they do not need the luxuries and comforts of the upper-class, just somewhere to take shelter and enough food to be able to function.
This very composition reflects the labourers who had superior strength by number; it insinuates the idea of working class rising above the upper-class and over throwing the whole capitalist system. This becomes noticeable when the creature states “You are my creator, but I am your master”, here the creature is clearly aware of his social class but also realises his physical strength can work against his creator. Furthermore, another use of the creature’s characterisation is to depict sympathy in the reader.
The creature begins his life with innocent intensions much like a child who is dependent on its creator; however after experiencing cruel and malicious treatment from humans, he tragically becomes violent. It can be argued that the creatures transmission to a monster is not his fault as under the social learning perspective, Banduras Bobo doll experiment explains that when a child witnesses an authoritative and influential figure behaving maliciously they are most likely to copy the behaviour.
Similarly, this rebellion reflects the way the working class began the French revolution with good intentions, hope and desperation but grossly transformed into the reign of terror. The working classes intentions were simply to other throw the capitalist system just as the creatures early intentions were simply to fight for a place in society: “Believe me, Frankenstein: I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity: but am I not alone, miserably alone? You, my creator, abhor me”.
Shortly after this statement the creature explains his change in temperament: “The feelings of kindness and gentleness, which I had entertained but a few moments before, gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind”. The creatures repressed feelings are exposed not by his own choice but due to the maltreatment and abuse of humans. The creature has a right to fight for his existence as he at least tries to conform to society.
This reflects the actions of the proletariats who try to take a stand against those who exploit them in order to gain a worthwhile and peaceful life. Furthermore, Shelley makes the point that humans only act as malicious, violent and enraged beings when all hope is threatened and the purpose of life is in danger of being completely removed. Similarly, the characterisation of the creature can be linked to Rousseau’s theory of child development as he rebelled against the idea of `Tabula rasa` most shockingly for 18th century society.
Rousseau believed that infants are born with two instincts; self-preservation and compassion, he believed the child was destined to be good unless it came into contact with the corruptive influences of civilisation. Therefore, Rousseau believed that children should be isolated and nurtured by one educator who would teach them the importance of `not wanting what you do not need` in order to find their own freedom, the child would learn not to need to seek the approval of others but to retain self-love whilst slowly being introduced to moral and emotionally demanding situations of adulthood.
From the perspective of this theory, it can clearly be seen that the creature was also introduced to the world retaining benevolence and compassion but his educator Victor has abandoned him, leaving him vulnerable to the demons of society which are `wanting what you do not need` and seeking the approval of others. This is demonstrated when the creature states “I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe.
If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other. ” Victor was responsible for the education of his creature however, he has exposed him to the morals and religions of society before he has had time to emotionally develop and become mentally stable, and this creates the transition from creature to monster which was inevitable as Victor himself did not encounter such education of self-development and nurturing but was raised to strive and want despite the consequences.
The shadowing of Rousseau’s novel `Emile` in the creatures characterisation could be seen as an allegory for moral upbringing, by using this technique, Shelley may be expressing her disapproval of the way children are raised to strive for knowledge and advancements which in turn leads to the development of capitalist society and the French revolution itself. Furthermore, the relationship between Victor and the creature could portray Shelley’s views or even rebellion against Rousseau’s theory as Rousseau himself abandoned five of his children to a public welfare facility.
He successfully managed to become the first “developmentalist” of the 18th century whose political philosophy influenced the French revolution as well as the overall advancements of modern political, sociological and educational thought however, he failed to apply those very principles to himself. Therefore, Rousseau’s ideas have shaped the way Shelley views society which in turn leads her to refer to other texts such as `Julie, or the New Heloise` and `Paradise Lost` to inform and shape her novel.
Shelley also uses a common literature technique in which she creates a linear sense of current political affairs of the time. Prevalent ides of framed narrative may be considered to act as a metaphoric picture frame in which the frame serves to ease attention toward the picture, providing separation and transition between outer and inner, the proletarians and bourgeoisie. This could in fact be considered as an allegory for the upheaval of Geneva caused by the French revolution. Robert Walton rebels against society by choosing a life of discovery and adventure over social norms and domestication.
He states “My life might have been passed in ease and luxury; but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path”. This shows that Walton is determined to rebel against the easy life of domesticity and instead create his own upheavals in order to create a new era of accepted social norms. This resembles the act of aristocrats of Europe in the late 17th century who did as they wished, despite the affect it had on the peasants. Walton acts on his desires to travel and explore despite his deceased fathers wish that he did not explore the treacherous depths of the sea.
This exposes Walton’s slightly selfish nature which is shared by the Aristocrats of the 17th century. Therefor the picture within the frame which consists of the monsters narrative may represent the destruction caused by the rebelling peasants. Frankenstein seems to cause maximum destruction within his power to the people of society that imprison his hideous existence. The monster curses: “you can blast my other passions, but revenge remains—revenge, henceforth dearer than light of food! I may die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery”.
This shows that he wants revenge against the one who has caused his suffering and misery; similarly the peasants of Europe seek revenge by rebelling against the ones that controlled their fate. As Shelley spent a great part of her life in Geneva where she composed the novel, it is conclusive to assume that one of the purposes of the Russian doll technique was to expose her views of the political state in which Geneva lay. Frankenstein may offer a form of escapism and enjoyment for the reader but it is as much a rejection of society’s crippling oppression and exploitation. Shelley’s crucial nderlying message is that capitalism and oppression are not only monstrous acts but they can create monsters that would otherwise be the foundations of a hopeful and strong society. When interpreting the novel, it is important to understand that any downfall of the proletariats is equally a down fall of the bourgeoisie. Any means of self-gain will inevitably lead to the destruction of any moral existence. It is the certainty of exploiting the oppressed and vulnerable creating mass destruction and loss on all behalf’s which builds a timeless fear in the reader, despite which century they are from. Bec Cartwright