The Monstrous in Frankenstein

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Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein or; The Modern Prometheus, published in 1818, is a product of its time. Written in a world of social, political, scientific and economic upheaval it highlights human desire to uncover the scientific secrets of our universe, yet also confirms the importance of emotions and individual relationships that define us as human, in contrast to the monstrous. Here we question what is meant by the terms ‘human’ and ‘monstrous’ as defined by the novel. Yet to fully understand how Frankenstein defines these terms we must look to the etymology of them. The novel however, defines the terms through its main characters, through the themes of language, nature versus nurture, forbidden knowledge, and the doppelganger motif. Shelley also shows us, in Frankenstein, that although juxtaposing terms, the monstrous being everything human is not, they are also intertwined, in that you can not have one without the other. There is also an overwhelming desire to know the monstrous, if only temporarily and this calls into question the influence the monstrous has on the human definition.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) describes ‘human’ as being ‘Of, belonging to, or characteristic of mankind, distinguished from animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright posture.’ (OED). The term ‘monstrous’ is described as ‘The condition or fact of being abnormally developed or grossly malformed.’ (OED) Yet, we as humans define ourselves not just on biological terms but socially and spiritually too. In Frankenstein the Monster, who by his very label and beginnings implies a perfect example of monstrosity is, in fact, articulate and erect yet is still not considered human in the traditional sense. It is his eventual spiritual and social malformation that fully defines him as monstrous.

Even as language plays a huge part in the definition of human, as taken from the OED, the narration, and thus language, in Frankenstein also helps to...
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