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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 define the terms ‘monstrous’ and ‘human’. As the monster discovered, language is intertwined with culture (Brooks 594). He is on the side of nature, a deformed creature of appearance, and upon catching sight of his reflection understands not to show himself to the cottagers, of whom he yearns to win the love of, for fear of them fleeing (595). He is ‘excluded but learning the means, by which to be included’ (595) with language. It is the novels stark definition of monstrosity through physical appearance not through acquisition of language that starts the catalyst for corruption of the Monster spiritually and mentally.
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On the outskirts of scientific and moral forbidden territory roams the monstrous (Cohen 3) Patrolling the boarders with striking images of what may happen if we ever crossed them. Robert Walton, the frame narrator, and Frankenstein are connected through this desire to cross the borders, either physically into a region that may bring death, or through discoveries in science that bring moral monstrosities. These characters are another example of how Shelley’s definitions of the terms ‘human’ and ‘monstrous’ are intertwined in Frankenstein. Frankenstein’s relentless pursuit to cross into the forbidden destroys lives, the opposite of what he was trying to achieve. Conversely, Walton wisely takes the path that Frankenstein refused, returning home when reaching the boundary of almost certain destruction, in his quest for the North Pole. Shelley allows us to see, through the frame narration of Walton and his epiphany to return home, that Frankenstein’s hubris pursuit of knowledge leads to his downfall. ‘I trod heaven in my thoughts, now exulting in my powers, now burning with the ideas of their effects... Oh! My friend, if you had known me as I once was, you would not recognize me in that state of degradation.’ (Shelley 167) Walton see’s that Frankenstein’s quest for knowledge, his isolation from those who love him, led to the destruction of himself and those he loved and so turns back from the brink of his own destruction. However, it is only after Frankenstein dies, that he fully accepts that it is the right decision, as if the monstrous in Frankenstein can be defined as an influence on human actions.
Not only does the monstrous protect against the unknown, it stands along side of us, representing something ‘other’ to ourselves (Cohen, 6). Traditionally the term ‘human’ could be defined through ‘monstrous’ being everything human is not. Just as the Monster in Frankenstein kills William, Justine (although not directly), Elizabeth and Clervel he does not view it as murder, but as justified revenge against his creator. ‘Have a care: I will work at your destruction, not finish until I desolate your heart, so that you curse the house of your birth.’ (Shelley 111). This defines the monstrous as being able to roam outside the boarders of moral convention. However, Frankenstein puts a human persona on the definition of monstrous, we see the Monster yearning to be human; he learns language and craves love, and conversely Frankenstein as being monstrous; his neglect of his duties, family and friends to the point of destruction of them all. Again, Shelley interweaves the definitions of the two terms through showing that the monstrous is human and the conventional definition of human can incorporate monstrous.
The strong bond found between Frankenstein and his Monster is traditionally known as the doppelganger effect (Oates 550), where a living person has a ghostly double haunting him. Here Shelley illustrates that the definitions of ‘monstrous’ and ‘human’ are often just parodies of each other. The Monster represents Frankenstein’s dark side and Frankenstein is the creature’s haunting darkness, both denying the other happiness. They are inextricably entwined with each other, often resembling that of a mind which is torn over a decision; running backwards and forwards from each other, never coming to a safe conclusion. When considered as one person, the combination of Frankenstein and his Monster represents a true definition of human. To express and express and experience that of love and to be loved, joy and compassion, to feel and express the full range of emotions from love of humanity to the need for hateful revenge, desire for knowledge, happiness and fear of death.
Frankenstein, defines the terms human and monstrous through questioning what constitutes them. Love, compassion, a sense of justice defines human yet these same qualities can be found co-existing along side the monstrous. They are terms that represent good and evil but unlike the clear cut definition of good and evil Frankenstein shows us that the human and monstrous are interchangeable. As shown in Frankenstein, our fascination for the monstrous leads us to be influenced by it. So although we define human as being everything the monstrous is not, the monstrous is also part of the definition of human.