ENG 400: Lussier
May 13, 2003
" Frankenstein's Dream, Like All Dreams, Can Only Be Told by the One Who has Woken up from It": An Examination Of the Psychological Mind of Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein
The ideas that encapsulate psychoanalytic theory can be easily applied to a work of literary fiction. Freud's theories and complexes can easily find their ways into an in-depth look at a text's characters. Frankenstein is a novel that finds itself a victim of psychoanalytical criticism. This paper will look closely at the relationship between Victor Frankenstein and his monster. This monster not only represents a part of Frankenstein's fractured psyche, but also serves, as a symbol of Frankenstein's phallic desires.
The monster is a creation of Frankenstein's "fundamentally narcissistic" nature (Rieder 3). Frankenstein credits his knowledge as a scientist by claiming that although "so much has been done […] more, far more, will I achieve" (Shelley 33). This enlarged ego only serves to aid in the downfall of Mary Shelley's title character. Unable to find a balance between ego and id, Frankenstein soon seems "to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit" (39). Frankenstein, driven by the power of ego, loses himself by allowing "passion [and] transitory desire to disturb [his] tranquility" (40). This enlarged ego leads to an isolation of his character. Frankenstein finds himself farther and farther removed from the boundaries of society as he falls deeper and deeper into his passionate consumption. He becomes, truly, a man obsessed by his own success. Instead of relishing in the letters and company of his family and friends, Frankenstein finds himself a mere slave to the power of his ego - or as Freud would say - his sexual drive. This sexual drive leads Frankenstein to the creation of a hideous monstrosity.
This hideous monstrosity becomes to Frankenstein a vision of "breathless horror and disgust" (Shelley 42). It is this monstrosity's birth that allows Frankenstein to wake from his powerful dream. He is violently ripped away from the idealistic views of his ego - and thrust into a hellish reality. Within this reality - "the beauty of the dream vanished" (42). These "dreams that had been [his] food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell"(43). This reality, and Frankenstein's own narcissistic nature, doomed his lofty and romantic quest. Frankenstein has now unleashed onto humanity this creature - and as a result" inflicted a wound upon the social body" (Rieder 3). This evidence of Frankenstein's narcissistic tendencies leads a reader to question his level of infantilism. It seems that Frankenstein does find himself trapped within an infantile world -, as he seems to have no knowledge on the process of sexual reproduction. This is brought into evidence when one examines the scene between the monster and his father. The monster finds himself in need - and in want - of a partner. It seems that Frankenstein had no plans to create both male and females - and the request for a female companion comes as a shock to his very psychological nature. Constantly it seems, Frankenstein lives within a realm of sexual ignorance.
Instead of finding himself in the role of father, Frankenstein is merely "someone who does not even understand that [a] father has a role in sexual reproduction" (Rieder 4). For example, instead of creating with Elizabeth a child born of natural causes - which would have incorporated the method of impregnation - Frankenstein toils away at an unnatural creation. Without the help of a female - Frankenstein "collected the instruments of life around [him] that [he] might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at [his] feet" (Shelley 42). This passage could surely be considered to be vaguely worded. What exactly are the instruments of life? And what is meant by the verb phrase "infuse a spark"? This passage could simply be making a phallic gesture towards the scientific means of creation. It is with Frankenstein's own possession of a phallus - that life is created, within the infantile structure of his mind. He fails to see that woman - even his own mother or his betrothed Elizabeth - are capable of possessing the power to create life. The monster then, becomes a monstrous version of Frankenstein's "quasi-paternal authority" (Rieder 6). Freud's research included an analysis of a boy named Hans. Hans became the means of a "charming exponent of infantile sexual theories" (6). Freud cures the child by telling him that "[he] knows quite well a boy can't have any children" (6). Like Frankenstein, Hans has divided people into two groups: those that have a penis, and those that are lacking it.
Freud's patient Hans believes that he can create imaginary friends through the act of defecation. This fascination with defecation and fecal matter, is a critical stage in Freudian theory on age and life stages. Freud states that in the first stages of life "children are at one in thinking that babies must be born through the bowel; they must make their appearance like lumps of faeces" (Rieder 5). The monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is alluding to this excremental status through his appearance. The monster's mouth alone represents a contrast between the oral-anal track by contrasted drastically between the "teeth of pearly whiteness" and "straight black lips" (Shelley 42). Frankenstein himself is a man that "dabbles in dirt" within the confines of his "workshop of filthy creation" (39). Frankenstein represents a child that is still a prisoner of infantile fascination with the anus and the act of defecation. This infantile mode of thinking adds to Frankenstein's own basic level of stupidity and narcissistic behavior. Freud claims that children in this stage are "far from feeling disgust at their own feces" (Rieder 6). Although children usually find themselves overflowing with pride and admiration for their fecal creations - Frankenstein's reaction is quite the opposite. These reactions seem to overextend the boundaries of repulsion. This repulsion finds itself in the visual knowledge that the monster represents a "crisis in the articulation of the natural and the paternal" (6). Frankenstein, within the novel, is unable to break himself away from this Freudian concept of infantilism in favor of the normative one.
Trapped within this Oedipal Complex, Frankenstein decides to "bar the creature from entry into the sex-gender system" (Rieder 8). This becomes a direct resistance to the laws of the oedipal system - and sends both the monster and the creator to their tragic endings. Not only does Frankenstein deny the rights of procreation to his creature - but he also manages to avoid this area in his own life. Frankenstein - since the beginning - seems to be a man intent on usurping the natural position of the maternal. This falls exactly into Freudian beliefs on family romance. These rules of the sex-gender system also prevail within Frankenstein's own life. There is an odd "absence of courtship in Victor's story" (Rieder 7). Although within the tale of the monster - and his experiences with the French family and his own desires for female companionship - this is vastly different. In the case of Frankenstein - and the monster - it seems that one must become a member of the family before being considered for sexual partnership. Frankenstein's own mother was taken in by Mr. Frankenstein, and became a daughter-figure before marrying Alphonse. According to Frankenstein, his father had been "like a protecting spirit to [Caroline], who committed herself to his care" (Shelley 18). These Oedipal undertones again manifest themselves within the relationship between Elizabeth and Victor - one that almost is able to transcend the sister/brother relationship. There is no doubt within the relationship between Victor and Elizabeth that Shelley's story "overrides the prohibition against incest" (Rieder 7).
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