T. Matthew Allison
Karl Marx concentrated more on economic models and political structures than on art and literature. For this reason, it is difficult to indicate one specific "Marxist" interpretation of a literary work or a piece of art. What is commonly associated as Marxist Criticism is really based upon the subsequent work of his followers, such as Benjamin's Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Adorno's Minima Moralia, and Lukacs' The Ideology of Modernism. These texts may be taken as more representative of Marxist theory than the works of the man himself.
One theme in Marx's work, though, that can be found in many of his written works is revolution. Contradictions are deeply rooted in every social system. These contradictions keep pulling at each other causing unrest, leading to a revolution. After the revolution is over, though, the social system that springs from the ruins of the previous one have their own contradictions and thus the cycle continues.
Though literature and art are not thought of generally in terms of revolt, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein can be seen as an example of contradiction leading to a revolution, of sorts, and finally to a new form with new contradictions. The source material for the Frankenstein Project, chapters 3, 4, and 5, deals with the evolution of Victor Frankenstein. His mind, as are the social systems described by Marx, is in a constant state of contradictions. Each contradiction boils-over into an all out "revolution" in which his ideas, goals, and beliefs are completely changed. The first such change occurs as he is leaving for Ingolstadt. He is hesitant to leave his homeland of Geneva and all of his friends and family that live there-where he is most comfortable. He says on page 30: "My life had hitherto been remarkably secluded and domestic, and this had given me invincible repugnance to new countenances." During his journey to Ingolstadt, however, the conflict between his comfort zone and his sense of adventure comes to a head and the revolution ensues, creating a knowledge hungry Victor in place of the hesitant Victor. Again on page 30, Victor recalls: "…as I proceeded, my spirits and hopes rose. I ardently desired the acquisition of knowledge." After a couple of years at Ingolstadt, studying chemistry and other sciences, Victor begins his frightening transformation. Another revolution in Victor's psyche is touched off by Professor M. Waldman. He is enthralled by Waldman's discussion on the possibilities that exist in chemistry and become intoxicated with the idea of his own future greatness due to some possible discovery he could make. Victor begins studying with "indefatigable zeal" natural philosophy and chemistry, hoping to make a great discovery that will insure him immortality.
However, the knowledge hungry Victor is not destroyed with just one contradiction, like his hesitant incarnation was. Instead there are two sets of contradictions that force his next transformation through internal revolution: the quest for greatness vs. morality and calm courage vs. maddening fear. Victor only realizes the first contradiction after the transformation. On page 39, Victor describes his egotism: "A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their bidding to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs." Victor has become somewhat more mature as he recalls his experiments. At the time of his recollection, he has come to see the horrors that he committed as horrors:
Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay? My limbs now tremble, and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless and almost frantic impulse urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit. (39)
His experimental pursuits had blinded them, and in retrospect he sees that they had offended his morals. He did not recognize the fact at the time, but could now admit that his actions were wholly inconsistent with his ethics.
The second contradiction that builds off of the first to affect Victor's next transformation is that of calm courage vs. maddening fear. As Victor desecrated bodies to create his new species and earn praise and adulation he is calm, cool, and collected. He never lets superstition seize control of his faculties or let fear seep in. He is coldly analytical while observing the different stages of death and collecting materials for his creation. As the creature is born, however, a maddening fear began to take hold:
…I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs. How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? …The beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart… Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance… it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived. (42-43)
Though he had created the creature himself, designing every aspect of the body and going through the trials of obtaining the materials needed-which would terrify any other man-the appearance of the creature gives way to the realization of what he has done. It is as if Victor is seeing the creature for the very first time, as opposed to having seen it every day for up to two years. Victor's psyche is warped by the conflict of his courage and his fear. He has a break down and has nervous episodes for months.
These two sets of contradictions lead to Victor's next transformation. He has gone from being hesitant to being filled with the desire of knowledge and hungry for fame and fortune, but has now transformed into a regretful shell of the man he once was. The creature is no longer his great achievement but rather "the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life" (43). He goes on to say: "Mingled with this horror, I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete" (43).
Internal revolution is an important factor in Frankenstein. As the story progresses, a series of internal revolutions occur within Victor Frankenstein. As the revolutions described by Marx, these internal revolutions occur when conflict brews between in Victor's psyche, resulting in a new entity that has it's own inherent conflicts. Therefore the revolutions never cease, and Victor constantly evolves due to his surroundings. These changes not only affect him inwardly, but also those who are close to him. The progress of his experiments in chapters three, four, and five cause changes in his attitudes and behavior.
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