Dan Eckstein

The first and most important question in Frankenstein is the relationship of the signifier to the signified. Shortly after creating the Creature Dr. Frankenstein calls him a "wretch - the miserable monster whom I had created," thereby signifying the Creature as "monster" a label he wears throughout the novel (Shelley 43). Were the story to end there, the issue would be a relatively simple one and we could call the Creature "monster," or "Frankenstein's monster" and leave it be, but the story does not end there, and the Creature defies signification. After acquiring the power of language the Creature never names himself, resisting signification, while questioning the label "monster" heretofore thrust upon him. Consider the Creature's closing speech: he asks, "am I to be thought the only criminal, when all humankind sinned against me," but does not stop there, he goes on further to acknowledge the overriding view of him saying, "but it is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept and grasped to death his throat who never injured me" (204). The Creature is in confusion about his situation, not knowing whether "I speak of myself in a way that conforms to what I am," which he feels he is not, or "whether I am the same as that of which I speak" (Lacan 1058). In this sense the Creature is the same as that of which he speaks, for he has murdered the "lovely and the helpless," so in one sense the label "monster" or "wretch" does apply to him, but at the same time he is not speaking in a way which conforms to what he is because in the sense that he is a creation of Dr. Frankenstein's cast out into the world, he is not a "monster" or a "wretch." Thus the Creature resists signification. He does not define himself because he is neither wholly innocent, or justified, nor is he wholly guilty, or responsible, for his actions. He refuses to attach a signifier to himself - his choice - and therefore remains nameless. The Creature cannot attach a signifier to himself because "the signifier, by its very nature, always anticipates meaning by unfolding its dimensions before it," and if the Creature accepts the label (signifier) "monster," he accepts the meaning inherent in the word - there is no misunderstood monster (1050).

The second, and perhaps equally important question in the novel is the relationship of the other to the Other. The other (little o) is the Creature in process, the object with which the Doctor's ego interacts and reduces to a fetishistic desire - the engineered life. The Other (big O) is the monster animated - the transposition of the Doctor's unconscious mind onto the Creature he wrought. This odd interrelationship between the object of the Doctor's desire (the created life) and his unconscious (what that life becomes at the instant of creation) is problematic. For upon creation the Creature, once a desire, becomes a symptom. Therefore, early in the novel, the Creature goes from being a metonymy to a metaphor - where as he once represented the Doctor's desire, he comes to represent the Doctor's unconscious. "For the symptom is a metaphor whether one likes it or not, as a desire is a metonymy" (Lacan 1065). This is an interesting conceit in a fictional work, the same essential "object" acting as both metaphor and metonymy in the signifying chain of a novel… That the Creature can posses "many happy and excellent natures," and yet be a "wretch [… a] miserable monster," is nearly confounding (Shelley 39, 43). The secret of this dual metaphor/metonymy lies in the animation of the Creature. At the instant of his animation the Creature perceives the Doctor in a moment of terror and the formerly lifeless object, only recently become subject projects the countenance of horror onto his own ego - in essence the first mirror stage experience the Creature experiences is the reflection of the unconscious of the Doctor. Thus the Creature internalizes and acts out the unconscious, primordial mind of the Doctor. The Doctor, however, remains unable to differentiate between the early metonymy and the latter metaphor, and sees the Creature as a fetishized object gone awry rather than as the subject, which reflects his own sick mind - the symptom.

Thus the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his creation is a fascinating one because of its psychoanalytic implications - what does the Creature represent, how does one establish one's identity, etc. - and because of its literary/linguistic implications - how does one signify oneself, how can one signifier/signified exist as both metaphor and metonymy (or to resolve the problem of that statement how does one subject/object exist as both signifier/signified and thereby as both metaphor and metonymy).

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