Much speculation has been made of the meaning of the metaphor of the creature in Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. The creature could represent many meanings. Whether the creature was meant to represent any meaning at all is speculative. Mary Shelly could have just written a story from her imagination for the imagination. However, the imagination is the product of the individual and the individual is a product of the environment or society. Much like today there were many injustices inflicted on the poor, disfigured, disabled and other so called "social outcasts" of the times. These injustices did not just simply create havoc among the so-called "social outcasts," these injustices effected the whole of society. One misdeed creates more misdeeds therefore everyone is effected by the domino effect that was/is set in motion. The most obvious metaphor of the creature of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is the poor, disfigured, disabled, and otherwise social ostracized individuals. The interpretation of the metaphor is determined by the conscience of the individual reader.
Mary Shelly was a Romantic author. Characteristics of a Romanticism are the use of imagination, passion, individualism, nature, and excess in the arts to make a point. The Creature in Mary Shelly’s, Frankenstein is of the imagination for the imagination. Victor, the creator of the creature, is haunted by his conscience through use of his imagination. Much as a reader, haunted by his conscience, will use his imagination to determine his/her interpretation of the metaphor of the meaning of the creature. The creature is passionate in that he acts on his feelings. When the creature moves in with his adoptive family, he resolves to learn all he can learn in order to be accepted. As noted when the creature reflects, "these thoughts exhilarated me, and led me to apply with fresh ardour to the acquiring the art of language1". At this point in the novel, the creature is putting himself on the line, either all or nothing. Consequently the creature is rejected. The poor beg on the streets for sustenance, yet are rejected by those able to help. Individualism is evident in the creature. The unique characteristics of the creature’s physical appearance are an expression of individualism. Mary Shelly is appealing to the individual conscience of the reader to determine the meaning of the ugly behind the creature. The creature’s unique personality was nurtured by nature. The creature’s unique gentleness, innocence, and empathy come from nature. Nature is used to calm the creature when he is upset. This is evident when the creature laments, "The day, which was one of the first of spring, cheered even me by the loveliness of its sunshine and the balminess of the air."2 Excess is used in the development of the creature, for example excessive height and excessive ugliness. This was done to draw attention to the creature and what the creature represents.
To understand the significance behind the metaphor of the creature one must examine the entire development of the story including the development of other characters. Other characters represent the part of society that plays a significant part in spreading mayhem and discontent. Victor Frankenstein the creator of the creature represents this part of society. It is this image of the individual that is perpetuated and accepted by society. On a lesser scale, Victor’s character and subsequently his behavior is representative of the half of the individual’s behavior and personality that is acceptable to the individual. The creature represents the unacceptable behavior model or the ugly. Victor Frankenstein notes, "My own spirit let loose from the grave and forced to destroy all that was dear to me.3" Victor creates his own hell by creating life and then through inaction ignores his responsibilities to the life he created. This is evident when Victor announces "I sought to avoid the wretch whom I feared every turning of the street would present to my view."4 Each individual person creates his/her own hell by his/his own inaction. "Your sins come back to haunt you." This inaction is the main subject of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and is addressed repeatedly throughout the book. Justine, the women unjustly accused and punished for murdering Victor’s brother, was a victim of inaction. For example, "Several witnesses were called, who had known her for many years and they spoke well of her; but fear, and hatred of the crime of which they supposed her guilty, rendered them timorous and unwilling to come forward.5"
The creature and Victor can represent many of Society’s as well as individual wrongs. Victor could represent the father who abandons his child, the creature representative of the child who was abandoned. The whole point of the story could be the consequences of negligence or inaction. Mary Shelly is incorporating John Locke’s idea that man is a product of his environment. The creature is good at first yet turns to evil to get the attention of his "father" or to express the creature’s desire for revenge on a "father" that abandoned him. The creature laments, "Hateful day when I received life…Cursed Creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust." An illegitimate child is nicknamed a bastard, and at this time in history was the scorn of society. The child is being punished for the sins of the father.
Inaction is the cause of much of society’s problems. Victor’s inaction is fueled by the fear of rejection. In other words, Victor is afraid of what his peers will think of him when he reveals his creation of the creature. This is evident when Victor says "I dreaded to behold this monster, but I feared still more that Henry should see him:6" Many people who have/had illegitimate children have feared that others would find out which would ostracize them from society. Again it is the individual conscience of the reader that determines the meaning of the metaphor of the creature.
Society is a structure in which each individual’s feelings and attitudes form its foundation. This structure is not set in steel for society can be changed. However, change has to start with each individual. The Creature of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein has been carefully constructed to represent all of society’s problems. Due to the extent of the size of society’s problems the creature was designed using excessive characteristics such as excessive height and excessive disfigurement to incorporate all of society’s ills. The creature is representative of all that is ugly and repulsive to society. All that is ugly and repulsive to society is depended on the interpretation of ugly and repulsive to the individual. As noted by Victor when describing the creature, "It’s gigantic stature and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity.7" On a lesser scale, the Creature’s individual character is representative of all that is negligible and consequently unacceptable to the individual, the ugly. The ugly is the hidden self that one tends to run from. This hidden self is self-destructive and is the cause of many an individual’s grief.
Characteristics such as kind and loving are self-destructive to the individual in society. Most individuals who possess such traits are usually pitifully used and abused excessively. Thus kind and loving characteristics can bring despair upon the individual who possesses these characteristics because society exploits those that possess such characteristics. The most vulnerable to this exploitation are the poor, disfigured, disabled, and disadvantage, the social outcasts. Most disfigured and disabled people have a sweet disposition, a disposition that most of society should emulate. The misfortunate trusts those who are fortunate to do right. The sweet disposition of the misfortunate is often changed to despair and sometimes even hatred as the misfortunate individual faces the constant battering of rejection. This is evident when the poor misfortunate creature of the story laments, " From you only could I hope for succour, although towards you I felt no sentiment but that of hatred. Unfeeling, heartless creator! You had endowed me with perceptions an passions, and then cast me abroad a, an object for the scorn and horror of mankind.8" The evil done by the creature was a cry for help, to get the attention of the creator.
Although the creature of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is portrayed as the innocent victim, the significance of the creature is that the name of Frankenstein has grown to represent all that is evil and repulsive in society. For example, an SS guard at one of Hitler’s infamous concentration camps was nicknamed "Frankenstein" because this particular guard was excessively sadistic, more so than other SS guards at that Concentration camp. The very name of Frankenstein has grown to represent the epitome of evil.
Mary Shelly’s creature Frankenstein could be representative of many different metaphors. The excess use of ugliness was used to represent all of society’s ills. How the creature is interpreted depends on the conscience of the individual reader. Perhaps Mary Shelly was saying that all society’s ills starts with the individual and it is up to that individual to make the necessary changes to resolve these problems.
Mary Shelly's mother was Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women