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The Creature As Child In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

1130 words - 5 pages

The Creature as a Child in Frankenstein

 
    Imagine an eight-foot-tall, misshapen human child. You might complain that this is contradictory - but do it anyway. Imagine some sort of humanoid being with the mind of a human child in an eight-foot body, green with a nail in its head if you want. This is what Frankenstein's creature is. Frankenstein's creature is mentally a child, and we see its evolution through traditional child development in the course of its narrative. But the creature is the only member of its species, and therefore its narrative can be taken to represent the history of an entire species - the creature's first experiences can be viewed as an amalgam of creation myths.

 

If we choose to view the creature as an individual, and consider its growth from child to adult in that manner, the obvious choice is to look at the creature's relationship with knowledge. The creature seems to crave knowledge, as is evident from its explorations at the beginning of its narrative. This craving for knowledge is what makes it human; this is especially characteristic of children, who know very little and have a large vacuum to fill. Like any human being, the creature gains its knowledge by its senses - thus, it figures out how to use its sense before doing anything else. At the beginning of its narrative, we see the creature's utter naïveté about the world, as it looks at the moon: "I started up and beheld a radiant form rise from among the trees" (Shelley 99). Significant here is the creature's lack of initial comprehension of the world, just like any human child.

 

Continuing with the thread of human development, we see the creature's acquisition of language. The creature most craves this sort of knowledge: "[Language] was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it... I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned the ideas appropriated to each of [various] sounds and was able to pronounce them." The creature's reactions to the learning of language seem to be not unlike what a child feels when first learning language, but we cannot be sure because by the time one has language, the memories of learning it are already gone. The creature is, in this respect, simultaneously child and adult, able to reminisce about "the good old days" while still being newly created.

 

Finally, the creature tells us about one of the seminal experiences in any child's life - the destruction of the ideal of the just world. The creature has a childish idealism in his belief that he will be accepted by the cottagers: "I persuaded myself that when they should become acquainted with my admiration of their virtues they would compassionate me and overlook my personal deformity" (Shelley 125). But the cottagers are instead deeply afraid of the creature when they finally behold it. It is at this moment that the creature progresses out of childhood and into what we might see as a protracted adolescence. This...

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