Monday, August 16, 2010

Releasing the Monster: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein


Marxism: “ From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need” (Marx 7). Karl Marx possessed the notion of a utopian society in which every man would work to their best ability, therefore every man would gain the necessities for life. If every man works to their capability to produce, there will be no such thing as an inadequate worker, hence every product will be a commodity. Marx believes a commodity is not always as it seems, he says,” A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour” (664). In order for a product to be of value and therefore considered a commodity, the labour must be according to the workers’ best ability. Human labour is equal in which it is the same kind of labour in a social respect: Marx makes the analogy, “after the discovery by science of the component gases of air, the atmosphere itself remained unaltered” (666). Although there is a diversity of gases in the atmosphere, the atmosphere itself is still regarded the same and does not alter its functions, just as humans differentiate in the work force, but the products or commodities produced still function the same and were produced by the same form of labor: human labor. In “Capital,” Marx argues the length of the Capital working day and the recklessness of it saying, “To the out-cry as to the physical and mental degradation, the premature death, the torture of over-work, it answers: Ought these to trouble us since they increase our profits?” (674). He believes the Capitalist society and the class systems makes for reckless behavior towards the working class. He expresses these visions further in “The Communist Manifesto,” while talking about the bourgeois versus the proletarian. The bourgeois’ only interest and thirst is money, or capital. The proletarian is the producer of capital, and therefore enslaved by the bourgeois to use their products for consumption. The bourgeois are the leaders in Capitalism due to the modern industry and their giant industrial armies (Marx 658). As well, Engels, who is a believer in Marxism, talks about the desolation and destruction of the working class due to Capitalist society in “The Great Towns.” Engels writes from a perspective of one journeying through the town of London. When he first arrives, the town appears grand and spectacular saying, “…all this is so vast, so impressive, that a man cannot collect himself, but is lost in the marvel of England’s gretness before he set foot upon English soil” (1). He says this regarding his first sight while sailing through the Thames viewing the buildings, wharves, countless ships, and steamers (1). Though, this view of England changes once he enters the town and see’s how these grand spectacles are produced: inhumane labor forces; “Something against which human nature rebels” (Engels 1). Engle’s visit’s the slums of metropolis and understands the harsh conditions of labor and the sacrifice of quality of life to make grand appearances for the bourgeois to flourish upon. He believes the two classes are now at war, and even further the proletarians are at war amongst themselves. The bourgeois use weaker human life to maintain their lavish existence, leaving their workers to scarcely a bare existence (Engels 2). The proletarians have been degraded to a savage existence. If the bourgeois picks a lucky proletarian to become a worker, the wages will scarcely maintain ones health and soul, while no work leads to theft and starvation. There is a battle against each other; every man for himself and a war of each against all (2). As well, Engels recognizes the structure of landscape in the great town. The poor are deployed to the designated poverty area, while the rich are in grand buildings and luxurious homes kept completely separate from one another. Engels says, “…poverty often dwells in hidden alleys close to the palaces of the rich; but, in general, a separate territory has been assigned to it, where, removed from the sight of the happier classes, it may struggle along as it can” (2). Now there is complete separation and alienation of the working class against the bourgeois. The bourgeois takes advantage of the proletariat and belittles them, making sure they can never rise nor prosper, for they will lose their cheap and in demand labor that is essential for the maintenance of their lavish lifestyle. Mary Shelley published the novel Frankenstein near the close of the French Revolution. During this time, the magnitude of the starved and over worked proletarian epidemic was foreshadowed. Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, may be analyzed using the theory of Marxism, as well as diverging into theories of the id, ego, and superego, the panoptic society, the sublime, and the master-slave relationship along with the knowledge-power relationship, and concluding into the larger implications of a Marxist perspective on the industrial revolution: cyborgs.

In Shelly’s Frankenstein, the wretch symbolizes the working class rising up and rebelling against their master. The novel is placed in the 1790’s; in the midst of the French Revolution (385), where there were hints of industrial life starting to take over the workers lives. As well revolutions are composed of new elites forming plebian masses to overthrow the old regime and gain more power to themselves. Though, when plebian masses form Montag says, “…in doing so they found that they had conjured up a monster that, once unleashed, could not be controlled” (386). In Shelly’s novel, the monster is symbolized by the wretch, and the monster is the masses of plebians revolting and devoting their time to the destruction of the bourgeois. The wretch, as well is composed of body parts from corpses. Shelley says, “I collected bones from charnel-houses; and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame” (58). The only available corpses are those that are not protected, and those that are not protected belong to the poor and lower class. Hence, the wretch is the embodiment of the working class rising up and revolting against the bourgeois. The bourgeois is represented by Viktor Frankenstein who abused the power of science and resulted in creating a monster. This can be symbolized as the bourgeois created machinery for labor and abusing their workers who in turn will eventually rise up and revolt.

In Shelly’s novel, the wretch symbolizes the rise of the industrial revolution and the enslavement of the working class under the machines as well as intersecting into theories of freud, Foucualt, and Longinus. Montag says, “Although he once dreamed of creating a race that would worship him as master, he realizes as he lies dying that his relation to science ought rather to be described as a state of servitude…Frankenstein has been the instrument of science” (390) The monster as a person is no longer the slave but the monster personified as an artificial, scientific, project is. Now the slave has gained knowledge and power by reading Milton and as well being artificial he has inhuman capabilities. He has surpassed Viktor and caused a reversal of roles becoming the master over his own. Being versed in Milton has given the wretch knowledge of the tale “Adam and Eve,” which exemplified another master/slave relationship between God, the creator, and Adam, the creation. Though he realizes the differences between his master and Adam’s master, “ Viktor is now feeling that he is in “a state of servitude,” meaning that the industrialization of England has made him feel like a servant to it. Technology has begun to rule over him, symbolizing the working class. From a Marxist perspective, the population created factory machines that produced industrialization. Industrialization lead the poverty and desolation of the working class. Instead of making the lives of people easier, the machinery has enslaved the working class and the master has now become the servant. The absence of modern industry in the novel makes great emphasis and focus on the wretch as the outcast and only scientific project in an otherwise sublime world: Montag says, “Frankenstein’s world is a world without industry, a rural world dominated by scenes of a sublime natural beauty in which not a single trace of Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills’ is to be found” (394). This idea of a single creation isolated with no one to govern over him and no one to help him govern over himself diverges into Foucault’s theory of a Panoptic society. In the Panoptic society, everyone governs over themselves because since they are being watched, they are less likely to behave inappropriately. The wretch has no one to behave for resulting in him rebelling against all of mankind and his own master. As well, the wretch rebelling against mankind due to their treatment of him may be viewed in a Freudian perspective. The monster attempts to rationalize his behavior for longing to be loved and rebelling against humanity using his ego to rationalize his id and satisfy his superego; id being his instincts, ego being his reason, and superego being his moral conscious.

In the novel Frankenstein, with knowledge and power, the wretch is able to reverse the roles of master and slave due to his Marxist implications of being the embodiment of the working class and a machine. The wretch commands Viktor to provide him with a companion after wreaking havoc against Viktor’s family saying, “We may not part until you have promised to comply with my requisition. I am alone, and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species, and have the same defects. This being you must create” (128). The wretch has found Viktor’s weakness: love for his family and has used this power against him. He demands to have a female of his kind so he may have company since he has nothing to lose himself, having no family other than Viktor, giving him power over his master. He is educated on the feelings of humans because he observed the De Lacey’s and felt these same emotions since the master had installed them in him, once again permeating the idea that the slave depends on his master, yet with knowledge the slave has power over his own master. The monster says, “I, too, can create desolation; my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him” (127). In this way the monster can symbolize the working class wanting to level the playing field with their master, or employer. The employee knows his employer needs him, therefore it gives power to the employee. Dr. Frankenstein felt with every fiber in his being that he needed to create his monster, not knowing it would become such a wretch, saying, “ 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” (58). This can allude to the Marxist criticism of the rich wanting to get richer and using the poor to produce their wealth. They loose all humanity and morality with the scent of money in the air because that is their one “pursuit.” Though workers, like the monster, know with the knowledge that their master (employer and machine) need them in order to produce, they may rise up and rebel against their master. Shelly gives her monster that power. He is able to have a voice and rise up against his master.

Mary Shelly’s novel, Frankenstein, may be interpreted with the theory of Marxism as well as branching off to other theories such as id, ego, and superego, panoptic society, the sublime, the master-slave relationship, and the knowledge-power relationship, while leading up to the modern implications of the cyborg theory. The larger implications of the Marxist perspective of the industrial revolution enslaving the working class symbolizes the machines becoming the masters over the human race: cyborgs. The theory of cyborgs is that once unleashed, is mankind strong enough to relinquish their need for it? Technology has overthrown manual labor, and relating it to modern society one may consider computers, ipods, cars, movies, video games, etc. No one will disagree that the human race is enslaved by these products they have created. Man created technologies and cyborgs to make living less difficult, yet as Montag says on industrialization, “ …displacing of the human by the inhuman. For in the process, which in its largest sense is nothing other than history itself, humankind is in no way central. Humanity’s greaest achievemnt may have been to hasten its own destruction” (391). The future prediction in this theory is that cyborgs will be the dominant species in the world and man kind will forfeit its powers to their own creations: Donna Harraway says in her “A Manifesto for Cyborgs,” “ The boundary-maintaining images of base and superstrcuture, public and private, or material and idea never seemed more feeble” (2260). The cyborg will create blurs in the boundaries of life and once that line is crossed, will mankind survive?

Works Cited

Engels, Frederick. "The Great Towns." Marxists Internet Archive. Web. 16 Aug. 2010.
Foucault, Michel. "Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. By Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
Haraway, Donna. "A Manifesto for Cyborgs." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. By Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
Leitch, Vincent B. "Sigmund Freud." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
Longinus. "On Sublimity." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. By Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
Marx, Karl. "The Communist Manifesto." The Norton Anthology of Theory and
Criticism. By Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
Marx, Karl. "Capital, Volume 1." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. By Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
Marx, Karl. "Critique of the Gotha Programme-- I." Marxists Internet Archive. Web. 16 Aug. 2010. .
Montag, Warren. "The "Workshop of Filthy Creation": A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein." Frankenstein. By Mary Shelley. Ed. Johanna Smith. Boston, NY: Bedford/St. Martin, 2000. 384-95. Print.
Shelley, Mary. Ed. Johanna Smith. Frankenstein. Boston, NY: Bedford/St. Martin, 2000.Print.

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