Frankenstein’s Creature and Shame
I’ve been wondering lately why Frankenstein’s creature didn’t simply find another blind person. He craved companionship and communion—the nuances of relationship that most human beings desire. And he found such a relationship with a person who could not see his face, but could only hear his words and tones and gentleness. Two lonely souls beside a crackling fire, and when words dwindled, the sounds of breathing…knowing there is another nearby. This need, to have another, is as old as the first human. Everyone needs a friend. Everyone. And the Creature was no different. But this need was eclipsed by another state, and this state was at the core of everything he thought and felt including the enormous rage and need for vengeance. And this state was shame.
I have asked myself why the Creature didn’t run and keep on running after the episode with the blind old man. Why did he return to Frankenstein? That he could speak and read and reason was more than enough to prove Frankenstein wrong, so why return? There were other lonely blind people on other farms that also needed a guardian angel. The Creature could have had his pick. Moreover, a lonely blind person in that era would have welcomed a friend and helper.
Also, was everyone in the world at that time so incredibly shallow? Surely the Creature could have passed as a man who had been terribly injured, or born with a deformity. Ugliness did not have to translate to a lack of humanity. Perhaps the Church would have taken him in. He was not without avenue just yet. The Creature himself could have informed on Frankenstein, and revealed him to the world. My point, is that there was more to it than mere ugliness. Ugly, misshapen, scarred people are everywhere—especially back in that era. He was certainly not the worst of all. So why on earth would Mary Shelley try to convince her readers that there was none so ugly as the Creature, that he was inexorably bound to Victor Frankenstein by a force he could not resist, and that there were no kind, decent people who would have seen past the Creature’s face? Mary Shelley was either a pessimist who put no stock in human goodness, or she wrote—in spite of the other brilliance of her novel—a fatal flaw in the story, or…or she knew something that she was trying to speak to through the character of her Creature.
Did Mary Shelley know that thing that could compel above the power of love and hate, yet inform those very things in ways that warps, corrupts, and makes them something dark and dangerous? Perhaps she did, because she wrote a Creature driven by such profound shame that it robbed him of the actual gifts he did possess, destroyed everything he touched, and finally killed him.
Shame comes when one is so humiliated and hurt that this person begins to loathe himself. There is a piece of the person that begins to believe that the humiliation was somewhat deserved. The Creature conceded that he was indeed physically ugly and unnaturally born. He also conceded that he was ignorant and illiterate. In order to remove the shame, he was compelled to vindicate himself. Thus, when he was no longer ignorant and illiterate, he returned to Frankenstein to prove that he was not beyond the personhood that Frankenstein, with his cruel words, stripped from the Creature.
Shame is a powerful, destructive force that turns to rage and violence, as it did in the Creature. The cure for shame? Love and acceptance. The Creature knew the cure for everything that was wrong with him…he needed a companion who would love and accept him. When Frankenstein denied the Creature this—not just denied him, but created the mate and then destroyed her before the Creature’s eyes—it sealed both of their fates. Shame took over, and morphed into what became the Creature’s deadly rampage.
There is a lot to do with shaming these days: in the news, on social media, in society…. I for one have never heard of anything positive that came from public shaming. People cannot be taught or rehabilitated, and society can’t be improved for everyone through the use of shame. Stories like Frankenstein serve as a reminder of this truth…and a warning.