The Concept Of Otherness In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Today I will be discussing the representation of Otherness in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, first published in 1818.
What is Otherness?
A standard definition of Otherness is the quality or state of being different, however, this definition does not provide a depth befitting this novel. A more preferred definition is from the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, published in 2008, which defines Otherness as transforming a difference so as to create an in-group and an out-group. The in-group in Frankenstein is being human, and the out-group is the Creature.
The Creature’s Appearance and his Biological Difference
It can be argued that the most important reason for the Creature’s othering is his visual appearance. Victor Frankenstein’s creation of the monster is inherently an unnatural act that sets the course for the Creature’s life as an Other. The creature can be considered an artificial construction, due to his creation, yet also a biological creature as he is composed of organic material, albeit from different species. This insinuates that Victor configures a being out of animal and human body parts. As a result, readers cannot consider the Creature completely physiologically human.
Mary Shelley describes the Creature’s appearance in a straightforward manner, in order to emphasise the Creature’s hideousness for the readers to visualise. This also highlights the difference the Creature has from humans, and Victor’s remarks can be interpreted as an attempt to differentiate in species.
Furthermore, the othering of the creature is strongly formed by the prejudices of the other characters. The first perception of the creature is through the eyes of Frankenstein. At this point in the novel, the creature has been painted with negativity and fear by Frankenstein himself. The moment he finishes his creation he is repelled by it. He misinterprets his attempt to speak as threatening and by fleeing he depicts the creature as perilous. Because the reader is dependent on Frankenstein’s narrative, he or she tends to see the creature as ‘Other’. In the same way, Frankenstein’s opinion of his creation influences Robert Walton, as his intention is to make an example of his personal experiences. Therefore, the description of the Creature is meant to affect sway Walton’s opinions. Frankenstein’s dying wish is for Walton to kill the creature. Walton has the intent to commit to “the dying request of [his] friend, in destroying his enemy” but is retained by his “mixture of curiosity and compassion” when he encounters the creature. Regardless of his ‘compassion’, he takes sides with Victor in blaming the creature for the course of events exactly as Frankenstein did until his death. This action suggests that Walton remembers Frankenstein’s narrative better than that of the creature, indicating that the emotions have more weight than those of an anthropoid creation. The dying wish of Frankenstein was for Walton to kill the Creature in order to prevent further harm, however, the Creature chooses its own fate, deciding to commit suicide by burning, and this effectively denies the Creature from having a noble death.
In the same way, Walton and the reader are biased by Frankenstein’s opinion, the prejudices of society contribute to the process of othering. When the creature meets William he is strongly rejected. William is described as “gentle” and a “fair child” by his family. Since William is still a child it is assumed that he is “unprejudiced” and will not be repelled by the creature’s deformed appearance. However, it turns out that William is already indoctrinated by society’s conventions. As the Creature is essentially a child, it defies the Romantic idea that children have an innocent nature, and are uncorrupted, and this also accounts for William too, as he already holds beliefs that he has learned from his environment. He exclaims: “monster! ugly wretch! you wish to eat me and tear me to pieces” showing that he equates the creature’s outer appearance with evilness and monstrosity. The reaction of the child contributes to the creature’s exclusion and to othering. The othering of the creature is mainly based on his appearance but, in spite of this, he is also bothered by the blind father of the De Lacey family. He can evaluate him only by its eloquence. However, De Lacey others him by saying he would be happy to “be in any way serviceable to a human creature”. A keyword is ‘creature’, like Frankenstein’s creation is ironically this exact thing, however having the adjective of ‘human’, allows readers to question what the Creature’s nature is, human, or something else.