Frankenstein and the other novel I have chosen to analyse, Dracula, both contain creatures that can be seen as being monsters. However, both these novels describe and depict the characteristic of being monstrous, although the actual definition of the monstrous varies widely between the various extracts that can be taken, and between the two novels themselves. The monstrous can be perceived to mean a number of things, from simply the supernatural, the intelligence of the characters in question, to the physical appearance of something which is not what is usually expected, and can even be the moral issues that a character experiences.
Both Frankenstein and Dracula are creatures which are ‘abnormal’, unnatural, even supernatural because indeed they do exist, but they technically should not because whereas Frankenstein is made from reanimated flesh, Dracula can take the life-force of another and use it to prolong the life of another which can be considered monstrous since it goes against the natural order of things. This why Jonathan wishes to send Dracula’s soul ‘for ever and ever into burning hell’; only then will the retribution against Dracula for all the cruelty be achieved.
Frankenstein’s creature on the other hand does not wish to harm others originally, but even before Victor could have a chance to witness the creature’s true personality for himself, he condemned the creature as a ‘wretch’ and immediately ‘breathless horror and disgust filled [his] heart’. This is not completely understandable, and makes the reader wonder whether if a living creature is monstrous on the outside, then wonder if the inner self, the personality of the creature will reflect its outer appearance.
Conversely, when the creature speaks in Frankenstein, it does not appear to be so monstrous, but rather to be highly educated, intelligent and aware of the world around it and its actions upon it. He even seems to recognise the meaning of knowledge, by describing it as something which ‘clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock’.
This comment can in a way be seen to describe the creature itself, because no matter how much his having knowledge has harmed him (because if he simply existed, unknowing of life, devoid of a consciousness, he would not be so desolate and not wish to find something to whom he could relate), he is unable to rid himself of this knowledge and thus is self-condemned to a life of misery, a sham life but yet one that if he were a true human, it would be life that would to all intents and purposes appear human.
While this may be the case, the very fact that he has a consciousness, a ‘life’ and possesses knowledge means that nevertheless he is supernatural, even unnatural, and thus this can be taken to means that no amount of human-like knowledge can justify him being seen as anything but ‘monstrous’, when judged on being unnatural alone. Dracula, on the other hand, seems monstrous from the start, because he does not seem to have any aims which might be interpreted as ‘good’; as anything aside from ‘terrible’.
He possesses a vast intellect, granted, but yet there is no wish, indeed no need to put it towards anything at all constructive. This brings some proof that true monstrosity is having the capability to prevent becoming that way, but yet purposefully choosing to take the other path to benefit one’s self and only one’s self. But yet in Frankenstein, it is not just the creature who takes this path, and becomes monstrous, but also the creature’s creator. Victor, being human, must have what we know as our own species’ intelligence, but yet in spite of this, he takes actions which are somewhat difficult to fully comprehend.
If a being is of limited intelligence, then to a certain extent its actions can be justified, but Victor has no justification available. He recognises what he thinks is the ‘monstrousness’ in the creature, and even describes it as a ‘monster’ which ‘gnashes its teeth’. This depersonalises the creature, and using emotive vocabulary tries to get the reader to agree with his perception, but yet Shelley at the same time is showing how quickly someone ordinary can become monstrous.
After all, Victor has gone against the laws of nature, has gone against his ‘child’ and is even denying his creature its one desire to ‘find a wife for his bosom’ which as a request is not so monstrous. This conveys the fact that it is not merely the physical appearance of something that automatically categorises it as ‘monstrous’, but also whether or not they are natural, and their intelligence. However, in both of the two novels, the respective authors do seem to place a fair amount of emphasis on the physical appearance of the two creatures.
Whether this is entirely fair is uncertain, because Victor can be seen as monstrous, and Renfield certainly is to some extent, with his wish to have life regardless of the source from whence it came: ‘Life is all I want’. Yet it is the hideous appearance of the two creatures that is meant to attract the reader’s notice, and bring the true monstrosity of these characters to their attention. To measure monstrosity, the item being measured must be directly compared to normality, to expectation; thus, it means that both Victor’s and Jonathan’s impression of the creature and Frankenstein respectively must be flawed.
However, they are described in such a way that is meant to make the reader stop relating with the character being portrayed that they cannot be seen as anything other than grotesque. Jonathan’s first perception of Dracula, for example, describes him as having ‘peculiarly arched nostrils’, the ‘peculiar’ simply meaning out of the ordinary, which will involuntarily raise the reader’s hackles. The word ‘peculiarly’ is even repeated to describe Dracula’s ‘sharp white teeth’.
However, it is when Dracula is seen in the coffin that Stoker makes his main effort to ensure that his creation will go down in history as being a truly monstrous being; the use of description, such as describing the Count as an ‘awful creature’, ‘gorged with blood’, and even making sure Jonathan’s reaction, such as him ‘shuddering’ and ‘revolted’ makes it clear that it is seen as truly monstrous. Frankenstein on the other hand, seems to be more preoccupied with persuading the reader that it is the very fact that Frankenstein has been created that is so monstrous, although of course his physical appearance must reflect this.
Shelley’s use of emotive vocabulary is by contrast much more limited, although nevertheless the portrayal is once more off-putting. She uses facts to disturb the reader; by saying the opposite of what is usually the case, the monstrous is achieved. ‘Yellow skin’ that ‘scarcely covers’ muscles and arteries is the reverse of what should be expected, and anything that possesses a body like this cannot be natural, and moreover if the unnatural is monstrous, then indeed both of these creatures satisfy the criteria.
This does not necessarily mean, however, that the reverse is true; it does not directly go to show that the natural can never be monstrous, because it all depends on the moral status of the being in question. Both the novels use the existence of moral standards to further emphasise the true meaning of monstrosity, and also to bring up the question of whether it is solely the unnatural that can own this trait.
While Dracula has the Count being unnatural and both looking and being morally monstrous, Shelley never openly mentions whether the reader should take the creature to be morally monstrous. However, despite all of the creature’s good intentions, it is still said that they ‘pave the road to hell’, and actions, such as when he ‘grasped [William’s throat]… and he lay dead’ speak louder. But of course the reaction to deeds done speak loudest of all, and by this, the creature can truly be seen as monstrous, because there is no regret, but even ‘exultation and hellish triumph’.
Morals, either the existence or non-existence of them, can be seen to be what truly define a being, and so since neither of the unnatural beings show much or any remorse, they can be said to be monstrous. The ‘monstrous’ attribute is determined by many things, such as morals, intelligence (and of course how this intelligence is used), whether something is of a ‘natural’ birth, and of course physical appearance. Both the novels mention all of these traits, in differing amounts, to show how the ‘monstrous’ is integral to not only a mere Gothic horror story, but also life in general.
It is not purely the appearance of something which determines whether they are monstrous, and not even whether they are normal or not; the true answer lies deep within the soul, where only that being alone can ever truly know if they are monstrous or not. Intelligence may play a part in having a consciousness, but after that, it depends on that being and their willingness to change to become a normal member of society, and one that respects the unwritten laws by which we all live.