Otherness

     The concept of “otherness” has been a powerful force throughout human history and is also a powerful motif in Mary Shelly’s novel, Frankenstein. The concept of otherness in the novel mirrors the real world effect of otherness in terms of race, gender, and class. Otherness displays a bidirectional force where formation of identity occurs through the acknowledgement of other people that are like you, and oppression and exclusion occurs in the presence of “the other,” people that are different in one way or another.  https://www.bl.uk/the-middle-ages/articles/medieval-monsters-from-the-mystical-to-the-demonicjapan_usa_locator_2-svg

 

 
 
 
 
 

     Examples of the effect of otherness has been seen through the events surrounding the discovery of new lands with foreign inhabitants.  Terms like barbarians and savages were commonly used to describe the natives, and a similar effect can be seen through the many terms used in reference to Frankenstein’s creation: "He struggled violently. 'Let me go,' he cried; 'monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me and tear me to pieces. You are an ogre. Let me go, or I will tell my papa.'" (Shelley 167).   John Bugg addresses the relation to cultural otherness by writing “This affective identification is soon complicated as the Creature begins to perceive a power imbalance between himself and the DeLaceys, a sense of inferiority that emerges as he becomes

Images projected on foreign cultures deemed to be "monstrous races"
Images of "monstrous races" emerged during global exploration

aware of his physical difference… this difference is racialized… Walton describes the spectacular images he sees as not ‘Europeans, but ‘a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island.’” (Bugg 659).  This notion of a savage inhabitant of an undiscovered island does two things.  First, it shows the clear relation being developed between Frankenstein’s monster and foreign cultures.  Secondly, it displays the mentality of otherness in the mind of Captain Walton.  The example of barbaric projections is a concept that Walton adheres to.  Bugg later draws a direct parallel between

racism and otherness in America
racism and otherness in America

Frankenstein’s monster and American slaves.  He cites excerpts from slave narratives, particularly passages related to literacy and appearance, showing how these moments contributed to the understanding of their otherness.  This racial undertone is also included in James Whale's 1931 film adaptation "which staged the Creature's death against a flaming windmill in a scene that has been likened to the imagery of Ku Klux Klan lynchings." (Bug 656).   A similar effect is shown through an examination of the monster’s education: “By acquiring literacy he only becomes more familiar, as did Gronniosaw and Equiano, with the terms of his own alterity.”

 
 

     Otherness is also shown through gender relations in the novel and in the characters' formation of identity.  Steven Vine writes about the evidence of male narcissism displayed by Walton and Victor through their relationships and desires: "But Walton's wish for self-restoration is indistinguishable from his narcissism, for he covets a friend who will image back to him the form of his desire, who will be the specular reflection of himself, confirming and completing his heroic self-image." (Vine 246).  Here Walton is using the notion of sameness in order to strengthen his self identity.  It is an example of narcissism because he only feels able to find meaningful interaction through someone that he can see himself in.  Male narcissism is further shown through Victor and the monster, particularly in the way they approach their 'female imagescounterparts'.  Victor's initial introduction to Elizabeth is remarkably possessive, with explicit mention of him perceiving her as his own.  Vine takes this idea and goes a step further saying that "Her difference from him is erased as she is incorporated into the complacent circle of his self-love.  As Victor expresses it, every sign directed towards Elizabeth is converted into a sign of him: 'All praises bestowed on her, I received as made to a possession of my own...'" (Vine 253).  In the novel the monster tries to force Victor into making a female monster to be his companion.  This request is a clear example of man viewing women as a possession.  Being completely self centered, the monster wants a female to be brought into existence purely for his own benefit.  There are far reaching implications to this idea with examples dating all the way back to the creation story with Eve being created as an afterthought, only to be a companion for Adam.  With the consideration of male narcissism, it makes sense that anything different from them would be seen as inferior or undesirable.  When Vine writes that "the self acquires face and form only by way of figures which reside beyond it" (Vine 247), it seems that similarity is embraced while difference is dealt with.  In the case of women they get categorized as a sort of convenient possession.  

http://www.historyofwomen.org/oppression.html 

 

 
 

     Another manifestation of otherness is shown through class exclusion.  In her essay "Frankenstein's Hidden Skeleton," Anca Vlasopolos defines Victor's creative motivation as being incest avoidance, making the monster a symbol of the havoc created by aristocratic norms: "Challenges to societal norms are absorbed

Social Exclusive Unit.

(Safie), isolated (The Orkney Islanders), or eliminated (Justine)." (Vlasopolos 132).  The monster demanded the most oppressive response, the need to be utterly destroyed; his awareness of this lead him to seek a life of voluntary exile with the female monster.  Vlasopolos examines several instances of class exclusion in different ways stating that "law and religion unite to uphold the inequities of society appears evident in the very different treatment received by Victor when he, too, is accused of murder..." (Vlasopolos 131).  His status as a man and his family relations were the reason that he was able to beat his murder accusation, where Justine was condemned for a similar charge.  In this case the aristocratic class sees itself as the primary form and everyone else as the other.  This leads to the incest mentioned in the article and the varying treatment toward the different types of  others.     

 

 
 

     The creature itself is universally understood to be excessively ugly.  In her article "Facing the Ugly," Denise Gigante discusses ugliness in great detail.  In terms of aesthetics, ugliness is seen as "in-sensible and un-intelligible, irreprehensible and unnamable, the absolute other of the system." (Gigante 583).  With the monster being as ugly as he is, it is no surprise that he becomes recognizedfrankenstein-620x484 as an irreconcilable other in the eyes of mankind.  He is universally met with hostility and disgust, and where we can see otherness among different people sorted out through different gender roles and class identities, there is no place among mankind for the monster, the absolute other.  Viewed through this lens one can see varying degrees of otherness with a corresponding degree of hostility and exclusion.  The aristocratic man views himself as centralized, or a sort of transcendental signified, where everything else is defined in terms of himself.  Those like him are used in order to validate his existence, with varying degrees of separation, leading up to the logical extreme, the monster, the complete manifestation of otherness.  

 
 
  • Bugg, John. “‘Master of Their Language’: Education and Exile in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.” Huntington Library Quarterly, vol. 68, no. 4, 2005, pp. 655–666. www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/hlq.2005.68.4.655.
  • Gigante, Denise. “Facing the Ugly: The Case of ‘Frankenstein.’” ELH, vol. 67, no. 2, 2000, pp. 565–587. www.jstor.org/stable/30031925.
  • Vlasopolos, Anca. “Frankenstein's Hidden Skeleton: The Psycho-Politics of Oppression (Le Squelette Caché De Frankenstein: La Psycho-Politique De Poppression).” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 10, no. 2, 1983, pp. 125–136. www.jstor.org/stable/4239544.
  • VINE, STEVEN. “Filthy Types: ‘Frankenstein’, Figuration, Femininity.” Critical Survey, vol. 8, no. 3, 1996, pp. 246–258. www.jstor.org/stable/41556019.
  • Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Charles E. Robinson. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus: The Original Two-volume Novel of 1816-1817 from the Bodleian Library Manuscripts. New York: Vintage, 2009. Print.

Those like him are used in order to validate his existence, with varying degrees of separation, leading up to the logical extreme, the monster, the complete manifestation of otherness.