05 September 2012

Shelley's Frankenstein as an allegory for Socialism

There are many ways to critique a novel. Sadly the current vogue is to read it and offer what the reader thinks is prescient commentary. For those that majored in creative writing, English, they know that there are much better tools at hand.

Some would look at novels and analyze them from a religious or a feminist perspective. But the one that always appealed to me is the Marxist one. It is conjoined with my love of the Frankfurt School of Philosophy. In that vein, here is my take on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (http://www.amazon.com/Frankenstein-Mary-Shelley/dp/0553212478) .

Initially one would assume that the novel is about how Victor Frankenstein plays "god" and creates another life and then is revolted by it. And that is one interpretation of it. Sure it works. One could argue that Victor was feeling Existential angst over the creation of, for lack of a better word, Adam.

But take into account Mary Shelley and the historical period she lived in. She was the daughter of William Godwin (political philosophy) and Mary Wollstonecraft (feminist philosophy). She had first-hand knowledge of the French and American Revolutions. She even at one point lived with William Baxter (a dissenter).

And yet, none of what she wrote in Frankenstein reflects her personal beliefs and life experiences.

Victor Frankenstein is clearly representative of the monarchy. He is all powerful and creates life from death, as any monarch could do with a simple writ. Move the serfs to a certain area and they either live or die. And with the English revolution of 1640 being represented, Victor's decision to kill the "monster" is what should have happened during the revolution, that the king should have destroyed all opposition and maintained absolute power.

And that is where the "monster" comes in. Because he was pieced together from many parts of many different people, he represents the idea that all the parts should contribute to the whole, a classless society or true Socialism. The "monster" represents not only the forces that won the English revolution but also the French one as well.

The "monster" appeals to Victor to create a mate for it and it promises to go away. And as Victor does so, he kills it. He does so in an attempt to save the monarchy and prevent the spread of Socialism throughout the world, because that would be the effect of the "monster" and the female procreating.

That Victor tries to kill his "monster" and is unsuccessful is a nod towards the belief that a classless society will always overcome a caste system with an absolute ruler at the top. Yes, the "monster" dies alone with Victor on the ice (after the monarchy he represents tries to conquer the world aka the British Empire), but it is not a hopeless death but one of a loving mentor, one knowing that the monarchy is dying but that Socialism will never really die.

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