How I Felt when I Read Frankestein by Mary Shelley


    A couple of weeks ago I read Mary Shelley’s Frankestein.  I already knew the story but I hadn’t read the book.  I was looking forward to doing it.  I knew it’s a story about the cruelty of human beings but I never imagined it would hurt so much to read it. It broke my heart but it is a very good story and reading it was worth it.  I can’t believe Mary Shelley was 19 when she wrote Frankestein.

It is considered a horror story.  I guess, in a way, it is. But it is not the kind of story that keeps you awake in a Halloween night.  What is scary is the cruelty of human beings,  not the monster.

Nowadays Frankestein’s monster is very popular. Its appearance is one of the most popular disguises for Halloween.  Children are suppposed to fear it. I guess. There have been some movies about it in which it is an evil monster.  But, is it, really?

My husband told me that there are many ways to read Frankestein. For example as a science fiction story.  Or maybe as a  story about adventures.  He asked me what kind of story it was for me.  I guess I read  Frankestein as a  story which criticizes the human nature.  For me, it was  a story about the cruelty human beings show towards those who are different and about the importance of  appearance.  In  the story nobody cares to look beyond the Monster’s appearance.  It reminded me of a movie that really hurt me when I was a little girl, a movie I  will never see again. Never. Just the memory of it makes me want to cry again, today, when I’m a 37 year old woman.  This movie is  the Elephant Man. It’s the story of John Merrick whose face is horribly deformed (that’s why they call him the elephant man) and who is terribly mistreated because of his appearance. Did anybody notice that he was a very sensitive good-hearted man? Because he had an ugly face he deserved to be laughed at, unloved, mistreated.  I can’t talk or write about that movie without feeling bad.   Well, it was impossible not to think about John Merrick when reading Frankestein.

Victor Frankestein was obssessed with natural philosophy and with discovering the secret of life. Eventually he made a creature with old body parts.  The problem was that the creature was really ugly.  Its ugliness was frightening.  Besides  it was enormous.  Victor Frankestein became ashamed of his creation and he felt guilty. He didn’t even give the creature an opportunity. Because of its ugly and threatening appearance he decided it was evil.  He ran away from it.  He tried to ignore its existence. He was consumed by remorse.

The creature came to life alone in the world. It had no name and no living being in the world was like it. It was quite strong and cold-resistant. It was able to survive by eating the fruit it found.  Despite its ugliness, it was kind and sensitive. It longed for love.   When it tried to approach human beings, they screamed and ran away from it.  The Creature became aware of its ugliness. They were  horrified and convinced it was going to harm them.  The creature learned to hide from them, to live in solitude. There was no one who answered his questions.  For it, there were no kind words, no hugs.  It admired Nature and found some kind of happiness in it.  It was full of the purest and most beautiful feelings.  And it was in need of  being loved, just as we are.

It learned how to read and speak by observing a family it learned to love.  Anonymously it helped them with their chores and helped them to be happy. It shared their joys and sadness. It considered them its friends. It thought they could love it if they knew it, if they saw beyond its ugliness.  Could they see its inner beauty? Could they be its friends? Could they?   I guess we all know the answer, even if you haven’t read the book: NO.   It is cursed by its appearance because no one, absolutely no one, is willing to get to know it, to look beyond its appearance.  So, Frankestein’s creature became desperate after it got hurt in return of saving the life of a young lady who was going to drown.  It got tired of people’s ingratitude and cruelty.  It was angry at its maker.  Anger took hold of him, and yes,  it wanted to hurt the one who turned his back on him: Victor Frankestein…

Victor Frankestein, for me, was a very selfish man  who made the creature he then loathed just because it wasn’t what he expected. He decided it was as ugly in the inside as it was on the outside.  He took all his frustration, remorse, guilt, anger on him. He wanted to destroy the thing he created.  He felt no empathy at all.  As many human beings, he was just thinking about himself.  I think he was the real monster, the one I would be afraid of.  He was the evil one.  He was never a hero and he never accepted his mistake.  For him, his mistake was the creation of the creature he abhorred.  I agree that wasn’t a good idea;  but the worst mistake he made was turning his back on the creature.

In many ways this wonderful book broke me. I know it is crazy to say that it is wonderful if it broke me, but that’s the way it is.   The best stories are the ones that change you in one way or the other.  Well, after reading this book I needed some time to pull myself together.

The monster may not be real, it may be a science fiction / horror story;  but the way people reacted towards it, including its maker, that’s real.   The creature looks like a monster but it isn’t, and the monster (Victor Frankestein) looks like a handsome man.   In real life, monsters don’t have a horrifying appearance nor special powers. Actually, they just look like you or me.  Many of them can be very  good-looking on the outside but it would scare the bejesus out of us to see how they look like on the inside .

I wanted to hug the creature.  I wanted to save him from the world of solitude he was trapped in.    I wanted to make a difference.  Each time he suffered,  I did too.  In the creature I could find myself and many of my friends or people I have met.  Because the creature represents those people who are different and who are rejected because of that.  In this world full of prejudices there are many Frankestein’s creatures living in solitude and in pain.  Some of them can overcome it and find happiness, some cannot.

I used to be a very shy girl and  too sensitive (I still am).  Since I remember I have loved to read and write.  In my school I was considered a weirdo. I grew up being the skinny and ugly one.  I grew up hearing the words: «Go away, you don’t belong here».   I grew up being the one no one wanted to play the secret friend game with (because nobody wanted to give me a present).  I mean…who writes poetry in elementary school or junior high?  Who prefers a book instead of a fancy dress?  … So I was lonely at school. I always dreamt of having a friend who loved me for who I was, for my heart instead of my skinny body or my ugly face.    Like me, I have met many «creatures» who longed to be loved, who have suffered because they are different.  Bullying now is a trend, everyone talks about it but just a few know what it is.  Just a few really understand and are willing to make a difference.  But it goes further, when I was reading about the Creature it was not only me and bullying what I was thinking about, I was also thinking about those single mothers in a conservative society, about all the people with different sexual preferences fighting so hard against prejudice, against cruelty, fighting so hard for their rights. I was also thinking about those people who are considered «ugly» because they are too fat or too skinny, too tall or too short,  or who because of an accident or a disease have some physical disadvantages and are severely judged because of their looks.   It is clear to me that for human beings it is easier to judge than to love, to be cruel than to be giving.  And still many people relate the word beauty to the physical appearance.   That’s for me a truth that will always hurt.  I have always believed in inner beauty.   A pretty face is just that a pretty face.  No more than that.  Meanwhile, a person full of love can change the life of the people around her/him, can make a difference in the world.   In Mary Shelley’s Frankestein, I’d rather be with the creature who would love me and protect me with his life than with the selfish Victor who, in a way, was responsible for the death of those he loved.

And  yes, the Creature was no saint. His anger led him to violent unjustifiable acts. But I do believe it was a consequence of all the cruelty he received.  How can we expect him to love eternally if  all that he received  from human beings was hatred and fear.  It never got a kind word, nothing.  How many people are treated like that?  Violence generates violence.  Now, what can be expected of someone for whom there’s only violence and rejection? He resented his master and this resentment grew stronger and stronger until he had to hurt him.  In the end, the creature was full of remorse, pain, and willing to die.

Can you imagine a life in which everyone hates you just because you were born?   That’s the story not only of Frankestein’s creature, but of many human beings.   That’s why reading Frankestein hurt me so much.  It reminded me of how prejudiced, how cruel, how selfish, how intolerant  we, human beings, are:   so good at judging others so bad at giving love.   Of course, not all human beings are like that.  I’m grateful for all those human beings who make a difference every day, who love instead of hating, for whom empathy is more important than judging,  who are able to go beyond appearances and to love the real beauty in life, in the world.  I’m grateful for those human beings who would never turn their back to Frankestein’s  Creature.

So,  don’t judge a book by its cover. If possible, don’t judge at all.  .

Frankestein was first published in 1818.  Almost 200 hundred years later, I read it and enjoyed  it.  I hope that you enjoy it too.

~ por Naraluna en septiembre 28, 2013.

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