Oral Presentation

Frankenstein as a Tragedy of Limitations

According to the typical interpretation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Dr. Victor Frankenstein is the true monster, rather than the socially maligned monster created from his experiment. While Dr. Frankenstein's complicity in the monster's suffering is inarguable, putting the focus on the doctor's moral failings distracts the reader from the web of social factors that doom the monster to be excluded by society. The monster's "monstrousness" doesn't exist in a vacuum - it is inextricably connected with a society that both defines the monster, and is unavoidably affected by his existence. Just the vision of the monster hurts anyone who he attempts to talk to; his very birth causes a fugue state in Dr. Frankenstein, and the DeLacy family sells their house after encountering him even once. The monster's dilemma shows us the power of visual affect, and how easily it overcomes rhetoric, as Brian Massumi describes in "The Autonomy of Affect". Every time the monster speaks to someone, the affect his appearance inspires is quicker and stronger - and anyone who sees him is unable to overcome it. The tragedy of Mary Shelley's novel is not simply that Dr. Frankenstein cannot accept the monster, but that the society he longs to be accepted by is in many ways not equipped to accept him. For the monster to live peacefully in any way, the society he was born into must find the capacity to change - but the tragedy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is that society is not equipped to rise to that challenge.