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The Psychology Behind Frankenstein
Transcript of The Psychology Behind Frankenstein
Ledford, revised 2014
The Concept of Self-Identity
Another prominent psychologist who developed theories on the concept of self-identity is Carl Jung.
Jung's theory of shadow and self proposes that "Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in an individual's life, the blacker and denser it becomes. It is the converse (opposite) of man's ideal picture of himself--the actual, the primitive, the uncivilized part of the personality" (Hitchcock 56).
Jung hypothesized that when a person was in the natural world, he/she was influenced by his/her unconscious.
The main concept and storyline throughout the entire novel is Victor’s quest for peace as he deals with the consequences of the creation of the Creature.
According to Freud's theory, the Creature represents the Id, Victor's father is the Superego, and Victor is the Ego.
The Creature seeks to fill his physical and emotional needs; Victor's father lectures Victor on the immorality of Victor's pursuit of natural medicine, and Victor seeks to reconcile the result of his ambition (the Creature) with his father's expectations.
According to Jung, people who turn away from the shadow cause it to become darker and denser. Victor Frankenstein shunned the Creature and abandoned him as a way of dealing with the problem, thereby causing the Creature to become more malevolent.
Because the Creature is a collection of various human body parts, he symbolizes a psyche full of various thoughts; therefore, his abandonment is multiplied--be belongs nowhere to no one even though he is physically composed of many people.
The townspeople, distracted by daily life, also fail to see beyond the superficial appearance of the Creature, therefore, causing the shadow aspect of the Creature to become stronger. Through his repeated rejections, he learns that he must identify and express his own needs in order to develop self.
"Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theory of the natural man [
], which Rousseau theorized in 1754, well before Shelley wrote the novel is referenced in the novel.
"Rousseau’s theory of the natural man states that all men are equal in a natural state but are corrupted by actions taken by others and by abuse suffered. Rousseau also states that the lack of, or misdirected, nurturing will corrupt any inherently good nature.
"Shelley shows this in the novel, by having the Creature appear innocent and child like to the reader, and to have Frankenstein corrupt the Creature's good nature by not treating his creation with love, which the Creature needed to develop into a functioning human being" (Tovarisch n.p.).
Rousseau's theory as applied to Nature vs. Nurture debate:
- A person is born with genetic predispositions for behavior, i.e., we are biological replicas of our parents/ancestors.
- The self is developed through social interactions, home environment, modeled behavior, and observed behavior.
Rousseau's theory that we are blank slates at birth and develop the self as we observe and learn would support the NURTURE argument.
Victor’s quest for self is largely derived from building his image
Victor regards himself as “the innocent and helpless creature bestowed on them by Heaven, whom to bring up to good.”
Later, he claims Elizabeth to be “a being heaven-sent, and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features.”
The epitome of Victor’s selfishness is seen through his pursuits at the University of Ingolstadt.
Victor retreats to his ever-loving, un-questioning family to escape criticism and secure his ego.
Victor's quest for identity is more like a purge of his faults.
Frankenstein is the for Identity
Victor uses tragic events throughout his life as a hint for his future torture and failure, such as the death of his mother which he describes as “an omen, as it were, of his future misery.”
Initially the creation of the monster is a result of Victor's desire to control nature; a reflection of Victor’s intense feelings of helplessness and perhaps even failure that he could not save his mother.
Victor rejects the monster which is an implication that he rejects the truth and a part of himself.
When Justine is accused of the death of William, Victor fears what people will think of him if they know the truth and becomes more isolated from his true self.
When the Creature tries to communicate with Victor in a civilized manner, Victor is mean and rude to him--further denial of the id / shadow.
Both Victor and the Creature are dehumanized: Victor because he sees relationships as rewards rather than personal interactions and the Creature because he is never named.
Both Victor and the Creature are exceedingly similar in other ways: both are emotional/sensitive, affected by nature, associate the idea of knowledge with danger, and suffer from isolation.
They are both outcasts: the Creature because he is the only one of his kind and Victor because he lives with this secret which prevents him from connecting with his friends and family
As Victor is dehumanized and his sole meaning in life is to hate the Creature and get vengeance, we realize he and the Creature are actually the same (remember Jung's theory of self and shadow?)
The psychological lesson of this novel:
- when the ego is unable to integrate the id and superego, the person will be destroyed
- when the self refuses to integrate the shadow, the person will be destroyed by what he/she has attempted to ignore
One of the most prominent psychologists who theorized about self-identify was Sigmund Freud.
Freud proposed that our identity is comprised of three components: the id, the superego, and the ego.
The id represents our primal drives: we must eat, sleep, be protected, and procreate in order to survive. These needs must come first and take precedence in all situations.
The superego represents the moral expectations of our social / community selves. The superego strives to be the perfect model, as determined by religion, morality, ethics.
The ego represents the part of our conscious selves which evaluates each situation and regulates the needs and influences of the id and superego.
The id and the superego are in constant battle: the id
wants its needs met no matter what and the superego wants the self sacrificed for the good of society - the ego is the peacemaker between these two forces.
However, the Creature becomes the embodiment of Victor's id or shadow--Victor's inability to accept the loneliness and isolation of loss.