Sigmund Freud is considered one of the most controversial psychologists. He is
specifically well known for his theory of psychosexual stages of development and
psychoanalytic theory. He first introduced the concept of Oedipal Complex in his book The
Interpretation of Dreams published in 1899 which forms the basis of the psychosexual stages of
development. Freud named the concept after Oedipus Rex, a character in Sophocles. In the
original Greek myth, Oedipus is abandoned at birth and thus does not know who his parents are.
He ends up killing his father and marrying his mother. In Shelley’s book Frankenstein, the
Creature is also denied an identity as he is abandoned by his creator, Frankenstein. In his
psychoanalytic theory, Freud suggests that in order to resolve the conflict arising from Oedipal
Complex the child adopts the defense mechanism known as identification. At this point the super
ego is formed and it functions as the model to distinguish between wrong and right. This is what
guides the Creature’s actions in Shelley’s book and his perception of what is right and wrong.
His relationship with his creator shapes his actions.
Victor Frankenstein is the main character in Shelley’s book. On all accounts he is
depicted as being a sad and miserable human being. He develops a keen interest and fascination
for science from an early age. His desire rested on a knowledge of “the secrets of heaven and
earth…the outwards substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of
man…the physical secrets of the world”(Shelley,33). Over the years he indulges this fascination
by studying the works of other scientists and philosophers notably Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus
and Albertus Magnus. At the age of fifteen years while at their family home near Belrive during
a most terrible thunderstorm he discovered the law of electricity and galvanism through a man
described only as a man of research in natural philosophy. This new discovery proves most
resourceful to him in the future.
Frankenstein further pursues his scientific interests when at age seventeen he joined the
University of Ingolstadt. While at this institution of learning he received formal instruction from
Professor Krempe and Professor Waldman on his pursuit of an understanding in natural
philosophy in relation to physiology. It is while studying that he pursued the experiment that
involved creating a new being from human body parts. For months he worked on his secret
experiment not sparing any time even just so to see his family. Alas! After months of toil he
beheld his creation. But much to his disappointment, his creation was nothing like what he had
visualized. Instead he had created a hideous creature. He subsequently flees from the Creature.
Through the application of psychoanalytical lens I hereby propose that the Creature’s
rebellious and violent behavior was as a result of the way he was treated by Frankenstein. My
argument is that evil is not inherent. Dr. Freud Sigmund is considered the founder of
Psychoanalysis. He identifies a number of reactions in humans which he called defense
mechanisms. These reactions occur as a result of conflict within a person controlled by the ego
layer of the brain. The Creature applies displacement as a defense mechanism. Displacement is
the redirection of an impulse (usually aggression) onto a powerless substitute target (Freud). The
object or person serves as a symbolic substitute of the actual object of discontent. In such a case
the feelings that are connected with one person or object are displaced onto another person or
object. After Frankenstein uncovers the Creature, he is repulsed and shows this by immediately
fleeing from the Creature in utter horror and disgust. Feeling betrayed by his creator, the only
person he expected unconditional love from, the Creature runs away from Frankenstein’s
apartment. Amidst all these happenings Frankenstein decides to resume his normal routines
putting his creation behind him. For a while he hears nothing of the Creature until he is informed
of his brother, William’s murder through a letter from his father Alphonse Frankenstein. Justine
Moritz a servant to the Frankenstein is the one accused of the murder but Victor latter discovers
it was the Creature who committed the murder. The Creature kills later also kills Frankenstein’s
best friend Henry Clerval, and his wife Elizabeth Lavenza.
Frankenstein was a vile man. He cared not for other people. In fact he only had one friend
Henry Clerval. He himself describes himself as being a loner and destitute of human
associations. He also asserts that “…my temper was sometimes violent…”(Shelley 32) When he
discovers that he has created a hideous creature he rejects his creation failing to even give him a
name. Instead he uses words such as “wretch” “devil”, “vile insect”, and “fiend” among others
when addressing the Creature. The implication of this is that the Creature lacks identity. This is
the first step in arousing the evil in the Creature. He also runs away from the creature in terror.
This registers as rejection in the Creature’s mind. He awakes to a world new to him with no one
beside him to guide and instruct him on the ways of the world. He subsequently teaches himself
how to speak by observing and listening to other humans and even learns how to read books on
his own. All these he perceives to be duties that his creator should have fulfilled to him but
neglected to do so. He is left to learn how to survive out in the cold with no shelter or food. He
acknowledges of himself in a confrontation with his creator that initially “… I was benevolent;
my soul glowed with love and humanity…” (Shelley, 114)We see him in the book helping a
family living in a cottage by collecting wood for them, showing that indeed he was once after
helping humanity and was good. Unfortunately this family is also scared of him except for the
blind man, Mr. De Lacey. These experiences coupled by the feelings of loneliness arouse
resentment for his creator.
People who see the Creature are horror stricken by his appearance and seek to kill him
but what causes him much anguish is the hatred he perceives from his creator “… all men hate
the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you,
my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by
the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me…” (Shelley, 113)He then finds that the
solution to his loneliness problem is to have his creator create a companion for him. He promises
to leave humanity alone if his desire is granted. Although Frankenstein initially agrees to his
request, he takes back his word and destroys the companion he had created for the Creature. As a
result Elizabeth, his newly wedded wife is killed at the arms of the Creature as recompense. In
his own quest for revenge Frankenstein dies at sea miserable and vile as the creature he had
created and rejected. Instead of the Creature finding relief, he is saddened at his creator’s demise
and resolves to kill himself to rid humanity of his presence as well.
A different fate would have befallen Frankenstein and the Creature were it not for
Frankenstein’s dismissal and rejection of his creation. The Creature turned evil as a result of the
treatment he received from his creator. This resulted in the death of those dear to Frankenstein as
the Creature displaced his fury on these persons in order to hurt his creator. This goes to show
that evil is not inherent but a result of life experiences and exposure to cruelty and injustices as
was the case with the Creature in Mary Shelley’s book.
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Steven, Lynn. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory. 2nd ed. Ny:
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