You are on page 1of 6

Rachel Pekelney

Period 5 English

The Monster as the Other

Otherness is an important theme in Mary Shelleys novel

Frankenstein. Published in 1818, Frankenstein centers on the brilliant
and ambitious scientist Victor Frankenstein and his quest to bring life
to a human corpse. Victor succeeded in doing so, but his creation did
not turn out as he had hoped. Instead, he created a hideous monster
that ultimately murdered all of Victors loved ones and was alienated
from human society. Dr. Frankenstein intended his creation to be
perfect and superior to man, but the result was the opposite. The
Monster can be seen as the Other, meaning he was different from
humans, perceived as inferior, and treated as if he did not belong.
Mary Shelley contrasts the characters of Victor and the Monster by
using the Monsters otherness as a literary device to symbolize British
imperialism and the political tensions of colonial occupation during
Britains expansionist period.
When Victor first beheld the creature he had brought to life, he
was appalled by its grotesque appearance. Victor, on page 58,
describes the Monster as having yellow skin, watery eyes, a

shrivelled complexion, and straight black lips. These physical

features are distinctly different from human characteristics, and the
Monsters appearance is part of what makes him the Other when
compared to his creator and the rest of the human race. The Monster
is unique in that he is the only one of his kind, further emphasizing his
otherness; because of that, he does not belong anywhere. On page
123, in frustration, the Monster reflects on his solitary state: When I
looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a
monster, a blot upon the earth from which all men fled and whom all
men disowned? As much as the creature tried, he was never
accepted into human society, nor would he ever be like Victor. Similar
to humans, the Monster seeks affection and acceptance; instead, as
the Other, he is feared and rejected by humans.
Shelley shows a distinct polarization between the Monster and
Victor and uses it to symbolize Britains political engagements in the
time of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). Mary Shelley, born in
London, was well aware of her native countrys engagements overseas
while writing Frankenstein. It is easy to see how this could have
influenced her writing. She may have intended that Victor represent
Great Britain and the Monster the British colonies. Before and during
the early 19th century, Britain established colonies in India, Asia, the
Caribbean, and Africa. Although the native inhabitants of these
colonies were considered a part of the British Empire, they would

always be regarded by the people living in England as the racial,

ethnic, and cultural Other. Differences in language, skin color, and
customs were some of the factors that separated the British occupiers
from those they occupied. This parallels how the Monster was viewed
as the Other by Victor and the rest of society.
Shelley alludes to the Monster symbolizing a racial outsider when
Captain Robert Walton, an English explorer in the novel, notes how the
Monster appeared distinctly different from Victor, a European: He
[Victor] was not as the other traveller [the Monster] seemed to be, a
savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island, but an European (26).
Walton assumed the worst and falsely identified the Monster as a
savage because the creature was perceived as vastly different from
himself, a European. Jessica Hale writes in her essay on Frankenstein,
That the otherness of the monster has strong racial overtones seems
like a plausible hypothesis (18). The prevailing view held by many
Europeans during the time was that their own race was superior to
others. Shelley uses Victors description of the Monster having yellow
skin to symbolize how the British labeled people from Asia. In
characterizing Asians as the yellow people, the British defined the
Asians as the racial outsider.
Shelley sets up the contrast between the Monster and Victor by
using a parent-child relationship, which is another example of
otherness. Victor had intended the relationship between himself and

his creation to be like that of a parent and child. He assumed that the
Monster would be loyal and appreciative of being brought to life, as is
shown on page 55 when he states, A new species would bless me as
its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe
their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so
completely as I should deserve theirs. When Victor says that his
creations would owe their being to me, it reveals his paternalistic
attitude towards the Monster, which mirrors that of Britain towards its
colonies. Jessica Hale observes that,
There is also something inherently problematic about viewing
non-European people as children in need of the paternalistic
guidance of their colonial parents. Thus, while Shelleys novel
critiques in some sense the failings of the colonial system, it also
reflects a biased view of other races that has the result of
categorizing them as inferior to Europeans. (17)
The relationship between Britain and its colonies had many parallels to
that of a parent and child. Both Britain and Victor sought to be
creators, with the British attempting to establish colonies and remake
them to resemble themselves, and Victor seeking to make a being that
looked like a human. Despite Britains parental efforts to guide the
colonies to resemble itself, they were unsuccessful in changing the
Others. Similarly, the Monster could never be changed to be like a

Mary Shelley uses the otherness of the Monster as a device to

set up a struggle between Victor and his creation. This struggle is
symbolic of the relationship between Britain and its colonies. The
British perception of the native inhabitants of the coloniesthe Others
as being inferior set up tension between the two groups. The British
did little to help integrate the occupied people of the colonies into their
culture and way of life, similar to how Victor did nothing to help the
Monster become a part of human society. Shelley may have intended
the death of Victor and the survival of the Monster to foreshadow the
end of British control over their colonies. The desire held by both
Britain and Victor was to advance themselves and become more
powerful, but because they could not accept and overcome the
differences between themselves and the Other, it led to the demise of
Victor and the British Empire.

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818. London: Penguin Books, 1992.


Hale, Jessica. Constructing Connectedness: Gender, Sexuality and

Race in Mary Shelleys Frankenstein. The UCI Undergraduate
Research Journal. Volume IV: 11-20. Web. 2001.

Related Interests