Frankenstein Through a Marxist Literary Lense
Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto enlightened the world about the political and economic struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeois. Marx argues that the workers should own the means of production and that united, they can overcome the bourgeois class. He writes that the bourgeois creates the proletariat class through greed, oppresses it with disregard for its needs, but, however is ultimately weaker than the proletariat when it unites to overthrow the bourgeois. Many of these ideas are prominent in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
Frankenstein is a political allegory of the struggle between the bourgeois and the proletariat and the struggle between Victor and his monster parallels it. The character of Victor Frankenstein is an allusion to the bourgeois class. Victor is “by birth a Genevese, and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic. My ancestors had been for many years counselors and syndics; and my father had filled several public situations with honour and reputation” (14). Victor represents the bourgeois because, as the creator, he owns the means of production and just as the bourgeois created the proletariat class through greed and disregard for anything except its desires, Victor created his monster. Victor’s disinterest in everything but his pursuit of glory is exemplified when he recounts his passion for creating the monster.
He says, ” The summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in one pursuit. it was a most beautiful season;… but my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature.
And the same feelings… caused me also to forget those friends..
. whom I had not seen for so long a time” (33). Victor had no interests except for his own and couldn’t be bothered to reach out to friends. The monster represents the proletariat class because, like the class, he is made of “…
collected bones from the charnel-houses” (33) of which all come from various different bodies. Marx writes that the bourgeois is made of many different people all in the same situation and under the same circumstances. The charnel house is filled with people all of whom are under the same circumstances. Like the proletariat class, the monster is oppressed by his ruler and creator. Victor judges his monster and puts himself above him when he says, “How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe..
. His limbs were in proportion and I had selected his features as beautiful… but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery watery eyes.
..” (35). Victor believes he is better than the monster and thus, ignores the monster’s needs. The monster, like the proletariats, is forced to live poorly and rely on himself, despite his creator, the bourgeois, possessing the means to provide the monster with basic human needs. When the monster is telling his story to Victor, he says, “I felt cold.
.. I had covered myself with some clothes; but these were insufficient to secure me from the dews of night. I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch;” (71). The monster is forced to settle for an inadequate hut as shelter because he cannot find another place. His “place of refuge was constructed of wood, but so low that I could with difficulty sit upright in it.
No wood, however, was placed on the earth which formed the floor…. the wind entered it by innumerable chinks, I found it an agreeable asylum from the snow and rain” (74).
The monster must settle for what he can get instead of having what he deserves as part of his basic human needs. This mirrors the proletariat class having settled for any work they could get because some work with poor conditions is better than no work at all. Marx argued that united, the proletariat class could overcome the oppression of the bourgeois and that the existence of the proletariat is directly linked to the carelessness and negligence of the bourgeois. Victor takes all of the scattered pieces he found in the charnel houses and cemeteries and puts the pieces together to form a more powerful being “about eight feet in height, and proportionally large” (32).Victor was able to control each piece.
However, once Victor assembled the pieces to form such a large being, he lost control. This exemplifies the bourgeois causing the proletariat class to unite. The monster realizes that Victor no longer has control over him. He tells Victor, “Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have the power.
.. You are my creator, but I am your master;-obey!” (122). Once the proletariat class recognizes that it has control over its ruler, it can fight to to cause the bourgeois to experience the same suffering and agony that it once had undergone. The monster knows that he is in control and tells Victor, “you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you” (122).
Throughout history, the proletariat demonstrates through actions like walk outs and strikes that it is in control. Similarly, Frankenstein demonstrates that he is in control when he kills Henry Clerval. The monster’s murder of Henry is equivalent to a proletariat factory strike in that both leave the ruling man in agony and despair. The struggle between the bourgeois and the proletariat is one that can be applied to many instances, one of which is Frankenstein. Victor’s creation, like the proletariat of Marx’s writings, did not receive the basic needs it deserved and both are troubled by their creations for not giving the basic things that a human being needs. The monster was left to fend for himself in the wild.
While weak and oppressed in the beginning, like the proletariat, he began to progress. Through knowledge and free thought, the monster realized that he too was powerful, and with this power, both the proletariat and the monster were able to overthrow their oppressors.