|By Clyde Lewis
We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without asking for God's guidance. As we pass judgement on such a man keep in mind that the horrific metaphor that the Mary Shelley story illustrates is that there is a fine line between being Godlike and being a Monster.
As with most stories I tend to interpret them in different ways than most people. When I say different I mean that I look at horror and science fiction stories as mirrors of the human experience. I look at them as parables and comparative metaphors.
Since man has his spiritual side I often draw from that realm to show that our humanity is solely based on spiritual health. Frankenstein's monster is in reality a paradigm of sorts when you consider that in the pure story, the monster is not the creature that was forged from the dead cells. The Monster is it's creator.
It is poetic irony that in the late 20th century that a 19th Century horror figure has been demoted to an Icon that is as cuddly as Santa Claus. I feel that maybe we are finding ourselves relating more and more with the tortured character that continues to endure today. The Frankenstein story is more of a reality now than it ever was. In the mind of a woman came the story of a man that was created by a Doctor using scientific methods. One Hundred and eighty one years later we are seeing that the creation that once was in "spirit" has now manifested itself into our reality.
Today mankind is edging closer to the reality of creating life through science. The Frankenstein story is purely a metaphor for our times. In some ways it can also be a metaphoric blasphemy.
A creature is formed in a laboratory. The creator sees that his creation has flaws and lacks intelligence so it attempts to parent it. When the creature gets too big for the laboratory it escapes. The creator realizes that he has lost control of his creation and decides to hide from it. All the creature wants is acceptance from it's creator. The creator then provides a mate for his creation. But the creator does not approach or come in contact with his new offspring. The creature tries everything he can to find his creator. He makes mistakes, he takes life, he destroys the laboratory and his mate. The whole time he just wanted to know if his creator loved him. He dies confused and helpless.
In a way, Man is like Frankenstein's creation.
God creates man in a laboratory. This laboratory is called Eden. God sees that while man is capable of doing small tasks in the laboratory he lacks intelligence. Man is also lonely so God creates a mate. After Man is introduced to evil, God abandons him. He hides from Man. Man tries everything in his power to try and find out who made him. In the process he makes mistakes, in some cases he kills others, disrupts order and little by little destroys the laboratory that God placed him in. The whole time Man wants to know if what he is doing is right, and whether or not God loves him. He dies still confused and hopes that dying will get him closer to where is creator is.
This metaphor gets lost in the nuts, bolts and even in the dialogue of the movie Frankenstein directed by James Whale. The most important dialogue of all was lost in the Universal 1931 movie when the creation moves its trembling hand Henry Frankenstein played by Colin Clive cries out:
"Look! It's moving. It's alive. It's alive....It's alive, it's moving, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive! Oh - in the name of God. Now I know what it feels like to be God"
The last line was censored by the studio.
In order to understand the true metaphor of the Frankenstein Story one must eschew the Hollywood version for a moment and embrace the Mary Shelley story.
The creature described by Mary Shelley was hardly the cartoon image that we have associated with the monster today. Nor was he the ugly character that was a bloodthirsty killer. The "creation" of Doctor Frankenstein was like a child in every sense of the word. The being was quite beautiful and was wholesome to the eye. The desire of every woman.
To Mary, the man who was created from the dead cells of human beings was very real.
Mary herself saw the creature in a very vivid hallucination. She quotes in "The Demon Man" what the creature looked like-
"How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form?
"His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of his muscles and the arteries beneath. His hair was of lustrous black, an flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness."
While Mary Shelley claims the man in her room was beautiful in every sense of the word he admittedly wasn't perfect. There was something wrong with him. All of his beauty was scarred with his watery eyes that appeared to have no pupils or Iris. They were white. His face was shriveled against his cheekbones and his lips had no color, they were purplish black.
The story also relates that the brain of the man was defective in some way. The film and the Shelley novel do not give us reason to be sympathetic to a creature who by all intents, and purposes had no choice in it's existence. And while we assume that Dr. Frankenstein's actions were noble, sometimes complex undertakings with noble intent tend to have terrible outcomes when we overlook the big picture.
Doctor Frankenstein himself rejects the responsibility for giving the creature his pathetic existence. In fact the whole idea of whether or not the abnormal brain was placed in the creature on purpose is ambiguous at best. Leaving us to wonder if the creature was inherently evil, or if he developed his evil nature because of rejection.
We say the same for man at every turn. Is man inherently evil and tries to be good? Or is he inherently good and becomes evil eventually? Are certain sexual orientations evil or profane? Are certain races less intelligent than others? If we created a man from a cloning procedure would he have a spirit? Would he carry genes that would predetermine his behavior? Can he use freewill?
This raises the argument of genetic or biological determinism. For example many people assume that if we created a human from the genes of Adolph Hitler he would become the same evil man that slaughtered millions for his diabolical agenda. They throw out the very thought of free will. The idea that man chooses right from wrong. That perhaps not all behavior is genetic or pre determined.
In the 1990's however free will and genetic determinism is clouded and controversial and is one of the reasons why the world is at odds with genetic engineering and cloning of humans. We also argue that genes may determine if you are fat, or predetermined for alcoholism, heart disease, diabetes, or sexual orientation.
Are Homosexuals genetically prone to same sex attractions? Are killers pre determined by genes to be killers? That is the genetic and philosophical enigma.
Today we probably adhere tightly to genetic predetermination in theory, because we are faced with the realities of biometrics, cloning, and genetic engineering. Many people are philosophically opposed to these practices because they are convinced that playing God will result in the creation of a latter day Frankenstein's Monster, a creature without feeling, or spirit, a freak of nature that will be rejected outright. They conclude that this "God" power should not be tampered with, yet every day we tamper with creation, when we use birth control, sperm donation, fertility drugs, invitro fertilization, and abortion methods for family planning.
Mankind has already predetermined the outcome of creating life outside the womb. They have concluded that we will create a monster and so they create laws to ban the practice of cloning a human, when clones themselves are similar to identical twins, each with a soul, and the ability to choose right from wrong.
The "monster" in the Movie of Frankenstein only killed in self-defense at first. Later on his unfortunate attack on little Maria near the pond is accidental when the man-child realizes that while beautiful flowers float upon the water, little girls do not.
As Maria tries to swim her little body sinks to the bottom of the pond. As the creature in a panic moves away from the lake, he appears to be confused and lowers his head realizing that what he has done was wrong.
What this demonstrates is that the creature was capable of goodness. That if he were taught right from wrong he would have probably chosen good. If he were loved by his parent he would have functioned in society. But alas the man child becomes the monster and we assume that the creature is incapable of any love or tenderness not because of his hideous appearance but because he has the brain taken from a criminal, and body parts taken from the gallows and graves of the condemned.
When the monster finally dies we cheer yet we do not remember that the creature with tears in his eyes looks in confusion as to why he has to die a horrible death. He was brought into this world. His future was predetermined, he was treated like a monster, and died a fiery death crying out in panic.
In many ways neglectful parents are like Dr. Frankenstein. The story of Dr. Frankenstein is a haunting reminder of what happens when predeterminism coupled with lack of guidance can create monsters.
We see this same scenario played out in the headlines when a child grows unloved by his parents. When the child goes through life without guidance , when he is rejected by his creators he wonders if he is capable of any love or tenderness. If he is not trained properly he becomes dysfunctional and sometimes that behavior leads to grave consequences. The Child or the adult kills and thus becomes a monster. When the monster is sentenced to be executed we cheer.
When he is finally executed we rally around the prisons and sing gruesome rhyme and put away the barbecue for the next time forgetting that once upon a time, this dead criminal was a child who probably needed love and guidance yet was rejected because everyone around him tried to predetermine his future. I am illustrating this, not to preach sympathy for the crimes, but sympathy for the future children who already have their futures predetermined by society.
This makes us ask who really are the monsters in the world? The monsters are the ones who do not love. The monsters of the world are those who do not hold life sacred. Are fiendish killers a result of predetermined genes or are they a product of neglect and rejection? Are they the products of an uncaring, unloving parent? Are they the products of a corrupt system? Could any of us become that monster?
Dr. Frankenstein says it best when he writes in his diary:
"All my research is based on the premise that all things, even thoughts are material."
That means to me that our very thoughts can eventually become reality if we allow them to consume us.
As a man thinks, so he is.
The Evolution of man-child to monster plays out in a dark story for our times that people take for granted. We see children grow into monsters before our eyes and decide that the only way to get rid of the menace is to kill that menace. We wonder where we went wrong. We continue to raise a bumper crop of menacing Frankenstein Monsters, we kill them and they keep returning. It is a vicious circle that continues to grow like a cancer.
The beauty of Mary Shelly's work is that it is a tale written long ago that applies in our times. It has within it's pages eternal truths buried in Science Fiction. Keep telling yourself that it was only a story written in 1818 by a woman who was on holiday hallucinating on drugs and writing stories to scare the living daylights out of a small circle of friends.
Nearly 200 years after it was thought of, it is now reality. Stories about cloning procedures, dividing of the classes, capital punishment, child abuse, genetic engineering, and artificial intelligence grace our newspapers every day. We basically judge everyone on their genetic make up, their looks, even their social status. We reject those who are in our opinion low on the food chain because they are different. We look at the horrors of the world and are quick to blame others and we forget that it is our responsibility to try and stop the monsters before they have time to grow.
In the Book "Playing God" Frances S. Collins wrote
"As genetic predispositions to everything from cancer or diabetes to novelty-seeking behavior or homosexuality are being reported almost daily in the scientific literature (and regrettably often overstated in the popular press), a new and dangerous brand of genetic determinism is subtly invading our culture. Carried to its extreme, this 'Genes R Us' mentality would deny the value of social interventions to maximize individual potential, destabilize many of our institutions (perhaps especially the criminal justice system), and even deny the existence of free will.
Surely a world in which every aspect of human behavior is hard-wired into our genes cannot comfortably exist with the concept of personal responsibility and free will to try (albeit not successfully for very long) to follow the moral law of right and wrong which people of faith believe has been written into our hearts by a loving and holy God."
That only applies if you believe in a loving and Holy God. There are many who believe that God is hidden. That he does not listen. That he ignores us.
Is God no better than Dr. Frankenstein? After all we do not have contact with him. We try to contact him. We attempt to find him in religion, and in ritual. Those who give up are usually ridiculed by those who should continue to love and support them. Some feel that God is ashamed of them. That no matter how hard they try God will still look away from them. Is this creating yet another type of Frankenstein Monster?
In the prologue of the movie we are told that Dr. Frankenstein created the monster and he did. But what we lose in the context is that Dr. Frankenstein created a living being from death, he gave it breath and shelter. He kept in the darkness and when his creation's eyes were opened Dr. Frankenstein rejected him. It was then that the creature who was willing to love, willing to try, was rejected again, this time by a group of people who prejudged him as an abomination, all the creature ever wanted more than anything was to be a responsible man.
When he tried on his own without guidance to be a man he failed. His failure cost the lives of those associated with him. His predetermined life was then a reality. He became a monster and while he still wondered why he had to die, it was the very people who rejected him that wanted to see him die, and he was considered the villain.
The creature was only mimicking his examples.
This story merely mimics our very own creation. It also shows us that mankind can restrict the lives of those whose only transgression is that they were born into a despised social order, sexual orientation or race. They use these factors in order to place blame for social ills. When monsters come out of the darkness and prey on the society at large one needs to realize that it is the tendency for man to become neglectful if he doesn't take the pains to keep checks and balances in order. Whenever we look for a single cause in answer to the question "Why did that monster attack when we used a solution capable of deterring an attack from that monster?"
We are thinking deterministically: assuming that things happen in a linear sequence of cause and effect, where any effect becomes a cause for a new effect, which then causes another effect which continues ad infinitum.
We hear from many sources that they have the solutions to the elimination of the societal Frankenstein. Some believe it is turning the nation back to God, Some say we need tougher laws. Some say we need to execute the monsters.
Even in the noblest of endeavors we are capable of creating monsters while trying to eliminate others. The tragedy is that even though we think we have killed the monster, the monster always seems to return, like the sequel to a bad horror movie.
Maybe it is as simple as slowing down and taking the time to look at the soul. To try and find where the heart is.
Could it be that acceptance, tolerance, patience, and love, are the things that eliminate monsters? This is unconditional tolerance and love without an agenda. It should not be a cover for a religious conversion, or a political or business proposition, but a true interest in someone's welfare.
You see, the story of Frankenstein teaches us that whatever is thought of in the hearts of men can truly manifest itself in time.
The thoughts of Mary Shelley and her creature have endured nearly 200 years. They are becoming tangible and less complex as we journey into another thousand years, creating our own creatures and debating as to whether or not it is wise to do so.
In the meantime let us heed the warning that the story of Frankenstein gives us which is that there is an infinite amount of dark consequences that come from neglecting something that we have created. There is a responsibility that comes with the power of creation.
When we see the Frankenstein like monsters being paraded on the six o'clock news and in the morning paper, there is always a tendency to throw the blame on someone or someone else, and not on society in general who unwittingly feeds the monster because of it's own selfish ideologies and predetermined stereotypes.
Ignorance is not a virtue; innocent bystanders are not innocent when they stand idly by.
The story of Frankenstein is the perfect example of how a healthy embracing of mythology can teach us lessons in our own humanity. The child you once loved could eventually become the man that you fear when you stop taking part in his physical and spiritual growth.
Copyright 1998-2007 Ground Zero Media, Clyde Lewis, and John Hart. All Rights Reserved.