A Freudian reading of Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein"

Hausarbeit, 2009

16 Seiten, Note: 2,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1. Aim of this Paper
1.2. Freudian Psychoanalysis
1.2.1. The Psychic Apparatus
1.2.2. Defense Mechanisms
1.2.3. Drive Theory
1.2.4. Topographical Model: Consciousness vs. Unconsciousness

2. A Freudian Analysis of the Text 4
2.1. Victor’s Childhood
2.2. Death of the Mother
2.3. Ingolstadt
2.4. Creation
2.4.1. Birth
2.5. Victor’s Collapse
2.6. Development of the Creature
2. 7. Victor’s Temporary Recovery
2. 8. The Creature’s Development to a Monster
2. 9. The Letter
2.10. Execution of Justine
2.11. Revenge
2.12. Meeting in the Alpine Valleys
2.13. Creating a Female
2.14. Wedding-Night
2.15. Final Hunting

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliographie

1. Introduction

1.1. Aim of this Paper

The following paper will examine Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or the modern Prometheus” under the perspective of the Freudian psychoanalysis. Firstly, Sigmund Freud’s psychic apparatus, the defense mechanisms, the drive theory and the topographical model will be explained. Secondly, the text will be analyzed in detail by taking the former mentioned parts into consideration. The aim is to give an outline of one idea how the novel can be interpreted by analyzing the meaning of the text.

1.2. Freudian Psychoanalysis

1.2.1. The Psychic Apparatus

According to Sigmund Freud the personality of each individual consists of three parts called the Id, Super-ego and Ego. The term Id stands for drives, needs and emotions, which are supposed to be fulfilled by the pleasure principle. This means that it longs for the immediate satisfaction of its desires. The Id represents the unconscious part of the human mind and, as Freud puts it,

is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality; what little we know of it we have learnt from our study of the dream-work and of the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of this is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. […] It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle (Freud, “New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis” 498-499).

The Super-ego is understood as the counterpart of the Id and contrasts ideas of social norms, values, obedience, morals and the conscience, which are mainly acquired trough the education by the parents. Freud claims further that only after the development of the Super- ego humans are able to act responsibly and to control their initial drives. “The Super-ego is frequently characterized as an internalized code, or more popularly, as a kind of conscience, punishing transgressions with feeling of guilt.” (Reber, “Dictionary of Psychology” 746).

The Ego is presented as a linking part between the Id and the Super-ego. Therefore, it is supposed to be the instance, which corresponds to the reality principle, also referred to as the self-consciousness. It comprises defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive, and executive functions. The Ego negotiates between the Id and the Super-ego, thus it “has the task of bringing the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavours to substitute the reality-principle for the pleasure-principle which reigns supreme in the id” (Freud, “The Ego and the Id“ 702).

1.2.2. Defense Mechanisms

Within the Freudian psychoanalysis defense mechanisms describe mainly unconscious reactions on the part of the Ego against unwelcome desires of the Id. They are the prerequisites for coping with unconscious psychic conflicts and are therefore the basis for the ability of self-control (Reber 179).

1.2.3. Drive Theory

Freud defines the human drives as “Kräfte, die wir hinter den Bedürfnisspannungen des Es annehmen […]. Sie repräsentieren die körperlichen Anforderungen an das Seelenleben” (Freud “Abriss der Psychoanalyse” 11). Two major drives exist in an individual’s personality: The so-called Eros and Thanatos, which stand for the drive for life and death. The Eros “comprises […] the uninhibited sexual instinct […], the impulses of a sublimated or aim-inhibited nature […] and the self-preservative instinct, which must be assigned to the ego” (Freud, “The Ego and the Id” 702). Thantatos, also called death instinct, presents the opposite of the Eros as it stands for destruction. The death instinct represents the desire to give up life and to return to the grave. Both drives simultaneously work against and complement each other.

In addition to that there exist two more components to this theory: The Libido and the Destrudo. The Libido can be described as the sexual energy of the Eros. Moreover it is referred to as life energy in general, whereas the Destrudo is associated with self-destruction. Both correspond to Eros and Thantatos, as they symbolize creation and destruction and as a consequence need to be balanced:

Es ist schwer etwas über das Verhalten der Libido im Es und im Über-Ich auszusagen. Alles, was wir darüber wissen, bezieht sich auf das Ich, in dem anfänglich der ganze verfügbare Betrag von Libido aufgespeichert ist. Wir nennen diesen Zustand den absoluten primären Narzißmus. Er hält solange an, bis das Ich beginnt, die Vorstellungen von Objekten mit Libido zu besetzen, […] (Freud, “Abriss der Psychoanalyse” 13).

During this process the Libido is transferable from one object to another. Only in the moment of boundless desire the Libido is fixed on one object which takes over the position of the Ego.

1.2.4. Topographical Model: Consciousness vs. Unconsciousness

According to Freud there exist three different parts of mental life: the consciousness, the unconsciousness and the preconscious or subconscious status. The unconscious contains most of our emotions, feelings, beliefs and impulses which are “repressed and not capable of becoming conscious” (Freud, “The Ego and Id” 698). The consciousness stores everything the person is aware of and therefore it is an “idea that is conscious now” (Freud, The Ego and Id, 697). The last part is represented by the preconscious or subconscious, which can be accessed if necessary. However, it is not the conscious: “It is latent but capable of becoming conscious” (Freud, “The Ego and Id” 698).

2. A Freudian Analysis of the Text

2.1. Victor’s Childhood

Victor was born in Naples as the eldest son of Caroline and Alphonse Frankenstein. In his childhood he and his parents have an intimate and loving relationship as he later mentions his “mother’s tender caresses” and his “father’s smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding” (Shelley 35) him. Throughout the story, the parents adopt a young girl called Elizabeth Lavenza. She and Victor have such strong feeling for each other that “no word, no expression could body forth the kind of relation” (Shelley 37).

Owing to these family relations the childhood of Victor appears to have been an ideal one. According to Freud “the little boy develops an object-cathexis1 of his mother which is originally related to the mother’s breast” (Freud, The Ego and the Id 705). As he has had a seemingly equivalent relation to his parents, Victor also identifies himself with his father. But as his mother gave birth to him, she personifies the most influential figure in his life.

Analyzing this situation in a Freudian way allows the conclusion that his Libido is completely stored in his Ego. However, his mother becomes the object of his Libido. According to Freud the “sexual wishes with regard to the mother become more and more intense and the father is perceived as an obstacle of them” (Freud, The Ego and the Id 705). This is what Freud calls the Oedipus complex. As a young child Victor travels a lot with his parents, but also alone with his mother. At this point he might have developed a feeling of substituting his father. Nevertheless, a sexual desire for the mother is supposingly not accepted by society and as a consequence of that he has to give up his object-cathexis. In this case the Super-ego has “the task of effecting the repression of the Oedipus complex” (Freud, The Ego and the Id 706). As the Super-ego represents ideas of social norms, the Oedipus complex cannot be accepted and is therefore restrained “under the influence of discipline, religious teaching, schooling and reading” (Freud, The Ego and the Id 705). Giving up his complex Victor transfers his Libido to another object: science. In conclusion, the assumption of the mother, and than science, being the object of his Libido can be drawn due to the madness he shows during the process of creation. This topic will be discussed in detail in part 2.3. Ingolstadt and 2.4. Creation.

2.2. Death of the Mother

At the age of 17 Victor’s mother dies, which means a deep cut in his seemingly perfect childhood. In consequence of this incident he is paralyzed and therefore he expresses his thoughts with the following words: “I need not describe the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil; the void that presents itself to the soul; and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance” (Shelley 45) He cannot bear the fact that “a part” of his own has “departed for ever”, that the “brightness of a beloved eye can have been distinguished” and that the “sound of a voice so familiar and dear can be hushed”


1 object cathexis: In psychoanalytic theory, investment of energy in an object. (Reber 484)

Ende der Leseprobe aus 16 Seiten


A Freudian reading of Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein"
Universität Potsdam  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
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freudian, mary, shelley’s, frankenstein
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Anne Lipp (Autor), 2009, A Freudian reading of Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein", München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/345103


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