The "Other" in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Essay, 2018
8 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Creature's Appearance

3. Othering through Diction and Language

4. Choice of Setting

5. Contact with Society

6. Conclusion

7. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Since Edward W. Said proposed the idea of 'the Other' in his work Orientalism the term became popular in recent cultural and literary studies. Othering describes the process of forcing an individual or a group in the role of 'the Other' by portraying and defining it as fundamentally different. The notion of othering can be found in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The creature is othered by his representation as inhuman throughout the novel. By studying the description of the creature's appearance, the language and setting of the novel, and the interaction with the other characters it can be understood how Victor Frankenstein's creation is made alien and is denied the status of a human being. Thus, it can be argued that Mary Shelley uses elements in her novel which other the creature through his portrayal as inhuman.

2. The Creature's Appearance

An important role for othering the creature plays his visual nature. Inherently, his creation itself is an unnatural act which paves the creature's further way in life as an outsider (Weitze 37). On the one hand, he can be considered as artificial because he is created and not born, on the other, as biological because he is made of organic material with “the dissecting room and slaughter-house furnish[ing] many of [his] materials“(Shelley 43). As a result, Victor Frankenstein creates a composition of animal and human body parts. Because of this mixture of species, the reader can not consider him as fully human. Furthermore, according to Hanoch Livneh the construction of the creature induces the human fear of death: “Frankenstein’s monster is assembled from dead body parts; Dracula is the undead (...) and the Mummy is, of course, a dead king (…) they all imply death” (281).

Shelley explicitly describes his physiognomy. It requires the reader to visualise the creature's appearance. “Yellow skin cover[ing] the work of muscles and arteries beneath”, “hair (…) of a lustrous black” and “teeth of pearly whiteness” (Shelley 45) describe his features as distinctively different from that of human beings. Frankenstein's remarks on the appearance can be seen as an attempt to differentiate in species (McLane 963). The eyes of the creature are “watery” and “almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set” (Shelley 45). Following the proverb that “the eyes are the windows to the soul” it could be said that “the non-transparent, 'depthless' eye blocks out our access to the 'soul', to the infinite abyss of the 'person'” (Žižek 240). The assumption of Žižek that the creature's vacuous eyes equal soullessness distinguishes him from the idea of what defines a human being, namely a soul.

Moreover, he is capable of superhuman strength and can endure more deprivation than humans, best example being the scene where he is chased by Frankenstein across the arctic (Shelley 13). Frankenstein describes the creature's capabilities as “advancing towards me with superhuman speed. He bounded over the crevices in the ice, which I had walked with caution; his stature, also (...) seemed to exceed that of man” (Shelley 85). Thus, he can not be equated with human capability and, therefore, is outside of the understanding of humanity. Furthermore, his physiognomy is perceived as inhuman because it “differs from the most fundamental understanding human beings have of their own bodies: that of bilateral symmetry” (Dickinson 177). The reader and the other characters notice this lack of harmony on the exterior. With his bizarre physique Shelley has brought life as an outcast to the creature.

3. Othering through Diction and Language

In addition to its appearance, the creature is degraded to an inhuman object by the diction Shelley uses. His presence is greeted with cries of horror, amongst others by an old man (Shelley 92), by the De Lacey family (117), and by the father of a girl he saves (123). He is called deprecatory terms like “wretch” (46), “filthy daemon” (50), “vile insect” (67) and “abhorred devil” (69), even before he commits any acts of violence. He is denied a decent address and, instead, is degraded by insults. Furthermore, it is frequently addressed as “it”. When Frankenstein first sees his creation he “saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs” (Shelley 45). His exclaim might be intuitive but it still sets the notion of the creature being an “it” instead of a person right at the beginning of his existence. Another term which shows dehumanisation is “species”. Frankenstein starts working in his laboratory with the intention that “a new species would bless [him] as its creator” (Shelley 42), deliberately creating a distinction between human kind and his creation. In his last moments he, again, highlights the distinction between “species” by emphasising his duty towards humanity to prevent further harm by killing his creation (Shelley 195). The creature himself recognizes that he is different. He knows that “man will not associate with [him]” and, therefore, demands a “companion (…) of the same species” (Shelley 126). In Frankenstein the idea is presented that different species should not associate together and can not coexist (McLane 975). In addition, the creature is denied a name. Being nameless robs him of any connection to humanity, being not a person but something unworthy of a name (Yousef 220). The namelessness does not allow it to have an own identity. Rather, he is defined by the description of others since in the course of the novel the creature adopts the labelling of the other characters, for example “wretch” (Shelley 200), and does not give himself a name. By using the degrading language of the other characters it actually supports its othering.

When looking at the language in Frankenstein, it has to be said that Shelley gives the creature his own narrative. His ability to use language is his most human trait (Chris Baldick). Nicholas Marsh describes the moment he begins to speak as depicting him as human: “What do we expect from him? Grunts, the gnashing of teeth, and blood-thirsty threats, perhaps. What then is our surprise when he speaks in cultured language and pleads his case with an appeal that engages our sympathy” (41). Frankenstein admits to Walton that “he is eloquent and persuasive” but in the same sentence degrades his concession by warning him: “(...) but trust him not. His soul is hellish as his form, (...)” (Shelley 187). Frankenstein renounces the distinctive trait that makes the creature human and draws attention again on his inhuman form. That he can articulate like a human being changes nothing in his perception as inhuman. His appearance overweighs his intelligence. Therefore, the fate of the creature shows how the acquirement of language does not ensure ones place in society.

4. Choice of Setting

The discrepancy between the other characters and the creature becomes even clearer by the setting. The novel takes place mainly in several European locations, for example in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and England (McLane 964). The creature does not fit in this environment. After he sees the creature's figure in the arctic and, shortly after, Victor Frankenstein, Walton states: ”He [Frankenstein] was not, as the other traveller [the creature] seemed to be, a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island, but a European" (Shelley 14). To Walton, the first figure has an alien facet, while the second is recognized as a fellow human being, more precisely, a European. His assumption that the creature must be an inhabitant of an “undiscovered” and therefore still uncivilised “savage” place shows how he does not fit in the civilized sphere of Europe. He is perceived as more likely to live in isolated regions like the mountains or the arctic because "if the Alps and their Arctic setting analogue appear to be the monster's natural habitat that is surely because his being is bound up with the awe and terror provoked by such environments" (Ketterer 548). The creature is aware of not fitting in European civilisation and proposes to “go to the vast wilds of South America” being “cut off from all the world” (Shelley 128). His massive frame and deformed body disagree with living a normal life in the society of the novel but rather fit in untamed places which comply in vastness with his own measurements. The contrast between civilised and uncivilised regions depicts the creature as the 'Other' to the European characters. The poet and professor Maureen McLane puts the notion of civilisation and savageness in Frankenstein in the equation: “savage = not European = not human” (964).

5. Contact with Society

Furthermore, the othering of the creature is strongly formed by the prejudices of the other characters. The first perception of the creature is through the eyes of Frankenstein. The moment he finishes his creation he is repelled by it. He misinterprets his attempt to speak as threatening and by fleeing he depicts the creature as perilous (Shelley 46). The creature “has been advertised by Frankenstein's references to horror, disgust and fear, so that the reader approaches it with trepidation” (Marsh 41). Because the reader is dependent on Frankenstein's narrative, he or she tends to see the creature as 'Other'. In the same way, Frankenstein's opinion of his creation influences Robert Walton. Frankenstein's intention is to make an example of his tale (Patterson Thornburg 64). Therefore, the description of his creation is meant to affect Walton's opinion negatively. Frankenstein's dying wish is for Walton to kill the creature (Shelley 196). He indeed intents to obey “the dying request of [his] friend, in destroying his enemy” but is retained by his “mixture of curiosity and compassion” when he encounters the creature (Shelley 197). Nevertheless, he takes sides with his friend blaming the creature for the course of events exactly as Frankenstein did until his last moments (Shelley 198). This suggests that Walton remembers Frankenstein's narrative better than that of the creature, indicating that the emotions of a fellow human weigh more than those of a seemingly non-human. Frankenstein's dying wish to prevent further harm by eliminating the culprit grants him some sort of noble death which Shelley denies the creature (Dickinson 184).

In the same way Walton and the reader are biased by Frankenstein's opinion, the prejudices of society contribute to the process of othering. When the creature meets William he is strongly rejected. William is described as “gentle” and a “fair child” (Shelley 59, 64) by his family. Since William is still a child it is assumed that he is “unprejudiced” and will not be repelled by the creature's deformed appearance (Shelley 124). However, it turns out that William is already indoctrinated by society's conventions. He exclaims: “monster! ugly wretch! you wish to eat me and tear me to pieces” (Shelley 124) showing that he equates the creature's outer appearance with evilness and monstrosity. The reaction of the child contributes to the creature's exclusion and to othering (Marsh 38). The othering of the creature is mainly based on his appearance but, in spite of this, he is also othered by the blind father of the De Lacey family. He can evaluate him only by its eloquence. However, De Lacey unwittingly others him by saying he would be happy to “be in any way serviceable to a human creature” (Shelley 117). The reader knows that this is a label the creature cannot fit (Dickinson 183).


Excerpt out of 8 pages


The "Other" in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
University of Leipzig  (Institut für Anglistik)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Othering
Quote paper
Helena Engelbert (Author), 2018, The "Other" in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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