Why isn’t Frankenstein’s monster human?

This post is directly inspired by Rose’s post, discussing the frustration of trying to define what it means to be human. You can check it out here.

If you were to ask most people who’ve read Frankenstein “Is Frankenstein’s monster human?” it’s reasonable to imagine that most people would answer with a hard no. After all, he is a monster, right? A demon, as Victor repeatedly calls him. He’s never even given a name. He’s crafted from parts of stolen corpses and infused with life by some mad scientist through means which we’re not made privy to. But is that enough to be considered inhuman?

As far as we know, he’s made of nothing but corpses. There’s no mention of machines or other accessories required to keep him alive by my memory. Sure Victor uses some chemicals to help him out, but most of us have pumped chemicals into our system at some point or another. He’s just a parts bin special of human bits, sewn together. I myself have been sewn together once or twice, and I don’t think that nullifies my humanity.

Just an aside, but if Victor Frankenstein assembled the monster from normal human parts, how did he end up with an 8 foot tall creature? Like, surely the parts should match up and create a normal sized human right?

Anyway, like I was saying. So far, I’ve established that Frankenstein’s monster is made of human bits, as we all are. Maybe those parts were procured in a less than conventional method, but hey. Organs are donated from dead folks all the time these days, and I don’t consider the recipients of those organs to be inhuman. So that can’t take him out of the running for being a human. What other differences lie between us and him? There are obviously the circumstances of his birth/creation. We all know where babies come from so I don’t think I need to cover that. But Frankenstein’s monster is a tad different. We’re never told what exactly Victor did to bring the monster to life. It’s one of those things authors intentionally leave out of stories to be frustrating, like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.

If the movies are a trustworthy source (which they aren’t) we can assume that Frankenstein’s monster was brought to life via a massive electric shock. While this sound a bit silly, there is credence to this sort of thing at least being on Mary Shelley’s mind when she wrote the story. Galvanism was an enlightenment theory which thought that electricity could be used to create or restart life. Here is a wicked cool video on it’s relation to Frankenstein by the YouTube channel Vox.

So yeah, maybe Victor Frankenstein used a mixture of chemicals and electric shock to bring Frankenstein back to life? And if that’s the case, does that make him any less human? I don’t think so. Plenty of people are resuscitated with defibrillators, which shock peoples hearts into restarting. I don’t think having your life saved that way disqualifies you from being human. As such, I don’t think Frankenstein’s monster should be disqualified from being human for these reasons.

As far as I’m concerned, there is little which could be used to distinguish your average human from Frankenstein’s monster. In this little reflection, I’ve deliberately veered away from defining the term human. Because I don’t know how to, and also because that isn’t the point of this reflection. Instead, I’ve sought to take those aspects of the monster which seem to point towards him being inhuman and apply them to a context that we would consider human. If being resuscitated from death via electricity is human, then we can’t hold that against him. If being made of nothing but human cells is human, then the monster is human. Not to mention he’s fully conscious and sapient. I don’t know. The monster is human in my books.

7 thoughts on “Why isn’t Frankenstein’s monster human?

  1. This was a great description of the monster. I really like how you drew so many parallels between his creation and modern day medicine. This makes the monster seem human in a way that cannot be denied. Great work this has some very important points in it.

  2. The creature (whom I desperately wish had chosen a name for himself with how much I’m sick of calling the poor man that) is 100% a human being, your argument is on-point and I super appreciate it – it was kind of what I was getting mad about reading the article, where they were skirting around saying that humanity is a broad and liquid category that has no clear boundaries. It’s an interdisciplinary term, however, so we should probably start somewhere, and that somewhere has to be as inclusive as possible. Yeah, it’s tough to talk about, and yeah, people are going to get it wrong (myself heavily included), but it’s something we should discuss, especially from fictitious examples like “Frankenstein” so we can get our bearings. Great job with your post!

  3. This was an amazing read, honestly. I really liked how you talked about how we never really know how the monster was put together or really anything about his creation, but we do know that he was made up of different body parts. Organ donors give up parts of their bodies to be used to keep other people alive, isn’t that directly correlated with the monster? Though I don’t understand how the monster somehow ended up being 8 feet tall, how can we consider him any less human than other people? He is made of human body parts, which like you said involved chemical reactions to bring him to life, but when peoples hearts stop they use defibrillators (an electric shock) to get the heart to start beating again, so realistically even if he was started by the shock of lightning that we see in most of the movies, then he is still technically going through what other humans do.

  4. “Instead, I’ve sought to take those aspects of the monster which seem to point towards him being inhuman and apply them to a context that we would consider human.” I absolutely loved this about your post, you did a great job with that. Also, I like that you pointed out we aren’t supposed to know how the creature is brought to life, that makes sense. I thought I was missing something, and I was frustrated, but I understand now.

  5. Wait, this is really cool how you mentioned organ transplants and donations. Where is the line of validity on being human drawn? Are people discomforted by the fact that Frankenstein’s monster is partially made of human parts, or disconcerted by the fact in which it is not an organic life form? In which case, where do we draw the line for organic procreation? Humans cheat life and death all the time, even if it is in moderation. Maybe we are all in some ways very similar to Frankenstein’s creation or “monster.” Humanity, in its entirety, is subjective to what we consider life to be. And each person has their own interpretation of life.

  6. This was such an intriguing post, I am floored! When thinking about whether the creature is human, I am so used to the argument being surrounded by “what it means to be human” or “what makes a person human”. So seeing this perspective where it’s more scientific and biological rather than introspective and philosophical is so cool, because all of your points about organ transplants and coming back to life and modern science completely line up!

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