- /Acknowledging The Perceived Natural
Acknowledging The Perceived Natural
In the novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelly uses a gothic fantasy to subtly elude to criticisms she had on naturalism in the Romantic Era, and its paradoxical emphasis on artificiality in order to create a natural world far from reality. The definition of something’s nature is dependent on the inherent characteristics that are presented. This emphasis on outward differences makes one who appears abnormal an easy target for scrutiny, as shown in Frankenstein. It is essential to understand the mythology that is nature, deconstruct a deeper meaning of what nature could mean, and challenge powers that impose one’s nature. Imposing naturalism leads to discordant harmonies, as anything perceived as unnatural is forced to be in concordance with the ideologies of the creators of said nature, to find acceptance; ultimately denying themselves peace in acknowledging their nature.
The meaning of nature is context dependent. Fortunately, and unfortunately, that meaning is boundless. A literal meaning of nature includes looking at the natural as organic and life, whereas anything unnatural could be equivalent to inorganic and the absence of life. While the inorganic is seemingly more deeply divided from the organic, Frankenstein’s attempt to make life from death, paradoxically suggests the co‐presence of the inorganic and the organic within a single hierarchical continuum (Sitter 657). Through actions and interactions, the incorporating of inorganic matter into organic life portrays the ability inorganic matter has to drive the living as shown in Frankenstein’s obsession with his creation (Sitter 657). Another way to define what is natural is by differentiating God’s creation form the man-made. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.(site). Although it was not evident, Wood’s main purpose in his works of observing nature under the microscope was to make readers of the Romantic Era more aware of the beauty and order of God’s creation (Lightman 358). In doing this, Wood’s made references and merge wisdom, goodness, and power with nature (Lightman 358). Thus, forming an inference that anything that is not made by God is excluded from those meanings. This can be seen with how Shelly framed The Creature’s interactions with the other characters in the story. The other characters were unable to justify any attributions of wisdom, goodness and power given to The Creature because of his unnatural appearance. (example). A more predominant meaning of nature in the context of Frankenstein, are social norms. Several elements presented in a societal structure are assumed to be natural, as those in power construct reasons that seem logical for things to be set the way they are. Thus, anything deviating from those social norms would be deemed unnatural. (example). Through a close reading, intentional fallacy can be made for which meaning of nature would be most appropriate. Organic life seems to betray its essence by developing toward intention. As apotheosis, it produces a profound regression that is a return to a primordial mechanism. It is more hopeful to form an understanding of intentionality that, despite his best intentions, relocates it within the organic (Sitter 656).
One of the primary ways of establishing what something is involved in identifying what it is not. In order for there to be something that is natural, there need to be unnatural. The natural and the unnatural only make sense in the context of having the other and notices things or people that deviate from societal norms. By using binary opposition to analyze the natural vs the unnatural, it will not reflect reality as well as it should. Often what is natural will be glorified, while anything that is unnatural will be the lesser, disadvantaged opposite. Many blurred lines are dividing the two categories. This, unfortunately, leads to a lot of stigma, and presumptions of what the unnatural entails. Shelly repeatedly highlights the duality of nature, as nature itself is a character in the novel. As seen in this next example, Shelly literally uses the natural world to show the polarity of its characteristic. As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in a singular manner. It was not splintered by the shock but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood. I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed. (site), Shelly presents the natural world that is at once beautiful, yet capable of immense destruction. In doing this, nature is presented as a healing source of wisdom and comfort, but also as a contradictory punishing force that is presented in breathtaking fury and merciless revenge. Yet the paradox of the inorganic is that it lies at both ends of the spectrum of organization: unorganized and homogeneous matter, on the one hand, over-organized, hyper‐differentiated craftsmanship on the other hand.
Nature is a concept that, for the most part, does not actually exists. The mythology of nature develops inharmonious views that give the impression that anything that is ideally natural will be pleasant. Involuntarily, members of society have conformed to believe that the natural implies synchronicities and an appealing nature. When in fact, in reality, ugliness, destruction, and pain are all-natural concepts that society chooses to ignore. However, culture reveals its priorities and values with the ways the ideologies of nature are deployed. In the creation scene, there are key points that contribute to the discussion of the concepts and practices that are attached to nature. “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. (Frankenstein ). This prototype of The Creature is first described as a crudely assembled “thing” and then as a “phantasm”; given The Creature an identity between the mechanical assembly and mental projection. By using the term “Phantasm,” Shelly could have also been implying the connotation of counterfeit or simulacrum that the term carries (Sitter 659). His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror‐stricken. (Frankenstein ). Shelley, similarly to Coleridge was threatening the inorganic in the human mind and its externalization in craftsmanship (Sitter 659). He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life.” (Frankenstein ). The fantasy of replicating the natural does not receive the acceptance and praise expected, once exercised. This was true in the Romantic Era. The popularization of nature given to writers in the Romantic Era was partially due to their ability to present the considerable mass of scientific fact in the form of compelling stories, parables, and lessons, fraught with cosmic significance (Lightman 356). Wood highlights that insects who were once perceived as disgusting and ugly were framed to be praised (Lightman 358). By marvelling in the beauty of nature under the microscope, certain hyperboles and distortions were able to make a myth of the natural. Although, in reality, the common attitude toward the ugly does not suffice to the same level of beauty that it did in the imagination and when framed as a craft.
The narrative told through Frankenstein is set to challenge myths of societal hierarchies, the heterosexual normative, and gender inequality. Such myths, portray an image of a culture that seems timeless and it transcends any historical moment and naturalizes these societal standards as common sense. However, in believing in these myths, one ignores the historical context of how they came to be about and roles in why we think in a certain way. In this reading, The Creature is trying to peacefully co-exist, but due to how he is perceived, he becomes a monster in his attempts to meet societal standards. His actions of monstrosities then force him into the narrative that society predetermined for him. The Creature is conditioned into a way of existing that society thinks best fits his nature. “Gigantic in structure,” “like that of a mummy,” “hideousness.” The Creature is rejected not because “social conditions are not yet established” for an ethics that could “acknowledge the monstrosity at the heart of the idea of nature,” but because humanity’s very organic constitution makes impossible any ethical consideration of the creature’s being (Sitter 659). In a similar manner, those in Britain, throughout the nineteenth century, who were established as the intellectual elite, had to defend their interest of the aristocracy and the Anglican Church, in order to preserve their social and intellectual position (Lightman 346). Scientific naturalism served the interests of sections of the new professional middle class and equipped them to provide a rationale for their leaders to wrest cultural and social control from the clergy, as Britain transformed into an industrialized nation (Lightman 345). In Frankenstein, both the creature and Victor Frankenstein strive for marriage, in order to achieve the heterosexual normative. They both feel isolated in society in their approaches to marriage and attempt to find companionship in a differing way once they recognize that their values are different from that of their society (Example). Ideals of feminine beauty is a theme that is often utilized by Shelly. Butler said that one is not born a woman, one becomes one, this is evident in how women are treated throughout the novel (Example). Women are made secondary and are only valued by their beauty, youthfulness, and countenance; almost to say that their inner qualities were irrelevant, similarly to how The Creature was treated by other characters in the novel. Naturalism was an essential part of feminism in the Romantic Era, as it was one of the few places women could exercise dominance occult sciences, as opposed to patriarchal Christianity. Shelly, like many of her Romantic contemporaries, delighted in the life-giving powers of nature, attributing the natural to a feminine energy of birth. Shelly eludes to her self-deprecating thoughts of uselessness as a woman, due to her inability to reproduce. She, therefore, creates a world in which males can create life, which indicates self-reflection in which she renders herself useless because she cannot produce viable children. Victor Frankenstein, acknowledges the restorative powers of nature, even though his darkest moments are contributed to death (i.e. his mother and Elizabeth’s death). By doing this, Shelly empowers those like herself who are outsiders to the societal norms.
Walton, however, was able to perform the act of seeing without having the same result as other characters in the story. Initially, repulsed by The Creature’s “loathsome yet appalling” (site) appearance, he was able to surpass a level of empathy beyond his peers as he shut his eyes involuntarily” (site) to understand the duty to the other. Walton, being the only character in the novel that heard the entire story, he was able to genuinely look at The Creature rather than attempt to destroy it with pre-empted immediate responses of prejudice. In this same way, Shelly’s criticizes the Romantic Era’s obsession with aesthetics as she shows the discrepancies of attributing one’s physical features to internal virtues. Shelly satirically causes us to reimagine beauty. Beauty standards were and still are, male-dominated. Shelly places those same standards of beauty on a man through The Creature as Victor seeks and assembles all the beautiful aspects of each attribute of the physical body together, and yet it is scrutinized. This tactic presented the obsession with beauty in the Romantic Era as an ugly internal trait as it leads to prejudice that causes unnecessary categories. Shelly presents a Marxist jab at society by showing how unfunctional and failing categorizations are when society is unable to re-anchor the conditions of said categories.
Though it is apparent that the above was the message Shelly attempted to debunk, the internalized habit of Orientalism can also be shown as Walton fantasies and indulges in a different being. Rather than seeing the savage beasty qualities in the other, he focuses on his own altruistic attempts to fix the misunderstood and interpret their nature in a way that is caused by being misguided. This approach is decidedly Eurocentric, and perhaps Shelly was also criticizing that as well. Race: imposition one is forced to explain their experience with. Nature is a concept that seeks to separate the human and the animal, thus it is a key concept for defining humanity as such. Imposing what is thought to be natural by the manufactured civilizations on other cultures leads to discordant harmonies, as it not only minimizes the ideologies of those cultures, it makes them acknowledge themselves as primitive as well. In this way, one reconciles the reality of nature and its status as an ideology within themselves that is dependent on how we view that we fall in the broader scope of society. The Creature considered himself an outsider, making him vulnerable to disregarding the effect his voice could have in contributions. (Example: Frankenstein 135 last paragraph – 136, and 144). The monster physical appearance trumps everything he thinks about himself. Though he has been blessed with the superior utility of superior strength, size, speed, and ability, he still perceives himself as less. The need for acceptance will make you invisible as your needs will never be catered to. In the perspective of psychoanalysis, the mirror stage of development when a child sees themselves and an I, and no longer a them. The Creature sees himself as an unworthy monster and this is a manufactures concept created by society and not nature.
When nature must be defined as a collective, the question of who gets to be the spokesperson for the masses must simultaneously be addressed. Power, whether monetarily or regarding social respectability in the factor that usually answers this question. The meaning of what is deemed natural is sometimes is affected by what controlling leaders and systems have placed into our heads. Marxism…Giving the power to define nature to the… this reveals… In order to avoid the revolt of those that are perceived as unnatural, many methods have been created to maneuver them to believe that they can eventually be accepted into society if they can come into concordance with the values and ideals of said society. These values and ideals that are associated with nature are of pleasure, while the unnatural are of pain. The natural was portrayed as organized and contained and an inevitable path to a road to the truth and reasoning similar to religion. It is reflected in the way that Scientific naturalism was glorified in the nineteenth century. Scientific naturalism or the cult sciences of the English were trending as pseudo-sciences such as Physiognomy and Phrenology were perceived during that period as providing the most legitimate path to certain truth (Lightman 346). Scientific naturalism leads to society giving those with knowledge on behalf of the sciences leadership and authoritative powers (Lightman 346). To obtain power and respect in society, it was essential for those in the Romantic Era to place value on these concepts of scientific naturalism. These motivations to be acknowledged within society leads to hybridity.
Hybridity tells us that how we think and live within ideologies of what is natural and unnatural…Hybridity is a strategy for framing reality as a situation that consists of purity and it’s opposite. By saying that something is hybrid, it implies that there is a more potent purity that is the ideal and hybrid is strived to be reached in order to be tolerated for one’s lack the purity. The problem is that both science and religion gloss over the diversity and the complexity of positions taken in the past (Lightman 344). By ignoring people’s differences, hybridity makes people easier to control. This could lead to cultural attempts to reclaim identity (example). By defining themselves as different, hybridity can become weaponized as it did in Frankenstein. The Creature was highly motivated to kill Elizabeth in order to have his wills catered to. In the story, we could see The Creature attempting to adapt to those in power. Biologically, hybridity metaphorically represents something that is naturally occurring and meant to be. When in fact things like slavery are not natural (but they are framed to look that way. The monster is also a hybrid of all things beautiful and that turned out to make something ugly (elaborate). Hybridity is not natural. It is natural for one to want to adapt to the social constructs presented by those in power because they can benefit by then operating with the structure of society and fitting into their categories. The New Critics have correctly identified their conception of intention as a mechanical agency, but the mistake lies precisely in this understanding of intention, which forms the basis of their critical system. De Man concludes that “the intentionality of the act, far from threatening the unity of the poetic entity, more definitely establishes this unity” (Sitter 661).
In conclusion, the discordant harmonies caused by an imposed nature, are unnatural. Those that are perceived as abnormal modify their nature to satisfy the ideologies of the creators of societal standards. These attempts to modify their nature to find unrequited acceptance, ultimately lead to the abnormal denying themselves peace in acknowledging their nature. It is essential to understand the mythology that is nature, deconstruct a deeper meaning of what nature could mean, and challenge powers that impose one’s nature. The nature of something can be challenged by looking at root causations which make one realize that these constructions are limitations, that will disable our understanding human beings beyond the surface layer.
I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.