Study Guide

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley in Disability Studies

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

Yep. We had to. Because if you're going to talk about the non-normative, extraordinary, or just plain super-freaky body, you've gotta start with the granddaddy of them all: Frankenstein. After all, what else can you say about a body made of sewn together corpses? Yeah. You heard us. Freaky.

But it's not the whole stitched-together-from-dead-dudes (and dead criminals to boot!) thing that really gets the disability studies folks' mouths a-watering. It's how Frankenstein's monster is treated. And not just by the other characters in the book, but also by its young author: the 17-year-old Mary Shelley, herself.

See, what we've got here are some serious Daddy issues. Because at the heart of it all, the monster just wants a father. In the novel, good old Dr. Frankenstein takes one look at his creature and heads for the hills. He's the ultimate deadbeat dad, running like he'd just eaten black mayonnaise followed by a ride on a tilt-a-whirl the moment he even sees the ugliness of his creation.

So, the monster is left to fend for himself. Literally days and weeks old, he is beaten and driven away by every human he encounters. The first and only friend he makes is a blind man but even that lasts only until the family returns to—you guessed it—beat and drive him away again.

Finally, desperate for companionship, the monster seeks out Frankenstein and offers him a choice: either the man create a bride for him (also out of body parts—natch) or else the monster will take revenge on the good (bad) Dr. Frankenstein and kill him and everyone like him—family, friends, whatever. Long story short, old Frank refuses. We won't tell you what happens next, Shmoopers, but trust us: it ain't good.

What it all boils down to, really, in terms of disability studies is that this is the ultimate in prejudice against the extraordinary body. The monster endures on a super intense scale the kind of rejection that is the fear of every parent of a disabled child. His life is one of loneliness, pain, and isolation. And as a result, he's bitter, angry, and vengeful. Pretty much every cliché about disabled people out there.

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