Study Guide

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley in Psychoanalysis

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Remember Mary Shelley's monster? Well, he's back. And this time, he represents all of our deepest and most stubbornly denied desires.

Just as the creature haunts Victor Frankenstein, his creator, our unconscious can haunt us. At least, according to Freud's theory of psychic life. If we don't put in the work to acknowledge what's going on in deep in our heads and souls, we risk falling prey to the monsters within.

Obviously Shelley didn't write her classic novel just so it could be fodder for psychoanalytic theory. But Freudian psychoanalysis can help us to uncover yet another layer of significance in Shelley's endlessly layered and rich text. Her creature represents human nature at its darkest.

Note, though, that the creature is inherently dark. He becomes evil because he's shunned by his father (Oedipal conflict strikes again) and by the broader community. To read Frankenstein psychoanalytically, then, is not merely to hurl insults at the poor creature; it's also to see how the creature's first experiences lead to the formation of his violent character.

We kind of feel bad for the monster-guy.

Victor Frankenstein, for his part, clearly suffers from a massive guilt complex. But psychoanalysis can help us to be just a little easier on him, too. He is, after all, only human. And he's had plenty of his own past letdowns to inspire his present behavior.

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