Study Guide

Frankenstein Language and Communication

By Mary Shelley

Language and Communication

Chapter 13
The Monster

And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant, but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. (13.17)

Without language, the monster has no way of knowing anything about the world except what he learns himself. Is he better discovering things for himself? Compare Victor, who gets seduced by all those crazy books he reads as a kid. It seems like Shelley may have some conflicted feelings about writing.

My days were spent in close attention, that I might more speedily master the language; and I may boast that I improved more rapidly than the Arabian, who understood very little and conversed in broken accents, whilst I comprehended and could imitate almost every word that was spoken. (13.12)

Okay, we can't exactly blame Mary Shelley for being just as racist as every other English person in the early nineteenth century, but we still can't help rolling our eyes a little: even a monster is better at speaking Western languages than an "Arabian."

Chapter 15
The Monster

Another circumstance strengthened and confirmed these feelings. Soon after my arrival in the hovel I discovered some papers in the pocket of the dress which I had taken from your laboratory. At first I had neglected them, but now that I was able to decipher the characters in which they were written, I began to study them with diligence. It was your journal of the four months that preceded my creation. (15.8)

This is a communication that both the monster and Victor probably wish they'd never read. Some things shouldn't be done—and some things shouldn't be written down. (Pro tip: never, ever, ever write down anything you don't want someone else to see. Especially if you're texting or emailing it.)

By degrees I made a discovery of still greater moment. I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds. I perceived that the words they spoke sometimes produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers. This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it. (12.9)

We wonder if the monster would have called language a "godlike science" if the De Lacey family had been texting each other "Where R U" and "K TX."

By great application, however, and after having remained during the space of several revolutions of the moon in my hovel, I discovered the names that were given to some of the most familiar objects of discourse; I learned and applied the words, 'fire,' 'milk,' 'bread,' and 'wood.' I learned also the names of the cottagers themselves. The youth and his companion had each of them several names, but the old man had only one, which was 'father.' The girl was called 'sister' or 'Agatha,' and the youth 'Felix,' 'brother,' or 'son.' I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned the ideas appropriated to each of these sounds and was able to pronounce them. I distinguished several other words without being able as yet to understand or apply them, such as 'good,' 'dearest,' 'unhappy.' (12.9)

There's a lot to say about this passage, but we're fixated on just one weird thing: De Lacey only has one name, "father." What that means, of course, is that while Felix and Agatha call each other Felix and Agatha or brother and sister, they never call their dad "De Lacey." Doesn't that make him nameless, in a way?

I improved, however, sensibly in this science, but not sufficiently to follow up any kind of conversation, although I applied my whole mind to the endeavour, for I easily perceived that, although I eagerly longed to discover myself to the cottagers, I ought not to make the attempt until I had first become master of their language, which knowledge might enable me to make them overlook the deformity of my figure, for with this also the contrast perpetually presented to my eyes had made me acquainted. (12.12)

The monster is right that being really good at, say, talking or writing or communicating in general can make up for a lot of physical imperfections. But it's not enough to make up for being created out of corpse parts.

These thoughts exhilarated me and led me to apply with fresh ardour to the acquiring the art of language. My organs were indeed harsh, but supple; and although my voice was very unlike the soft music of their tones, yet I pronounced such words as I understood with tolerable ease. (12.18)

In other words, the poor monster doesn't even sound like everyone else. He has a face for radio, but apparently not the voice for it. (We can't help thinking that he must sound a little like Andre the Giant.)

This was then the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human being from destruction, and as a recompense I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound which shattered the flesh and bone. The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind. (16.20)

Actions speak louder than words, right? Nope. At least, not when you're a freaky looking monster.

I seized on the boy as he passed and drew him towards me. As soon as he beheld my form, he placed his hands before his eyes and uttered a shrill scream; I drew his hand forcibly from his face and said, "Child, what is the meaning of this? I do not intend to hurt you; listen to me."

He struggled violently. "Let me go," he cried; "monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me and tear me to pieces. You are an ogre. Let me go, or I will tell my papa." (16.25-27)

Um, we hate to give advice without being asked, but the monster might have had better luck if he'd started out with something other than "seizing" and "forcibly" handling the boy. Just a thought.

Sometimes, indeed, he left marks in writing on the barks of the trees or cut in stone that guided me and instigated my fury. "My reign is not yet over"—these words were legible in one of these inscriptions—"you live, and my power is complete. (24.10)

It looks like the monster has finally found a way to communicate: by actually inscribing his words on the natural world. Shmoop loves a good allusion, and we can't help thinking of Shakespeare's As You Like It, when an exiled duke thinks that nature is soooo much better than fake court life, and they'll find "Tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." What would Shelley say to that?

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