View Full Version : The Tragedy of Lookism as Seen in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein

05-03-2011, 12:55 PM
The Tragedy of Lookism as Seen in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

A judge sentences and imprisons someone for a crime; a society judges and imprisons others to lives of loneliness and torment because of prejudices. One prejudice, known as lookism, can become so intense it can reshape a person’s future. Lookism is a preconceived notion as to who someone is based off of their looks (Cresap and Tietje 31). This prejudice is one of the main themes in Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein, and demonstrates how communities as a whole redirected the entire history of Frankenstein’s monster through how they perceived and treated him. Lookism became the judge and jury, condemning Frankenstein’s creature to a life of torment and loneliness, while transforming him into a demonic being full of hate.
From the monster’s first breath, he tasted scorn from his creator. His creator, Victor Frankenstein, could not look upon him due to his hideous looks. The monster was formed by combining body parts from a variety of corpses, making the monster a being with skin color not common to the population of that time. Victor Frankenstein describes the skin color of his creation with these words, “… I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open …” (Shelley 58; vol.1, ch.5), “his yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath …” (Shelley 58; vol.1, ch.5). Mary Shelley’s era was one of civil unrest, with abolishment of slavery in question (Winter 83). Could the special emphasis placed on the yellow skin and eyes of the monster be a racial gesture showing discrimination based on skin color? For Victor Frankenstein, such imperfections as the monster’s yellow and watery eyes, yellow skin, black hair, white teeth, thin black lips, and monstrous height and build (58; vol.1, ch.5), made an everlasting picture of a demon in his mind. Frankenstein reveals his biased opinion of the being he created when he exclaimed, “Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch” (Shelley 59; vol.1, ch.5). Such rejection was just the beginning of numerous discriminations this creature was to endure.
The monster, abandoned by his creator, was left to survive and learn life on his own as an outcast of society. This creature felt society’s persecution every time he encountered a human being. A renowned author, Sarah Winter, describes society’s perception of the monster when she wrote, “… those who encounter the monster either run away or attack him out of fear because they cannot tolerate a being that defies formal and categorical boundaries” (83). Such a statement speaks of the prejudice of lookism and how biased minds react. Each encounter with the human race pushed the monster further into isolation for fear of what reaction he might receive. After being struck by stones when seeking shelter in a village (108-109: vol.2, ch.3), the creature found refuge in a hut in the woods, where he observed the De Lacey family he longed to befriend. At this point, the monster had developed a kind and benevolent heart, doing kind deeds when he saw the opportunity (114; vol.2, ch.4). After seeing his own reflection in a pool of water, this deformed being was horrified and angry at his creator, but kept his good spirit (116-117; vol.2, ch.4). He thought humanity would still accept him for who he was. He felt the thrill of acceptance when he met the blind De Lacey. However, when the rest of the family looked upon him, he was beaten and despised (135-137; vol.2, ch.7) -- another judgment passed on him by society due to his deformed appearance.
Feeling defeated, the monster still showed compassion for humanity when he saved a young girl from drowning. His reward for this kind deed was being shot by the young girl’s male friend, who assumed the evil-eyed monster was hurting her (142-143; vol.2, ch.8). A partial turning point for the creature was when he attempted acceptance from a young boy he encountered in the woods near Geneva. The monster kidnapped the boy with the intent of making the boy his companion to gain society’s favor. The boy kept calling him “monster” and an “ugly wretch” (Shelley 144; vol.2, ch.8) threatening punishment from his father. When the creature found out the boy was Victor Frankenstein’s younger brother William, he choked and killed the boy out of revenge towards his creator (144; vol.2, ch.8). Frankenstein illustrates what the monster had become when he stood at the murder scene of his brother and exclaimed, “I considered the being whom I had cast among mankind, and endowed with the will and power to effect purposes of horror, such as the deed which he had now done, nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave and forced to destroy all that was dear to me” (78; vol.1, ch.7). Frankenstein’s creation had become a murderer, retaliating against his creator for being abandoned and persecuted.
Even after this rage of revenge against his creator, the monster saw one last chance for companionship within such a hateful society. He begged Victor to create a fellow monster in female form with all the same deformities so that he might have a chance of some happiness (148; vol.2, ch.9). Victor agreed but with one condition; that the monster and his companion move far away from any human, to live life in isolation (150; vol.2, ch.9). This ultimatum portrays the ultimate form of prejudice and hate. When Victor failed on this promise, the creature knew he would never have a chance of compatibility among mankind. From this point forward, the monster was completely transformed from a benevolent creature to one of hate, hostility, and revenge. His main purpose in living changed from co-existing peacefully among man, to inflicting pain and suffering upon those that caused him so much misery and pain (Lancaster 132).
Mary Shelly wanted her readers to understand the extent of how society can transform a person by how they perceive and treat that person. Percy Shelley conducted his own review of Frankenstein, with these reflections of how society’s treatment of an individual can reshape that person’s destiny:
Treat a person ill and he will become wicked. Requite affection with scorn: let one being be selected whatever cause as the refuse of his kind – divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations – malevolence and selfishness. It is thus that too often in society those who are best qualified to be its benefactors and its ornaments are branded by some accident with scorn, and changed by neglect and solitude of heart into a scourge and a curse. (Rohrmoser)

Percy Shelley is telling us that Frankenstein’s society fell short on their moral obligations to the monster, using preconceived judgments against him. The monster had the benevolence and desire to be a benefit to society with a potential of greatness -- due to his massive build and physical strength. Being scorned and abandoned by his creator and the people, this creature was transformed into the devilish monster he was called.
Mary Shelley wrote her classical novel, Frankenstein, in the year 1818, during the growth of an appearance-based society. She brings to life biases and character flaws of people during her era, and shows the repercussions of these flaws for readers to ponder and analyze. Vivid details of events, encompassed by an array of emotions, uncover the narrow limits of a generation’s basic understanding for those who were different. These social injustices drove the course of events throughout the book. Society shapes and molds each of us into who we are. A society’s ignorance and narrow mindedness changed a kind-hearted creature into a murderous demon; his fate dictated by an appearance-led society.