Marxist literary critics focus on the socio-economic impact the novel explores, looking at how the dominant ruling classes of capitalist society are represented in the novel and how they hold power and control over the lower/working classes. In Warren Montag’s The Workshop of Filthy Creation he suggests that Frankenstein allows Shelley to “Lend her voice to the voiceless, those who bowed and numbed by oppression and poverty, cannot speak for themselves.” and it could be argued that Shelley gives a “voice to the voiceless” through the character of the Monster.
Moreover, Frankenstein was written during a period of political, scientific and artistic revolution in the early 19th century and many readers of the time saw the novel as promoting certain revolutionary ideas of politics at the time. Whilst it can be argued that Shelley does present the creature as a victim of oppression and left inarticulate, as stated in the critical viewpoint, it could also be suggested that Shelley allows the creature to overcome being powerless at various points in the novel. From a Marxist literary critical perspective, one could liken the relationship between Frankenstein and his creation to the differentiating power balance between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
It is implied from the start of the novel that Frankenstein comes from a wealthy family, “my family is one of the most distinguished of the republic”, allowing readers to assume that he is from a middle/upper class background, and is a member of the ruling class. Moreover, as a scientist, Frankenstein worked out the formula to create life, “No-one can conceive the feelings which bore me”. Frankenstein’s ability to produce new life further reinforces the idea that he is a symbol of the bourgeoisie as he ‘own the means of production’, creating life for either the betterment of humankind, or to allow himself to become more god-like. This may then allow one to class the creature as merely a ‘product of the ruling class’, like the proletariat, as he is a product of Frankenstein’s creation. Likewise, the creature is nameless in the novel, leaving him powerless and without individuality, as he is only seen as Frankenstein’s creature. Moreover, the creature could be likened to the proletariat through Shelley’s description of him, he’s made of, “bones of charnel-houses…pieces of slaughter houses”.
Like the proletariat is made up from a variety of different members of society, the creature is made up of a variety of different pieces that end up giving him his monstrous look. Yet, though Shelley shows similarities between the two protagonists of the novel and the various classes, it is important to note that “Marxism focuses on “the struggles between the social classes and those who are oppressed, and between those who have power and those who do not” (AQA Critical Anthology, 2015). We must look at how the dominant classes impose their power on the working classes to determine whether there are any detrimental effects that capitalist society may have on a population. Shelley choses to explore how the dominant class imposes their power through the master/slave relationship between Frankenstein and his creation. From a closer inspection of the various confrontations between Frankenstein and his creature, one can see how the creature is left as inarticulate and powerless throughout most of the novel.
Shelley almost immediately presents Frankenstein as rejecting his creation in Chapter Five, Volume One, “breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” It is from this lack of compassion and disownment of his creation that leaves the creature to almost ‘fend for himself’ with his monstrous physique and inability to articulate words, leaving him powerless. Similarly, in another confrontation in the latter half of the novel in Volume Two, Frankenstein once again attempts to oppress his creation by once again rejecting him and belittling him, “Devil… do you dare approach me?” The power and control Frankenstein imposes on the creature could suggest that he is seemingly trying to act ‘God-like’, almost asserting that he is all-powerful over the creation. Yet, in this moment of the novel, the creature does not cower in fear of feel entirely repressed, but attempts to use his voice to negotiate with Frankenstein.Though it could be interpreted as Frankenstein being the creature’s central oppressor, it is not impossible to rule out the way in which the villagers and society shown within the novel leave the creature disenfranchised, and from a Marxist literary critical perspective, leave the creature alienated. In Chapter Three, Volume Two, when the creature is shown to enter the village, the villagers are afraid of him, “Some attacked me” Along with Victor, the villagers can only see a monstrous beast and show no sympathy for him. Moreover, Volume Two is from the narrative viewpoint of the creature and it is the first instance in which the readers see the creature articulate his feelings and emotions.
The DeLacey family, unbeknownst to them, aid in teaching the creature a variety of words and how to become fluent in his speech, “Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded”. In Godlike Science/Unhallowed Arts: Language and Monstrosity in Frankenstein, Peter Brooks notes that the creature “controls the antitheses and oxymorons ‘that express the pathos of his existence'” The creature’s speech is rather eloquent and educated and there is a gracefulness in his warning to Victor. However, despite the DeLacey family’s help in allowing the creature to find a voice, once he eventually reaches the household, he is rejected by the other members of the house due to his appearance, like Frankenstein had done from the moment of his creation, “With supernatural force, tore me from his father”. Though Shelley shows the creature at that moment seizing De Lacey’s hand, from the perspective of Felix, Agatha and Safie, they could only see him as a person of danger, “A detestable monster”. It is his physical features that are his weakness, and it could be said that Victor is the one who inflicted this ‘curse’ upon him. The creature is incapable to fight back and is left powerless, unable to make them see that he is humble and not a threat. However, it could also be suggested that the creature’s anger is a reason he is feared and alienated by society; Shelley uses the weather and storms to show the terrifying nature of the creature, presenting the storms as more chaotic when the creature is angry and intertwining them with ideas of destruction, such as when the creature burns down the DeLacey house.Nevertheless, it could also be said that the creature is not as inarticulate and powerless as Shelley may originally present it to be.
In Volume Two, when Frankenstein once again faces his creation, Shelley presents the creature as being able to communicate his feelings and try to speak to his creator, “my soul glowed with love and humanity.” From a Marxist literary critical perspective, one could suggest this is an allusion to the lower and working classes finding their voice and that this is a form of articulate rebellion. There is an attempt to negotiate with Victor and to try and make him see that his creation is not someone to be feared, but can be trusted; yet, this does not come occur as Shelley once again portrays Victor as rejecting his creation, “Be gone, vile insect!” As the sole creator, Victor continually struggles to see his creation a successful experiment; Victor can only see the creature as a diabolical monster. Yet, one could suggest that it is at this moment of rejection that Shelley decides to toy with the master/slave relationship between Victor and the creature. Shelley uses the creature’s new/found voice as a way of power, “if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death” The creature must use verbal and physical threats as a way of getting Frankenstein to listen to his version of events. One could go on to suggest that it is this moment in which the power balance is flipped between the two characters, “Thou hast made me more powerful than thyself” Though the creature could be proclaiming that his physical strength is much greater than Victor’s, it could be suggested that as he is no longer inarticulate, he chooses to use communication as a form of revolt and power over his creator after recognising his oppression. One could suggest that, from a Marxist literary critical perspective, this could be likened to the concept of the proletarian revolution that would occur once the proletariat recognised their exploitation.
Though there are some places within the novel that do not conform to the critical viewpoint and present the creature as almost overcoming his oppression and becoming more powerful than Frankenstein, I agree that Shelley presents the creature as a victim of oppression. Shelley’s characterisation of the character as a ‘demonic’ monstrosity allows for the exploration of how Victor treats his creation and in turn could reflect the actions the bourgeoisie take on the proletariat. Moreover, though the creature finds his voice and almost becomes a symbol of protest nearer the end of the novel, its life of being inarticulate from the beginning of its creation is possibly the most predominant feature of the creature.
Thus, allowing Shelley to mainly present the creature as a victim of oppression and powerlessness.