Throughout the long history of fiction, androids (and gynoids) – artificial people – have been a common element. When included as tertiary characters they are often symbols for “the other.”
When treated as protagonists, they fill the tale with themes of the roles and definitions of humanity. With this in mind, our latest feature series will be about these artificial people. We’ll start the series with one of the most recognized and frequently adapted androids: Frankenstein’s Monster.
In Mary Shelley’s Novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, the monster, alternatively referred to throughout the novel by other names such as “devi” and “ogre,” but never given a proper name, is the principle character.
Victor Frankenstein was a Doctor of Chemistry, and in his attempts to understand the nature of human life, he created an artificial man out of the remains of dead men. No real details were given as to how his technology worked, as they were described only as “the machines of life” in the original text. Unlike in the later film adaptations, a bolt of lightning was not part of the experiment. It all seemed to involve alchemy and surgery.
His experiment was successful, but the creature he animated was abysmally ugly, looking much worse than the Boris Karloff costume.
He was an 8-foot tall man, who looked mostly normal with exception of his skin, which was yellow, and translucent. His ugliness came from the faint visibility of the bone, muscle and tendons, as they showed through the thin skin.
This ugliness however became the defining element of the monster, right from the beginning, as Victor himself couldn’t help but to flee from the laboratory as the thing began to stir.
It woke, then alone in the lab with the mind of an extreme amnesiac. He understood the basics of human function, but had no thoughts about where or who he was. He knew enough to know that he was naked, and went through Victor’s house to find some clothing before he left.
His challenge then was to survive in a world which turns him away because of his looks. At first he has little understanding of why he is unable to make any friends, but he gets clued in when, after finally learning to speak, he befriends a blind man. This man, who was unable to see him, became the only person in the world who was sympathetic to the nameless creature.
When he finally learned to read, he looked over some of the papers which he had found in the pockets of the clothing he stole from Victor, and upon learning of his origin vowed to deliver pain into Victor’s life. Hatred, pain, and a desire for revenge against his creator consumed him. He returns to the village where he originally fled, and meets Victor’s nephew William, a young boy who becomes frightened of the creature upon seeing him, further reinforcing the monster’s hatred.
He murders William, and frames Victor’s maid for the crime. The girl is executed, and Victor flees the village in grief and despair. When the monster finally finds him, he begs for the doctor to create a companion for him, but when Victor fails to do so, the creature leaves, swearing additional revenge, which he delivers by murdering Victor’s best friend and his fiancé, taking companionship away from Victor, just as Victor denied him the same.
For all of the monster’s hatred, however, when Victor kills himself in a sledding accident while chasing the monster through the arctic, the monster mourns his death, and as a final act of absolution, he carries Victor’s corpse to the north pole, where he burns the body, throwing himself on the flames as well.
The monster is sometimes pointed to as a Pinocchio figure, but that’s not quite accurate, as a Pinocchio is an android who wishes to be made human, and must embark on a quest to obtain humanity. Frankenstein’s Monster does not wish to be human.
He is satisfied with himself the way his creator made him. He merely wishes to be accepted into society. It’s ironic that it’s not his status as an android that causes him to be unaccepted – most of those he encounters don’t know what he is, it is only his appearance which causes them to recoil. Why he never tries some make-up or a mask of some-kind, we’ll never know.
It is, therefore, while it seems on the surface to be a tale of the acceptance of “the other,” and that is certainly a theme of the work, it is actually more about the acceptance of the strange. The monster is a symbol for social deviancy, rather than foreignness. Of course, as the subtitle of the novel suggests, it’s also about the dangers of introducing new technology to the world, but that’s more about Victor’s story that it is about the Monster.
Check back tomorrow, when our featured artificial person will be Data. If you have an idea for an android or gynoid we could feature, let us know in the comments.