Friday, March 25, 2011

It's Alive! (Frankenstein)

(I wrote this for an English class.)


“It’s alive! It’s alive!” This is a famous quote, spoken by Henry Frankenstein in the 1931 film Frankenstein as he witnesses his creation’s first voluntary movements. But is it truly alive or merely undead? This is an interesting question, as it is rather difficult to answer.
Firstly, it must be answered what it means to be undead. Dictionary.com defines the word as meaning “no longer alive but animated by a supernatural force, as a vampire or zombie” or “technically dead but reanimated” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/undead). Indeed, the term first appeared in Bram Stoker’s Dracula with reference to vampires. Does this apply to Frankenstein’s monster?

Well, the monster is comparable to a zombie. The monster is composed of dead tissue. The whole point of Frankenstein’s experiment was to challenge death by creating life from it. The monster, after its own animation, would be essentially the walking dead. Is he animated by a supernatural force, though? While the exact method is left vague, it is clear that Frankenstein uses science to animate the monster rather than magic. This makes Frankenstein’s monster not undead by the first definition, but it could potentially fit the second definition.

The issue that confuses things is that the monster is not actually a reanimated dead person, as is a vampire or zombie, but is rather a golem made from dead body parts. Frankenstein collected body parts from different corpses and brought them together to create his monster. The resulting creature isn’t the reanimated form of any one person, but something new.

I believe the idea of the undead comes from religious notions about the soul. In Christian myth, Jesus is resurrected after his death and is at that point considered alive once again rather than undead, despite being animated by supernatural force and having wounds present on his body that make life by natural physics impossible. The difference is that Jesus is considered to be more of a real person than an undead being. Jesus’ soul, his metaphysical being, is present in his physical body. In contrast, a zombie is considered to be more of a body without a soul. The soul has gone on to heaven or hell, and the undead is a demonic shell of what the person once was.

The monster is not a shell. He is not a demonic reflection of a person who lived and died. The monster is a new person. He is capable of goodness and only becomes evil through corruption after maltreatment. I would say that for all intents and purposes the monster has a soul. Therefore, I conclude that the monster is not undead despite being composed of reanimated tissues. It truly is alive.

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