Frankenstein and Twilight: The Changing Perceptions of the Monster
Abhinanda Chakraborty Raj
(Assistant Professor, Department of English, Chandidas Mahavidyalaya, West Bengal)
“He approached; his countenance bespoke bitter anguish, combined with disdain and malignity, while its unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes.”
The ugliness of Frankenstein's monster is perhaps the fact made most explicit in the novel. It is the reason for Victor Frankenstein's forsaking his own creation. It is the reason behind the monster's cruel rejection by frightened individuals time and again until, roused to an intense and inhuman hatred, it is finally outside the scope of human society altogether.
Significantly, it is the form, then, that initially becomes the determining aspect of the monster. The hideous, horrid thing that Victor fashions in his quest to create a race of immortals who would worship him as their creator, is thus alienated from all humankind, including Victor, when its "unearthly ugliness" renders it unacceptable to human eyes. Although the demon shows itself to be remarkably advanced in its mental faculties, as evidenced by his self-taught language and education, it is ultimately of no use to him since no person is persistent enough to look beyond his form and into his mind and soul which are, delicately human.
It is only the hideousness of form that defines a ‘monster' is a notion made complicated in fiction. This is perhaps best presented in Stephanie Meyer's modern-day vampire-series, Twilight. Whereas monsters and demons have been conventionally portrayed in most fictional works as beings that incite supernatural terror and fear in the hearts of the ordinary folks, more often than not being actually hostile and threatening to them, in Twilight, the vampires hardly ‘appear’ monstrous. The first reason that strikes us for this is their form: the Cullens, that is, the central vampire family in the book, are first perceived by Bella, the protagonist of the series, in these words: “I stared because their faces, so different, so similar, were all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful. They were faces you never expected to see except perhaps on the airbrushed pages of a fashion magazine. Or painted by an old master as the face of an angel” (Meyer 16-17).
What we find here, then, is an inversion of the conventional idea of the monster-figure since these vampires inspire an admiration of their form so much so that Bella refers to Edward Cullen, the vampire she falls in love with, frequently, as an “archangel”(Meyer 161), “a Greek god”(Meyer 106), “Adonis”(Meyer 154, 164) and so on. Such descriptions clearly indicate that appearance or form alone is inadequate for defining ‘monstrosity'.
Despite this evident difference in form, a comparative study of Frankenstein and Twilight throws up certain parallels in the depiction of the monster which seem to be characteristic of these intriguing figures.
First, the monster is always an outcast, the quintessential outsider. As Frankenstein's creature narrates, his story is the story of one who is shunned by all. Inspite of his strenuous efforts to acquire language and learning to gain acceptance into human society, he remains alienated from the same because of their in-built prejudices:
When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned . . . I had never yet seen a being resembling me, or who claimed any intercourse with me. What was I? The question again recurred, to be answered only with groans (Shelley 117).
In Twilight, the vampires appear almost angelic in their beauty and grace. Yet, as Bella surmises, it is their very appearance that makes them the outsiders:”‘I felt a surge of pity . . . because, as beautiful as they were, they were outsiders, clearly not accepted . . ." (Meyer 19)
Secondly, deriving from this sense of being the outsider is the dissatisfaction of not belonging- that is, the concept of rootlessness. Frankenstein's monster is, throughout the novel, constantly on the move. He can remain near Felix's family for the course of so many months precisely because they are unaware of his existence in their proximity. In the North Pole, devoid of human life and amidst the elements of nature, he can remain, even belong, as his hut in the glacial cave of the snowy Alps shows. He is ever-present in the outskirts of human society, sometimes even in their midst, but essentially invisible to them- an unacknowledged presence whose recognition is immediately perceived as a potential, if not real, threat. Thus, while the monster can find kindness in his brief encounter with Felix's father, it is deeply undercut by the fact that not only is the man blind but also that he replies to the monster's plea for help by saying that he would willingly extend his services to a "human creature" (Shelley 130), thereby naturally excluding the monster from the scope of his charity even without knowing the reality about him. It is also interesting to note in this context that it is almost conventional to represent the monster chiefly in visual terms, that is, they are creatures meant to be seen and feared but not quite ‘heard’. In Frankenstein, this is subverted when the monster gradually imbibes the ability to speak . As Chris Baldick observes, “the monster’s most convincingly human characteristic is of course his power of speech”(45). Yet, this remarkable feat remains ineffectual as all the efforts made by the creature are overshadowed, in the eyes of the others, by his fearsome appearance.
For the Cullens, the secrecy of their existence is the prime law that they must adhere to. Their efforts are centered on staying invisible to the people around them; for this reason, they are forced to be constantly on the move. Despite their beauty, they instill fear in the hearts of the people around them who consequently shy away and keep their distance from them. Interestingly, when Bella is privy to their secret, Edward is almost always apprehensive about her reaction: with every explanation of their lifestyle, he expects her to react in the ‘normal’ manner- that is, to scream and run, and is confounded when she doesn't. As he tells her, “It’s too easy to be myself with you”(Meyer 134)- his acceptance by a human for who he is, thus, becomes significant in that it presents an all new human-other equation based not on hostile, but rather, on friendly terms.
Finally, we detect the same human emotions in the monsters but in non-human proportions and potentialities. Frankenstein's creature, we surmise, was capable of great good or great evil. All his initial exertions are towards goodness and love, with an appreciation of nature and a keen sense of perception. It is only with his rejection and pain of loneliness that he gives a free reign to the evil in him, thereby kindling the saga of revenge and counter-revenge: "Evil thenceforth became my good… the completion of my demoniacal design became an insatiable passion" (Shelley 212). Although he kills Victor's infant brother William first, his worst agony and cruellest anger is made manifest when Victor destroys the inanimate body of the creature that was meant to be the monster's mate. For this, the creature destroys the remaining links in Victor's life- his friend, Clerval, and his beloved, Elizabeth. Elizabeth's murder, on her wedding night, is clearly the greatest revenge that the creature extracts from his maker since this act marks the point at which Victor ceases to flee from the monster only to pursue him this time- a quest which finally ends with Victor's death.
In Twilight, similarly, the vampires are moved by emotions of love, hatred, compassion - and revenge. While Edward's love for Bella and the love that binds the Cullens together as a ‘family' and not the usual ‘coven' points to the same human emotions in these vampires, the motif of revenge, too, forms a predominant theme in the series. This becomes evident in the James-Victoria episode where the thirst for revenge is motivated by Edward's killing of James, Victoria's mate, and which finally ends with Victoria's destruction when she seeks to kill Bella to avenge James' death- mate for mate.
If form doesn't define monstrosity, then, we realize, actions become crucial. The monster commits heinous acts, but only when he is forced to do so. Had Victor atleast kept his promise to create a mate for the monster, perhaps the latter's actions would have taken an entirely different course. However, as many critics have seen it, Victor's first act of creating new life, inspired by the hope of "a new species (that) would bless (him) as its creator and source" (Shelley 52), leads him to transgress the natural limitations of man. Life and death are two facets of the same existence; in his desire to transcend death, Victor creates a new form of life which is, from the very beginning, unnatural. But Victor's tragedy perhaps lies not so much in his desire to overcome man's limitations as it does in his utter inability to either own the responsibility of his creation or to love it. Creating is not enough. The true essence of life lies in nurturing and preserving it, and this is precisely what Victor fails to do when he is overwhelmed by the ugliness and deformity of the being he has created. It is because of his abandonment that the creature is left at the mercy of a society that far from understanding him, shuns and inflicts cruelties on him instead till he is moulded into the ruthless and terrifying ‘monster' that finally destroys its own creator and maker: “ Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me? . . . Nay, these are virtuous and immaculate beings! I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on”(Shelley 213). As Harold Bloom summarizes, (Victor Frankenstein) is thus at once a great Hermetic scientist, an astonishing genius at breaking through human limitations, and a pragmatic monster, the true monster of the novel. (9)
In being the thinking, feeling, intellectual genius who simply chooses to abandon his unnatural offspring because of his own inhibitions, Victor's sin against his creature, thus, becomes unforgivable. It is therefore perhaps justified to agree with Bloom’s view that “(Victor’s) trespass is beyond forgiveness, because he is incapable of seeing that he is both a father, and a god, who has failed to love his marred creation” (9).
Significantly, actions are central to the depiction of the vampires in Twilight, too. The representation of vampires in gothic fiction, beginning with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and including a host of other horror texts, leads Fred Botting to observe that, “The vampire ... exists on the borders between life and death, between human, animal, and supernatural identities: she/he is a figure of transgression disturbing boundaries between inside and outside, home and foreignness”(288).
Supernatural or monstrous beings, we realise, are inherently ‘alien’ for they represent a disruption of whatever is considered normal or ordinary: existing in an essentially liminal space, they blur the lines between what is known and certain and what is unknown, and therefore, uncertain and threatening. However, it is primarily by virtue of their actions that the threat they represent is concretized as they leave a trail of death and destruction behind.
The Cullens are different, and they provide an all-new definition of the monster-figure precisely because their actions do not conform to the traditional idea of the evil, monstrous being. In refusing to kill innocent humans for their blood and surviving instead on the blood of animals, the Cullens make an existential choice that both reflects and emphasizes the remaining shreds of humanity in them. This is clearly indicated when Edward explains their lifestyle to Bella:
The others- the majority of our kind who are quite content with our lot- they, too, wonder at how we live. But you see, just because we've been . . . dealt a certain hand . . . it doesn't mean that we can't choose to rise above- to conquer the boundaries of a destiny that none of us wanted. To try to retain whatever essential humanity we can . . . (Meyer 268)
The Cullens, we understand, thus stand for an alternative way of life. Because they choose the alternate over that which is imposed on them, they represent a form of life devoid of the negativity and natural evil conventionally associated with them in folklore. Through their choice and consequent actions, therefore, they give expression to the essential humanity in them which negates all attempts to classify them as ‘monsters'. In Frankenstein, as we have seen, Victor presents an interchanging of roles with his creature when he proves himself to be the "true monster of the novel" through his actions as opposed to the creature who is forced to act in a monstrous way when everyone, particularly his maker, fails to understand him, destroying, in the process, whatever little humanity was left in him. With this monstrosity remaining unchecked, both the creator and the creature, then, must die in a space that is markedly separate from the realm of human habitation, and it is only with their death that their threat can finally be removed.
In Twilight, because their monstrosity is contained in their humanity, the threat no longer remains valid and hence the novel ends with the threads of life intertwining to create a world which is inclusive, stable, and even, to a certain extent, harmonious.
If humanity, in its broadest definition, consists in the qualities of love, compassion, acceptance and the like, then monstrosity, by contrast, can be defined by the lack of the same qualities. In extending this love and acceptance to the vampires in Twilight, the unnaturalness of their being and existence is subsumed into the broader realm of humanity which redeems them. And yet, it is by refusing to extend this same humanity to Frankenstein's creature that he remains a ‘monster'- bound by the ugliness of a form imposed on him by a careless maker and foster-father, no love or acceptance is extended towards him by an equally unfeeling society; he must remain, as he has always remained, outside and beyond the scope of all human community, beyond humanity itself.
Baldick, Chris. In Frankenstein’s Shadow. Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-century Writing. 1987. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Bloom’s Guides: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007. Print.
Botting, Fred. “Aftergothic: consumption, machines, and black holes.” The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Ed. Jerrold E. Hogle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 277-300. Print.
Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. London: Atom Books, 2005. Print.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New Delhi: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.