I recently watched the 1931 film adaptation Frankenstein directed by James Whale, and was quite shocked by the major differential, focusing on the themes of loneliness, guilt, and social repression, between the screenplay and the original 1818 literary version of “Frankenstein” as written by Mary Shelley. Firstly, the Dr. Frankenstein inside of the movie is never truly alone at all as he is always accompanied by his constant hunch-backed companion, Fritz, throughout the movie until his death. The daunting task of gathering up dead body parts and organs is something that he does not have to attend to all alone as he has someone else to help him in creating the monster. This version of Dr. Frankenstein is completely unlike the version depicted within Shelley’s novel: “I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection” (Shelley 8). Although Whale’s Dr. Frankenstein does withdraw himself from other society within his film, he is easily persuaded to allow intrusion upon his experiments. Shelly’s Dr. Frankenstein isolates himself completely from society and his loved ones by focusing on his studies and moving far away from them so he is not easily reached. He is a recluse who becomes horrified of the monster that he creates.
Whale’s Dr. Frankenstein does not appear to be to afraid of his creation, and he makes immediate direct contact with the monster after the experiment, unlike Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein. “I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelly 37). He is so frightened of his creation that he runs and hides from it and faces the consequences of his actions for not immediately taking care of the situation. Whales Dr. Frankenstein is not so cold and callous to his monster. He at least attempts to make human contact with it through vocal instructions and an introduction to sunlight, but when torture incites the monster into rage, he owns up and fights the monster physically into submission with the assistance of Dr. Waldman. They also plan to undo the damage by trying to remove the creature’s brain and by doing this they accept responsibility for their actions. The monster is a product of both Frankensteins, and whereas they breath life into their creation, they both become a parent to their child, abominable as it may be. Nonetheless, as fathers to newborn sons, they both fail in parenthood by either abandoning or torturing their child, and this has major ramifications upon them both as this child of theirs, lovingly dubbed “monster”, retaliates with murder: “The newborn speaks—his creator does not hear. He smiles, but his creator watches him in abhorrence. He stretches out his hand, but his creator shuns him and disappears. Victor’s escape is depicted in the novel as some kind of parental abandonment, and is given to us as the reason why the neglected creature eventually became vindictive, fierce, and murderous. Victor fails to realize that he has certain obligations towards this hateful being of his own making. In fact, he seems incapable of seeing his own creature as an other—a separate subject who deserves to be related to according to some moral parameters” (Benziman 389). Both monsters depicted within the film and text reach out to their fathers for love and acceptance but are denied at birth. The scientific methods used to create life in both monsters could also be viewed as an attempt at social advancement via science to achieve astronomical results which was a profound theme in literature written during the Victorian Age.
A great deal of attention gained by Whale’s monster depicts him as being mentally disabled. He is even given an abnormal brain by accident as a possible explanation for his erratic behavior. He also seems incapable of speech or literary comprehension. He is completely opposite of Shelley’s monster in that regard. Her monster is calculated in his murders and even diabolical in the planting of the picture of William’s mother in Justine’s pocket. The monster even approaches Dr. Frankenstein and converses quite intellectually with him. However, both deal with social repression due to abnormality. Whale’s monster is hunted down and slain by angry mobs of men, while Shelley’s monster seeks acceptance even from his creator: “How can I move thee? Will no entreaties cause thee to turn a favourable eye upon thy creature, who implores goodness and compassion? Believe me, Frankenstein: I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity; but am I not alone, miserably alone? You, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow-creatures, who owe me nothing? they spurn and hate me. The desert mountains and dreary glaciers are my refuge” (Shelley 73). Despite any acts of kindness given by Shelley’s monster, he is unaccepted by society. This is also relative to the Victorian ideal of social standing in that everyone strives for the upper class and the monster of Frankenstein is representative of the lowest standard of man born into society.
Hollywood’s take on Shelley’s “Frankenstein” seems to only derive from the idea of a monster created from a dead body. Whale’s adaptation fails to hit in compliance with the novel in any form and seems to be suited for visual entertainment versus imagination. He fails to bring the monster to life on screen as Shelly does within her novel and I find myself not caring about what happens to him in the film whatsoever. The themes of loneliness, guilt, and social repression brought about from the original monster created by Shelly help the reader to identify with and feel remorse for the monster Frankenstein.
Benziman, Galia. “CHALLENGING THE BIOLOGICAL: THE FANTASY OF MALE BIRTH AS A NINETEENTH-CENTURY NARRATIVE OF ETHICAL FAILURE.” Women’s Studies 4 Jan-Dec 2012.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Susan J. Wolfson. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.