Monstrous Characters in Frankenstein and Hedda Gabler

In Whale’s classic motion picture interpretation of Frankenstein, the Creature is nothing but a monster, a blight to humanity, from the moment of his creation. The inherently evil nature depicted in the movie comes as a direct result of the damaged condition of the Creature’s brain, representing the common theory of time that promoted the correlation between the brain structure and personality. Thus, the basic theme Whale exalts in the work is that monsters, and criminals in everyday society, are born, not made. The novel Frankenstein and the play Hedda Gabler also portray monstrous characters, though the origin of their malevolence deviates from Whale’s early twentieth century thought dramatically. Ibsen and Shelley both illustrate that monstrosity develops after one’s exalted ideal of humanity is disappointed, ultimately causing monsters to resort to self destruction. Hedda Gabler and Frankenstein’s Creature are both portrayed as monsters in that they deviate from standard human behavior toward excessive wickedness and cruelty. Hedda’s actions reveal a deep-seated hatred for her fellow man. In one instance, she lashes out intentionally against Aunt Julie, insulting her poor socioeconomic status. Hedda explains to Brack, “I pretended I thought [her hat] was the maid’s” (Ibsen 254). Aunt Julie, a mother-figure in the story, has no outstanding quarrel with Hedda, yet seems to live in fear of her. She mentions that the very hat which Hedda insulted she bought for the express purpose of pleasing her new niece-in-law, so that Hedda, “wouldn’t feel ashamed of [her]” (Ibsen 224). In a way, their new familial relationship adds to the power that Hedda holds over Aunt Julie; she certainly takes advantage of it at the same time that Julie feels greater need to shield herself from it. It is important to note that Hedda has no ulterior motive here other than to simply destroy Aunt Julie’s humanity in the same way she figuratively destroys the humanity of Mrs. Elvsted and Lovborg in burning the manuscript. As Hedda throws the pages into the stove, she says, “Now I’m burning your child, Thea! You, with your curly hair. Your child and Eilert Lovborg’s” (Ibsen 288). The manuscript is representative of both its ‘parents’ just as a human child is created from the flesh of both father and mother. Thus, in one fell act, Hedda destroys a part of both Mrs. Elvsted and Lovborg. The Creature of Frankenstein also seeks to attack humanity, specifically his creator, by aiming his malice at his family. The Creature tells Frankenstein directly that “your sufferings will satisfy my everlasting hatred,” and the surest way to bring about his suffering is to attack those he loves (Shelley 254). He kills William, but while this murder may seem obviously monstrous, the true monstrosity of the act comes not from the act itself, but from the intention behind it. The Creature himself says, “I gazed on my victim, and my heart swelled with exaltation and hellish triumph” (Shelley 170). Just like Hedda, his intention here is to bring about human misery, the true mission of a monster.Hedda and the Creature direct their cruelty toward humanity because society failed to live up to the ideal which they held it to. Hedda expresses her disappointment in the world, saying, “I want to be free of everything ugly” (Ibsen 279). Hedda expects beauty, excitement, honesty and romance from humanity. She anticipates Lovborg to return with ‘vine-leaves’ on his head, symbolizing an ideal human society where men and women are free to indulge in the goodness which the world has to offer. It is not physical ugliness from which Hedda seeks to disentangle herself, but the deformed and unsightly society which she nonetheless finds herself in. Her marriage to Tesman and her pregnancy bind her forever to participate fully in the humanity which so disgusts her. When asked by Brack why she consented to marriage, Hedda responds that, “it was certainly more than my other admirers were willing to do for me” (Ibsen 251). Hedda waited until the last possible, acceptable moment to be married by the standards of her time; the stage directions mention that she is very near thirty. She held out for beauty as long as she could, but in the end she realized that humanity would never live up to her ideal. This brutal realization causes the scathing viciousness of Hedda’s personality and prompts her to destructive action against her fellow man. As Hedda laments the loss of her former hope for happiness, she remarks to Tesman, “well, at least I have one thing left to amuse myself with…my pistols” (Ibsen 247). Hedda’s pistols not only symbolize her volatile personality, but also the monstrosity which she has resorted to. She speaks of this violence as if it is all she has left to comfort her in a world without joy. Not only will Hedda strike out against society, but it will ‘amuse’ her; it will bring her a sort of grim satisfaction to crush those who have disappointed her vision of beauty. Hedda shares this destructive ecstasy with the Creature of Frankenstein, who was born with and initially reveled in a glorious opinion of man. After he has observed the DeLacey family for a time, the Creature remarks, “as yet I looked upon crime as a distant evil; benevolence and generosity were ever present before me, inciting within me a desire to become an actor in the busy scene where so many admirable qualities were called forth and displayed” (Shelley 150). The excellent behavior and relationships exhibited by the DeLacey family inspire in the Creature a triumphant and honorable conception of humanity. Although he reads about murder, crime and pain in books, he cannot believe they exist when such an example of beauty is his only real experience. The Creature becomes dependent on this ideal, and when it fails to hold true, he resorts to violence for compensation. He says, “feelings of revenge and hatred filled my bosom, and I did not strive to control them; but allowing myself to be borne away by the stream, I bent my mind toward injury and death” (Shelley 164). The Creature has put all of his faith in the DeLacey family and in the exalted picture of humanity that they gave him; consequently, when they cruelly spurn him, he has nowhere to direct his anger but back at humanity. With no one to turn to in his despair and anger, the only option is to allow his hatred to dictate what would become a series of monstrous actions, for he says, “I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear” (Shelley 173). It is his determination that if humanity cannot accept his love, if it cannot live up to the ideal which the DeLacey’s laid out, then it deserves nothing more than his derision and hatred. With the realization that humanity cannot be changed, Hedda and the Creature seek to remove themselves from it. After Hedda’s final attempt to manifest her ideal in the real world with the death of Eilert Lovborg fails, she realizes that nothing she ever does will be enough to overcome the gross society which surrounds her. Upon hearing of the sordid details of his death, she exclaims, “what is it, this – this curse – that everything I touch turns ridiculous and vile?” (Ibsen 299). The anguish which stems from her disappointment in humanity knows no bounds, and her monstrous tirade against it can in no way serve as sufficient compensation. Brack makes the hopelessness of her situation abundantly clear, to which Hedda proudly proclaims, “I’d rather die” (Ibsen 301). Since she cannot stomach a ‘ridiculous and vile’ society, the only choice that remains to Hedda is to remove herself from it completely. Her last act is a slap in the face of ugliness, for she performs her suicide just as she envisioned Eilert Lovborg’s: beautifully. Hedda had come to rely on monstrosity as a source of comfort in a disappointing world, and when even that proved ineffectual, when society continued to win, the only out left to her was death. The Creature shared this poignant sentiment; he expresses that “there was but one means to overcome the sensation of pain, and that was death” (Shelley 141). Like Hedda, the Creature can only find temporary solace in his monstrosity, quickly realizing that nothing he does will ever change the way humanity acts towards him. He speaks of his decision to die, saying, “I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me, or be the prey of feelings yet unsatisfied, yet unquenched” (Shelley 274). Violence failed to satisfy those needs of the Creature which could only be quenched by love, and without the chance of ever fulfilling those needs, he chooses to eradicate them. For both characters, death is the only escape from a world that would never be enough for them. The monsters portrayed in these works of fiction became such out of good intention, wishing only to live at the highest level that man could achieve. It was not this goal that truly drove them to destruction, but rather their utter dependency on it. When it failed, they ultimately had nowhere to turn but toward violence and death. Society cannot be judged on a pass or fail basis; individuals must be willing to help change it by becoming a part of it rather than lashing out monstrously against it.Works CitedFrankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Universal, 1931.Ibsen, Henrik. Four Major Plays: Volume 1. New York: New American Library, 1992. pp 221 – 304.

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