Analysis of The Dream and the Doppelganger in Frankenstein Through Sigmund Freud’s Concept of the Uncanny
Writing Frankenstein, Mary Shelley wished to “speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror”; Sigmund Freud mentioned similar concepts of mysterious horror in The Interpretation of Dreams and The Uncanny. As the gothic psychological horror unfolds, elements of Freudian ideas such as Repression can be seen in the dreams of Victor Frankenstein and author Mary Shelley herself whereas Doubling can be perceived throughout the text, particularly between the creator and the monster in a myriad of ways.
Starting with how Freud presented the idea of Repression and Doubling, the Austrian psychoanalyst introduces the former as a key concept of psychoanalysis, termed as a defense mechanism by Davis and Gregory that ‘ensures that what is unacceptable to the conscious mind, and would if recalled arouse anxiety, is prevented from entering into it.’ In other words, for Freud repression is a normal part of human development; indeed, the analysis of dreams, literature, jokes, and ‘Freudian slips’ illustrates the ways that our secret desires continue to find outlet in perfectly well-adjusted individuals.
On the other hand, Doubling is a theme that Freud addresses in one of his most iconic essays titled The Uncanny, the doppelganger or double is a representation of the darker parts of the individual psyche which are dealt with denial to seem socially acceptable, as opposed to who they truly are at their core. It is a constant element used to break the barrier between self-perception of the double and one’s true identity with the idea of The Uncanny’s Heimlich versus Unheimlich to bring the double as a threat the protagonist character is forced to identify with the double, which eventually reveals the double to be a part of the character’s superego.
Moving on to the first argument, features of Freudian Repression can be found in Frankenstein, from both the author and the protagonist. To begin with, Mary Shelley had a morbid dream about the creation of a new man by a scientist with the hubris to assume the role of god. This dream inspired the legendary Frankenstein where the Swiss-Italian scientist Victor Frankenstein gains insight into the creation of life and constructs his Monster, eventually regretting his decision to interfere with the laws of nature. It can be argued that Frankenstein is the repressed fear of childbirth and the whole process of it, for Mary Shelley was pregnant during the period that she was writing Frankenstein, already suffering the birth and death of an infant beforehand. She was anguished by the loss, for an 1815 journal entry reads, “Dream that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lives.” This can be seen as a parallel in Frankenstein where the scientist hopes to “infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet” as seen in chapter five of the text. Furthermore, on the event of the birth of the “creature,” as Victor calls it at first, transpires after “days and nights of incredible labor and fatigue” (chapter four); referring to the “painful labor” later on to the text as well.
Another form of Repression can be seen in the nightmare episode of chapter five regarding Elizabeth, his betrothed, where after the Monster has been created, the protagonist falls into a guilt-induced dream which showcases all his conscious, unconscious and sexual anxieties: “I saw Elizabeth in the bloom of health … I embraced her: but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death: her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms.” This transitory tableau can be interpreted to display his desire for Elizabeth, his vision of her as the source of disease, the association of disease and death with sexuality, his notion of Elizabeth as his mother’s killer, as well as the Oedipal desire for his mother. In both of these instances, with the central character and the author herself, it can be argued that Freudian Repression is applicable, for according to Felluga, “Psychological symptoms are often condensations or displacements (caused by repression) of deeper, unconscious impulses or buried memories” for “the goal is to determine the repressed sexual desires or traumatic events that are causing the abnormal behavior to occur”.
Aside from Repression, Doubling is a Freudian element that is present throughout Frankenstein, predominantly between Victor Frankenstein and his Monster. In Frankenstein, Victor’s double is described as grotesque and bears supernatural, undead features. The creature’s physicality is gigantic, thus creates an uncanny feeling due to his deformity. The monsters outer form is the sole element that distinguishes him from his human double, his master. Sigmund Freud suggests that the theme of reanimating inanimate objects is the peak of uncanny imagery. It depicts the familiar in an unfamiliar situation, as Freud puts it The Uncanny “apparent death and re-animation of the dead have been represented as the most uncanny themes”. The revival of the dead is uncanny because it depicts the human body, which is already familiar, in an unfamiliar way. The duality of a living dead body is unfamiliar and therefore, monstrous. In the novel, Victor constructs his double in the shape of the creature. Despite the difference in their external form, the two characters resemble each other in the sense of them sharing considerable internal psychological force as in, the creator and the creature bear a feeling of resentment that initiated from Victor’s childhood and is projected onto the creature. As narrated by Victor, his relationship with his father is sometimes marked by a sentiment of resentment from his part. Due to the intense psychological and emotional feelings that Victor experience through the process of creation, the repressed emotions of resentment and abhorrence become linked with the creature. Given that the ego is responsible for both voluntary action and repression it may come then as no surprise that repression is described as an intentional activity for Breuer and Freud initially write that repression involves “a question of things which the patient wished to forget, and therefore intentionally repressed from his conscious thought and inhibited and suppressed”. Such a projection explains the immediate hatred that Victor feels toward his creation.
Instances of more doubling take place in the second half of the book between Frankenstein and his creation. Victor abandons his creature, leaving him alone by himself. Throughout the story, the creature makes Victor try to feel it feels. The creature lives without a friend in the world, and the creature makes that the life of Victor as well. He kills all of Victor’s closest friends and family members. The Monster says in chapter sixteen “Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed?” displaying how the monster hates himself as much as Frankenstein does after creating the creature. The two characters parallel throughout the story, showing how Victor and the creature he loathes so much are not different, but actually the same. As the meaning of its German equivalent, Doppelgänger is “a ghostly counterpart of a living person”; Freud’s idea of doubling can successfully be applied to both the creature and Victor.
To conclude, this work has shown how the emotion of horror is created in Frankenstein, explained via Freudian ideas such as Repression in the dreams of the author and the protagonist, as well as Doubling such as Victor and his Monster being each other’s Doppelgänger. The novel portrayed the horrible outcomes of leading a double life and depicted the double figure as an outlet for repressed thoughts and desire, which can be further analyzed using the arguments provided by Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams for the elements of repression in Dreams and The Uncanny to discover the mysterious effect of doubling.
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