Othering Frankenstein Essay

Topics: Social class, Working class, Marxism Pages: 5 (1899 words) Published: August 31, 2013
The concept of ‘other’, and the act of ‘othering’ is a powerful idea used in many literary texts to in order to construct meaning. The use of othering is apparent in the novel, Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley and published in 1818. Embracing both the Romantic and Enlightenment context of its time, Frankenstein is a masterfully crafted novel which seamlessly explores a variety of themes and ideas. In the text Shelley uses the process of othering to explore the ideas of somatic alterity, class, and gender as aspects of othering. Shelley’s exploration of these ideas allows for various readings of the text, including post-colonialist, Marxist, and feminist critiques. These ideas and readings are also seen within the text Othello by William Shakespeare.

The creation of the ‘other’ can be seen throughout human history as a way of distinguishing groups based on arbitrary criteria. It is used by societies in order to an “us” and “them”. Edward Said describes the term othering as referring to “the act of emphasizing the perceived weakness of marginalized groups as a way of stressing the alleged strengths of those of power.” The use of othering allows the hegemony to maintain favourably unequal relationships with marginalized groups, in which the other is left powerless and open to exploitation.

Othering is constructed in Frankenstein through the somatic alterity of the Creature, which is similarly seen in characterisation of Othello. By engaging in a post-colonial reading of the texts, it can be read that both characters represent the prevalent opinion in white superiority during their respective contexts. The Creature is described as an eight foot tall monster, with “yellow skin”, and the resulting dichotomy between him and the other primarily Caucasian characters leads unavoidably to his rejection and othering. Anne K. Mellor states that the creature is, “by his very bodily nature a degenerate being, both racially and evolutionarily inferior to his Caucasian creator, and hence necessarily a monster”. Similarly, the north African titular character of Othello faced othering by the Venetians as he attempted to integrate himself into their society. Othello’s somatic differences are mocked by the other characters who describe him as “the thick lips,” and those who accept Othello do so while maintaining prejudice towards his heritage, as seen in the Duke’s quote “Your son- in-law is far more fair than black”. The inevitable downfall of both these characters can be read as resulting from the unchangeable nature of their otherness. The curse of their somatic alterity prevents them from ever being accepted or allowed to join the hegemony. In addition to this, the Creature in Frankenstein and Othello can be seen as representative of the contextual opinion towards non-Europeans. Dehumanisation of non- European’s was prevalent in colonial times, used as a justification for the treatment of the colonised peoples. An example of this attitude in the poem, The White Man's Burden by Rudyard Kipling in which he states “Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child”. Despite the Creature being created from the bodies of humans, the other characters refuse to accept him as one. He is referred to as the ‘creature’, ‘monster’, or ‘daemon’, but never granted the status of man. Othello is also dehumanised, as seen in the use animal diction such as “an old black ram,” and “Barbary horse” used by other characters in describing him. This dehumanization allows for interpretation of the texts as othering both the characters. By distancing the characters from the hegemony, they are able to cauterise any feelings of empathy that may arise. When read in a colonial reading, this can be seen as creating justification for the European hegemony in its racist behaviours due to the belief in their own inherent superiority.

The exploitation of groups as a result of a class system biased towards the...
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