The Role of Appearance on Social Acceptance

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Within the gothic novel Frankenstein; Or the Modern Prometheus, appearance is critical to being accepted by society. When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, a monster, a blot upon the earth from which all men fled and whom all men disowned? (Frankenstein, 105). This familiar quote, spoken by the monster conveys the discriminating yet, the inevitability of judgment that the monster faces in Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein; Or the Modern Prometheus. Throughout the novel, there are multiple prominent instances where social acceptance is based solely on appearance.

First, Elizabeth proves evidential in this case and secondly, the more obvious and prominent instance, Victor Frankenstein’s creature. The creature is one of the central characters of the novel who, overall represents mankind and their experiences with social acceptance throughout life. The readers of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein are taken on the journey through which this no-named creation is abandoned by his creator yet, only longs to be loved and understood. This journey reinstates that regardless of one’s personality, the underlying message conveys that society’s judgment of an individual is based solely on physical appearance. The issue of acceptance is easily perceived in Mary Shelley’s novel.

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For instance, Mary Shelley first acknowledges the idea of social acceptance based on physical appearance regarding Elizabeth Frankenstein. Subsequently, Caroline Frankenstein adopts Elizabeth as she’s one of five from a poor Italian family. More symbolically, Caroline chooses her as she notices Elizabeth’s an unusually beautiful little girl who was unlike the rest. Furthermore, Victor describes her immediate response by stating, there was one which attracted her above all the restshe was thin, fair and had golden hair and blue eyes (43). Additionally, the author successfully gives credit to the idea of social acceptance by using beauty to demonstrate that regardless of one’s personality, he/she will primarily be judged based solely on physical appearance.

More specifically, her presence had seemed a blessing to them, Caroline went as far to say, but it would be unfair to her to keep her in poverty and want when Providence afforded her such powerful protection (43). In other words, because Elizabeth was unusually beautiful, she did not deserve to continue living in poverty. Instead, Elizabeth deserved a life as righteous as her beauty. Therefore, this dialogue ultimately contributes to the overall theme that judgment is inevitable for every person because humans are predisposed to judge others based on their physical appearance.

Additionally, the author successfully uses Frankenstein’s creation to illustrate that facing society’s judgment is inevitable, regardless of one’s personality characteristics. This allegory is witnessed as Victor Frankenstein states I began the creation of a human being (54). A short, yet powerful statement that demonstrates Victor Frankenstein’s intentions to create a human being. While Victor does succeed in creating a living being, he is ultimately horrified by his creation. More explicitly, Victor states, I had desired it…but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart (58, 59). Prior to this wake-up call, Victor sought pleasure in knowledge and creating a beautiful life. However, his creation’s arrival only disgusted him as he based his first impression entirely on his creation’s monster-like appearance.

Additionally, Victor describes his creations arrival more vividly by stating the following:
A flash of lightning illuminated the object and discovered its shape plainly to me: its
gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity,
instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy demon to whom I had given life (60).

Again, before the creature is given a chance to speak, Victor makes a snap judgment based on the appearance of the creature. Ultimately leading Victor to arrive upon the decision to run away. Victor doesn’t consider his creation a human because of how hideous its appearance is. Moreover, these various scenes deliver an even greater realization; although one might not be aesthetically pleasing on the outside, their personality does not correlate to physical appearance. Once again, another powerful message within Frankenstein denoting the prominent theme that physical appearance shouldn’t determine how virtuous an individual is, rather the good deeds and selfless apparent acts.

Moreover, additional confirmation to support the argument derives from the reaction of civilians to Victor’s creation. Victor has overlooked and forgotten what repercussions his creation has had on not only his personal life, but the everlasting impact his behaviors have had on his creation and those around him as well. Consequently, until Victor’s creation met a blind man by the name of Mr. De Lacey, he had never known what acceptance felt like. Without the gift of sight, Mr. De Lacey saw Victor’s creation in a way nobody else could, he based his first impressions off of the creature’s personality. Meanwhile, in a different instance, the monster saves the life of a woman who fell into the river. Instead of receiving gratitude, the creature was shot. These two instances further exhibit the lack of social acceptance based on the creature’s physical appearance. As a result of the ongoing social isolation, the creature states the following:

All men hate the wretched; how then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living
things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us (83).

Ultimately, through this enlightening dialogue, one can recognize the plot revolves around the overall theme of social acceptance and physical appearance. Once again, validating that the creature is judged upon his physical appearance, his oversized, monster-like statute. Moreover, the creature understands why people hate him, because of his appearance and monster-like physical features. Therefore, the creature begins to despise himself. Although the creature had been acting virtuously, upon the first appearance, he was visually unappealing and terrifying. Leading the creature to additionally state, I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but as deformed and horrible as myself (126). Because Victor’s creature appears different than the majority of individuals, he is ostracized and abandoned on multiple occasions. Undoubtedly, the novel affirms that consequently, everyone regardless of gender, age, life choices, and wealth all face the same initial judgment upon first meeting. Undeniably, this moment additionally represents the fact that a person’s looks fade out, except for the acts of benevolence.

In conclusion, the gothic novel remains a timeless piece of work depicting a powerful message signifying the idea that beauty does not make one individual better than another. Through the journey of Victor and his creation, the reader receives a vivid reminder that actions speak volumes, not appearance. Alternatively, this novel concurrently reinforces the idea that excessive pride will only trick one into thinking they have a personal advantage throughout life. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein can be viewed as an allegory with the power to remind readers that beauty runs deeper than the surface. Lastly, throughout Frankenstein, the reader formulates a greater understanding of the importance of internal beauty as opposed to physical appearance.

Works Cited

  • Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus:
    the 1818 Text. Oxford ; New York :Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.

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