The creature in James Whale's Frankenstein (1931). Image source:

"A Troubled Legacy: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Inheritance of Human Rights" is very useful to the examine more closely the fundamentals of human rights according to the philosophers Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Reese explores the juxtaposition of the narratives of Victor Frankenstein and the being he created, and the ways that they both view his creation. Through their particular viewpoints, the formation of the rational of the creature exemplifies the Rousseau’s own views about the inherent knowledge rational beings have (Reese 49).

Instincts of the Creature

According to Rousseau, a being has “two principles prior to reason”, the natural instinct of self-preservation and pity on creatures that suffer or endure harm, especially those that resemble themselves (Reese 51). This is seen in the way the monster initially pity those lesser creatures around him. It is only when he is rejected that rage takes over that he no longer cares for the realm of men. Following a Rousseauian argument, the creature begins to supplicate to his creator, asking for a companion or mate for his life. Victor here feels some of the original pity that he had before reason, and he allows the monster to continue his plea for a mate. This pity, however, comes from his “misrecognition of his resemblance to “man”” (Reese, 52). The monster does not resemble his maker enough to keep enough pity in Victor’s heart for him to carry out the deed he wishes (Reese 52). In fact, neither the creature nor Frankenstein identify the monster as a member of the human race, but as a new race, a new being (Reese 56).

In this, Shelley explores the rational other included in Kant’s philosophy of human rights. Kant states that freedom should belong to all rational beings, not just humans (Reese 54). When Frankenstein refuses to create another monster, he is refusing to create another race, and when he destroys his second project he is committing genocide and wiping out an entire race (Reese 53). When the monster first gains reason, he seeks to be a part of the community of men, but he is unable because he is not part of that community. When the creature demands to be able to form his own community, he completely severs himself from his creator and threatens the human race, and in Victor’s eyes must be eradicated (Reese 59).

A Female Creature

Reese also explores the implications that come along with Victor’s fear to create a female being, thereby creating the rest of the creature’s race. The new monster, in Victor’s eyes, would either create an identical problem to the one he already has, with a monster stalking him and terrorizing those he loves, or drastically multiply his current dilemma with little baby creatures running around everywhere (Reese 63). Also, he will no longer be creator, but reproducer, which has a feminine connotation that he shuns (Reese 63). With the creation of another monster, he threatens his own race. Victor is able to see the reason the creature presents, but is unable to grant him a mate, and therefore unable to grant him the rights that should have been inherited in his nature as a rational being (Reese 65).

Reese’s article is very useful for this particular scholarship, because it gives the reader an insight into the arguments of the time and allows the reader to see the creature as a distinct “other”. Once that is made clear, further conclusions can be made about what the “other” can represent, such as a black slave, an Asian invader into European society, or anyone that is different from the white, bourgeoisie upper-class that fears the take over Victor sees as a future for his creation. 

Works Cited

Reese, Diana. "A Troubled Legacy: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the Inheritance of Human Rights." Representations 96.1 (2006): 48-72. Web.