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In western culture, physical beauty is a representation of goodness and virtue. The grotesque and deformed are feared and are often depicted as evil. The unsightliness of Frankenstein's creature fosters the concept that ugliness and evil are synonymous. Mary Shelley challenges the idea that a person's appearance is a reflection of their innate nature. Shelley gives the Other a compelling voice and shows how the power of narrative can dramatically influence people to overlook their prejudices. People shriek, faint and flee when they first see the monster, however when he is heard he is able to evoke pathos from the other characters.
One might argue that it is a natural reaction to fear a ghastly eight foot tall creature with yellow eyes, black lips and yellow skin. "No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch." (35) Frankenstein describes his creation on two separate occasions as "too horrible for human eyes," (35, 98) yet he delivers some of the most beautiful passages in the novel. While the monster's appearance seems to be the problem, he's able to move the other characters through his speech.
Although the creature is composed of human parts from the deceased, his creator sees him only as "the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life." (35)
It is clear that Victor sees the monster as non-human, yet feels his humanness. "His words had a strange effect upon me. I compassionated him, and sometimes felt a wish to console him; but when I looked upon him, when I saw the filthy mass that moved and talked, my heart sickened, and my feelings were altered to those of horror and hatred." (99) Any empathy Victor has for him is superseded by his terrifying appearance. Later, Frankenstein is moved by his plea for a companion and commences building a companion.
William's visceral reaction to the monster is typical of a child. The monster falsely assumes that because the boy is young, he may be equitable towards him. Even though the monster says "I do not intend to hurt you; listen to me." (96) The boy can't hear him. "Monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me, and tear me to pieces-You are an ogre." (96) Prejudice is learned and children are not immune from society's conditioning to fear the Other.
The old blind man is the only one that "sees" him as human. "There is something in your words which persuades me that you are sincere. I am poor, and an exile; but it will afford me true pleasure to be in any way serviceable to a human creature." (91) The power of speech enables to the monster's to show his humanity.
Victor tells Walton to carry out his mission of killing the monster. He is warned that "he is eloquent and persuasive; and once his words had even power over my heart: but trust him not. His soul is as hellish as his form, full of treachery and fiend-like malice. Hear him not." (145) Walton has the same initial reaction to the monster as Victor; they both describe him as a "mummy." (152) "Never did I behold a vision so horrible as his face, of such loathsome, yet appalling hideousness. I shut my eyes involuntarily, and endeavoured to recollect what were my duties with regard to this destroyer. I called on him to stay." (152) Like Victor, Walton also relates to the monster. They both feel compassion for him and identify with the monster's loneliness and as they too long for companionship. One can only see in others what they already see in themselves. The monster's ability to elicit sympathy from Walton, who has been informed of his murder victims, speaks volumes about the mercy of humanity. The monster quickly realizes how limited he is without the ability to communicate therefore unable to change people's misconceptions of him.
"I ought not to make the attempt until I had first become master of their language, which knowledge might enable to to make them overlook the deformity of my figure." (76) "I imagined that they would be disgusted, until, by my gentle demeanour, and conciliating words, I should first win their favour, and afterwards their love." (77)
Learning to speak thus becomes his chief motivation to persuade that he is harmless and not a threat to society. The monster's usage of language allows him to prove his own humanity to the reader through his use of eloquent prose to express his very human desires and emotions. Throughout the text, everyone that comes in to contact with the monster loathes the sight of him yet once he speaks he's able to radically alter their perception of him. Shelley uses multiple narratives to conjure empathy from the reader.
The importance that humans place on outward appearance is extremely significant in this novel. Society is quick to label and categorize people solely based on appearance. Shelley may be suggesting that humans classify and label people to give ourselves a false sense of security. Our greatest fear is the unknown. The monster is a symbol of those who suffer because they are different.