Human Flaws in Frankenstein and Gulliver's Travels: Analytical Essay

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Authors often focus on physical appearance to point out major human flaws. This is an approach that appears in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” in which Frankenstein’s creature epitomizes the “Otherness” whereby due to his grotesque appearance the creature endures loathing and rejection both from his creator and society. The creature becomes isolated resulting in vengeful behavior. Shelley wrote the story during the 19th Century when distinctions in race, gender, and class were rampant in English society. Through the metaphor of Frankenstein Shelley decries society’s tendency to look down upon “outsiders” or those who do not conform to stipulated conventional norms and reiterates that the feeling of isolation and alienation can be a catalyst for aggression as individuals fight back.

“Frankenstein” mirrors society’s shortcomings in their perception of the other. The creature experiences rejection from the moment he wakes up; this also shows how Frankenstein sees himself as superior to his creature. He sees the creature as an alien and “lifeless thing” and describes the creature in an ugly way showing how he feels the creature is inferior to human beings. Frankenstein describes the creature as having ‘yellow skin’, ‘watery eyes’, ‘shriveled complexion’ and ‘straight black lips’ which significantly deviates from the ideal that Frankenstein envisioned (Shelley 58). Frankenstein’s attitude reflects society’s tendency to alienate others because of their differences. Henceforth, Frankenstein is revolted by his creature because he is not perfect and beautifully created and he considers him worthless and detaches from it. The creature becomes alienated both by his creator and society and he laments “I was dependent on none and related to none...and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic” (Shelley 152). The monster’s pain becomes evident as he realizes his 'otherness,” since he is hideous and huge. The monster further asserts “Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred” (Shelley 155). The sentiments reflect his anguish since he feels he is worse than Satan who despite his evil nature had followers, unlike his case whereby nobody wants his association.

In the end, Shelley illustrates that alienation based on otherness can be a source of violence. The creature tries to conform so that he can fit in. He yearns to feel appreciated and get a sense of belonging and he starts by learning different languages with the hope that others can “overlook the deformity of my figure” and accept him (Shelley 132). However, despite his effort to gain acceptance, he is alienated further which makes the creature retaliate and fight back. The creature turns against Frankenstein by killing Henry Clerval (his best friend) and his bride Elizabeth Lavenza. The creature explains his sudden hostility by maintaining “I was benevolent and good; misery made me a friend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous (Shelley 114).” The statement explains his sudden change whereby the discrimination and cruelty he experiences makes him fight back, especially by attacking Victor where it hurts most since he is the one who brought this problem upon him. Shelley demonstrates that just like Frankenstein creates the monster that eventually turns against him, the “otherness” is a creation of the society shunning others and in the end the outcome is violence as individuals try to fight for their rightful place in society.

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Similar to Shelley who focuses on the human form to discuss human flaws, Jonathan Swift the author of “Gulliver’s Travels” also satirizes English society’s belief that they are the superior people out of all other cultures. Swift depicts Gulliver as he embarks on four adventures that expose him to different cultures. Swift describes Gulliver’s first voyage in a land of miniature people and him as a giant showing English society’s belief that they are the superior people out of all other cultures. In Lilliput, Gulliver’s superiority is recognized as he utilizes his immense size to help the Lilliputians defeat the Blefuscudian navy upon which he is awarded a “cardiac…which is the highest title of honor among them (Swift 57-8).” However, Swift illustrates that Gulliver is not as great as he envisions when on his second voyage, Gulliver finds himself among the Brobdingnagians, who are a race of giant people, and in this scenario, Gulliver is portrayed as the inferior one. Gulliver is intimidated by the hugeness of everything he encounters from insects to household pets. The people in this society including infants and maids treat him as a “plaything” rather than a man as they play with his body for amusement (Swift 108-9). By placing Gulliver in this society, Swift downplays the perceived supremacy of English society.

The third journey that Gulliver embarks on leads him to Laputa, the floating island, whose inhabitants though of similar size to Gulliver are strange beings whose culture derives exclusively from mathematics. Gulliver finds that the Laputa is characterized by a highly educated population who demonstrate high obsession with mathematics and geometric figures (Swift 216-7). The inhabitants express everything including communication in the mathematical form which Gulliver finds less human, less comfortable, and more awkward since these people can only think abstract thoughts. Through this depiction, Swift attacks the English society which during the 18th Century (the enlightenment period) was characterized by an obsession with numbers and figures which made the English society feel superior to other cultures. On his fourth and final journey, Gulliver visits the land of the Houyhnhnm, inhabited by intelligent, reasoning horses and Yahoos (savage human-like creatures) (Swift 306). Among the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms, the major takeaway for Gulliver is that possessing a human body does not guarantee the elevation of a person over the animals since as it turns out that despite their physical appearance, Houyhnhnms horses exhibit a stronger moral compass and reasoning compared to the Yahoos (Swift 322). This illustrates Swift’s contradiction of the common belief of English society's superiority since he suggests that moral and rational power rather than physical appearance is the determination of humanity. Indeed, after Gulliver’s experiences with the different cultures, he realizes that white supremacy is just an imagination since he finds that human beings are still ‘slaves’ to the same forces as other humans regardless of their appearance or what their culture or religious belief.

In conclusion, both Shelley and Swift in their respective works focus on physical appearance to point out major human flaws albeit differently. For example, through Frankenstein’s creature, Shelley criticizes society’s tendency to look down upon “others” who do not conform to stipulated conventional ideologies and she suggests that the feeling of isolation and alienation can be a catalyst for aggression as victims fight back. Additionally, through the adventures of Gulliver, Swift also satirizes the idea of English society's superiority. After embarking on his voyages and experiencing four different cultures, Gulliver comes to the realization that the English society’s supremacy is merely a fallacy since he discovers that all humans are the same since they face the same struggles, fears, ambitions and dreams and aspirations. While both Shelley and Swift wrote their works over two centuries ago, their works still remain relevant in contemporary society and the major takeaway from them is the need for individuals to “live and let live.”

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