April 19, 2011
GIST – Dalke
Frankenstein and Lilith:
An Examination of Creator and Creation
For this Webpaper, I intend to examine the concept of creation in Frankenstein and how it reflects my understanding of gender and technology. To do this I will incorporate the myth of Lilith to further discuss the relationship between the creator and the creation. I will draw parallels between the two stories, concerning the role of gender, information, science, and technology in generating perceptions of creation.
For thousands of years, people have been enchanted by the story of Lilith, the first woman to reject a place of inferiority beside a man. According to the legend, God made both Adam and Lilith out of dust at the same time. God made them both perfect, and, upon seeing Lilith, Adam was enchanted by her physical beauty. But from the beginning they fought constantly. Adam insisted that she lay below him and accept his dominance, but she refused, saying that they were created equally and thus neither should be superior. Adam did not accept this answer, and in response Lilith abandoned him and the Garden of Eden. To satisfy Adam’s desire for a woman God then replaced Lilith with Eve, creating her out of one of his ribs to ensure her inferiority.
Painted by John Collier, 1892
The dynamic between creator and creation is complex in the story. Lilith’s conflict rests on her decision to reject the role assigned to her by Adam, who had no part in her creation process. She acknowledges that God created her as an equal to Adam and insists on being treated as such. But most depictions of Lilith in folklore, literature, and art represent her as being a demonic, sexually deviant predator—a dangerously powerful seductress. She was deviant, but only in her pursuit for independence.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley also tells a story about the relationship between the creator and the creation. Victor Frankenstein, obsessed with the idea of artificially creating life, builds a creature based on the human form, and uses science to bring it to life. Victor admires the beauty of his creation until it comes to life, at which point he becomes horrified and abandons the creature. Confused and hurt, the creature wanders in search of purpose, and, after encountering the superficiality of the human race, becomes violent.
Many feminist readings of this novel have likened this story to the idea of male irresponsibility in matters of reproduction. Victor, a man, finds a way to create life—a reproductive power that lies only within the female body. However, when the product of his work enters the living world of consciousness, he flees because he cannot handle the responsibility presented to him. As a feminist, one could read this novel as Shelley’s postulation that only women are suited to the task of rearing offspring.
This interpretation coincides with the theory that Mary Shelley harbored resentment toward her mother Mary Wollstonecraft for dying and thus “abandoning” her after she was born. Her writings may express a critique of her mother’s prominent philosophical ideals of the time concerning importance of rationality over emotion.
Beauty and Bodies
Both Lilith and the creature are demonized for their physical qualities. Both are intended to be beautiful by their creators, and are recognized as being so before displaying their respective independent consciousness.
Lilith is initially described as being stunningly beautiful with flowing hair. But in the myth, after rejecting of the submissive role assigned to her, she is portrayed as a seductive, malicious character associated with demons, vampires, and sin. Thus her appearance becomes intertwined with qualities that represent the danger of feminine sexuality.
Victor initially perceives his creature as being beautiful—until it comes to life. Victor’s horror at the creature’s appearance leads him to abandon it completely. The people who see the creature are also horrified at his appearance, and judge him to be as hideous on the inside as he appears on the outside. These judgments affect the creature so substantially that he is driven to behave in the way they expect him to behave—maliciously and violently. But he only adopts this violent behavior when he, himself, becomes aware of his physical defects.
In both of these stories, the character’s appearance plays a significant role in how they are perceived by others. Their bodies become entangled with their fates. And if that is the case, are their creators directly at fault for making them that way? Should we blame God for endowing Lilith with such extraordinary beauty that she became a symbol of sin and seduction? Is it Victor’s fault that his creature was so ugly that people rejected it right away? Or is it the fault of the characters for behaving in such a way that accentuated their physical appearances? It’s difficult to answer these questions, as they are so entangled with each other, and involve so many other factors. Regardless, we continue to be fascinated by them.
We Just Keep Comin’ Back
So why can’t our society forget these memorable stories? I think it’s because we can relate to them. Lilith was created as an equal, but was commanded to be subservient to another being. We all have experiences when we want to rise into the air like Lilith and say, “no, I refuse to be inferior to you!” (Of course, that probably wouldn’t go over well with your boss). Feminists have adopted Lilith’s story time and time again because it is a story of defiance, of deviance from the path set before her by her fellow man. Plus, it’s kind of refreshing to imagine a female biblical figure who insisted on being respected, and whose significance was not defined by her passive sexual role in the story (i.e. the Virgin Mary).
I think we can also empathize with Victor’s creature in Frankenstein. We have probably all had experiences of feeling abandoned. Imagine if your computer crashed and your phone died on the same day. Like the creature, you would feel a little lost, confused, and pissed off. The analogy may be a bit of a stretch but I think it makes a statement about human nature. Perhaps technology is the creator and we are the creations—we are so reliant on technology to inform our thoughts and behavior that we can’t fully function without them.
The United States has been referred to as a culture of commercialization. What this really means is that our culture is heavily informed by advertising and media manipulation. Our concept of beauty is enforced by millions of homogenous models hired by businesses to appeal to the customer’s aesthetic sense. Thus it is no surprise that stories like the myth of Lilith and Frankenstein appeal to us, as they explore the underlying reality of human superficiality. The media is a main source of information for us, and we reflect it in our culture—which raises the question of whether we truly are the creators of our culture, or are we merely the living creation of a corporate ideal?