The monster and the soul
By Abby Conroy | Oct 31 2018Monsters present themselves in literature in all shapes and forms; they may be gruesome looking creatures with gnarled teeth and sharp claws, or they may look plain, but possess a sort of evil ‘other-ness’ which makes them stand out from the rest of humanity. They may not be easy to spot at a glance, it may be simply their essence that defines them as monstrous. But can we, as humans, understand what it is that sets some beings apart from ourselves? In some cases, such as the Creature in Frankenstein, the readership pities the monster due to something inherently human about it. It does not mirror us in image but something about the deepest desires of his heart seems almost familiar to us. Whereas in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the reader absolutely considers Mr. Hyde as a monster. This is entirely based on how we view the soul of the being we are connecting with. A soul, in the broad sense, is defined as the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal and is largely regarded as being immortal. Taking this definition, it is clear to see how the soul of a being can hugely influence the perception of a ‘monstrous’ character within the canon of a text as well as with the readership.
While he is a monster, when given the opportunity to speak his truth he becomes far less terrifying and even rouses sympathy.In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it is interesting to note how the reader views the Creature very differently to how the other characters in the novel perceive him. Within the text, he causes nothing but sheer fear and terror. This is perhaps because they can personally see his gruesome appearance. They are also the victims of the Creature’s rage. The Creature shows a particular type of evil as he kills those who Victor Frankenstein loves most. Some may argue that this lack of compassion for the suffering of others may mean that the Creature does not possess a soul. This is simply not the case. Going back to the definition of a soul, it cannot be said that the Creature does not have some spiritual aspect to him, especially as the readers are given the opportunity to see inside the Creature’s own mind and struggles. Despite his sometimes violent nature, it is shown that the Creature has depth beyond his actions. Above all else, he craves companionship, he feels pain and he curses his maker for birthing him into such a lonely existence. It would seem highly unfair, after all of this, to say that he does not have a soul. He has something spiritual and reflective in his nature. While he is a monster, when given the opportunity to speak his truth he becomes far less terrifying and even rouses sympathy. Once he bears his soul, and we are given the chance to understand him, his murderous acts become only one facet of his being. For the characters in the text, however, who never get the opportunity to understand the Creature’s soul, he remains little more than a monster. This shows how the perception of a soul can completely change our understanding of a monster.In the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, author Robert Louis Stevenson explores the monstrous through the human soul. In many ways, it seems as though Stevenson is merely commenting on the darker natures of the human soul and how Dr. Jekyll uses disguise in order to carry out monstrous acts. Despite his normal appearance, readers feel fear towards both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because we know that his alter-ego acts on deep desires. However, unlike for the Creature in Frankenstein, readers can find very little justifications for the actions of Mr. Hyde. It seems as though his murderous and evil actions simply come from a place of deep thirst for suffering, as opposed to the Creature who acts out of loneliness and desperation most of the time. The other characters in the text, however, regard Dr. Jekyll as a noble man with noble pursuits, which only further serves to create the notion of him as a ‘monster’ from the readers point of view. His evil nature can go undetected at first, but it is his dark soul that truly characterizes him as a monster. From looking at both of these cases, it becomes clear that appearance has very little to do with our perception of the monstrous, and in our definition of what we may call a ‘monster’. It is the soul, the intentions of a monster and the lack of justification for actions that truly terrifies us. As readers, we are often privy to a deeper understanding of this soul than other characters within the text may be. A monstrous soul is far more terrifying than a monstrous appearance. It is here that true danger lies; it is from this that we are compelled to run.