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Frankenstein: The Abused and Neglected Child

Updated on January 20, 2021

Thousands upon thousands of pages have been written about the fictional character of Frankenstein. Many thousands of pages have been written about the brilliant 1931 James Whale film version. And yes, much has been discussed regarding Boris Karloff's legendary portrayal of the pitiful, sympathetic monster. Unlike Dracula, Frankenstein's monster truly deserves the sympathy Karloff infuses into the character. We might feel sympathy for the Wolfman, but we only sympathize with the troubled Lawrence Talbot, but not for the snarling werewolf he turns into.

Interestingly, the Frankenstein Monster is not a being that evokes pure terror. Children seemingly know they must keep their distance from the Frankenstein creation, but they do not fear the monster. In an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland, a very likely reason why this is so was put forth.

Frankenstein is a "big kid."

The quaintness of such an assessment gives way to a brutal truth found in the original film. The Monster is an abused child, and the abuse he endures contributes significantly to the violence and mayhem he commits.

Parental Neglect and Sibling Abuse

Henry Frankenstein is the prototypical neglectful parent. He brings the Monster into the world, and then, the minute he discovers there are responsibilities with having a child chooses to abandon those responsibilities. Instead, he does not leave home but chooses to neglect his "child's" needs and provides no nurturing. Instead, he throws himself into his work and grows to see his progeny as a burden.

Fritz's actions towards the Monster are of wanton cruelty, and it is cruelty born of jealously. Fritz's torturous tormenting towards the Creature may be rooted in a hatred for the attention Henry gives to the newborn and not to the child who has always been loyal and doting. (We see more of this theme played out in the more B-movie-ish House of Frankenstein when J. Carrol Nash takes over the role of the assistant) Fritz also feels a sense of self-loathing reinforced by the condescending and mean-spirited treatment Henry directs towards and his assistant. Fritz has no family (it seems) outside of Henry, and the pseudo-father figure of Henry Frankenstein is equally foul in his treatment of Fritz as he is towards his new creation.

Abnormal Brain or a Tortured Heart and Soul?

A traumatic childhood may contribute to problems later in an adult's life.

Those who experience abuse, neglect, and mistreatment when young might be at risk of developing personality disorders and psychological problems. In some cases, the adult who commits crimes is being motivated, in part, by the screaming sounds of childhood trauma that are trapped deep within the recesses of the mind. The lack of interest from a surrogate father and the outright physical abuse from his surrogate sibling does very little to help develop the Frankenstein Monster. Karloff's pathos is often rooted in pain, and this pain manifests forward from the awful treatment the creature endures.

How could the creature do anything other than lash out after being treated by Dr. Frankenstein and Fritz in the way he is?

Do not forget that the brain that was put into the head of the monster was an adult brain, an infamously criminal brain. We could concur that the link between childhood abuse and criminal behavior creates the possibility that the dead brain's original human host may have been abused as a child. The brain is "reset" when placed in the cranium of the monster. Perhaps deep down in this brain's recorded memories, there may be latent thoughts about prior abuse.

While the newly created and brought to life creature might not yet be able to tap into the brain's learning and intellectual capabilities, the emotional components are there. The creature shows fear and confusion. It also shows a sense of wonder towards the light of the sun. The emotional components of the brain are there to some degree.

Some might be a bit skeptical towards this assessment because the creature did not exactly have a lot of time to develop. The movie seems to take place over a scant number of days, a few weeks at the most. How could the creature internalize horrible treatment and become a destructive adolescent so quickly?

The vicious treatment that the monster receives could trigger the traumatic memories trapped in the abnormal, criminal brain. The creature becomes more prone to violence since it likely has experienced a history of violence. The prior host of the abnormal brain may have grown from abused child to violent adult.

The Frankenstein Monster is a child in the body of a fully-grown, powerful adult. He is caught somewhere in the middle of his psychological and emotional development. He prefers to be a child but is forced to grow up quickly like many abused and neglected children. His adult outbursts are reflected in violence and murder.

Final Question

So we are left with the question "Is the Frankenstein Monster to blame for his actions?"


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