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Frankenstein: The Abused and Neglected Child

Updated on December 1, 2014

Thousands upon thousands of pages have been written about the fictional character of Frankenstein. Many thousand 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 is a creature truly deserved of the sympathy Karloff infuses into the character. We might feel sympathy for the Wolfman, but we only have sympathy for 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 greatly 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. He does not leave home but, rather, chooses to greatly neglect his "child's" needs and provides to nurturing. Instead, the throws himself into his work and grow to see his progeny as a burden.

Fritz's actions towards the Monster are of wanton cruelty and it is a cruelty born of jealously. The torturous tormenting that Fritz directs towards the Creature may be rooted in a hatred for the attention Henry gives to the newborn and not to the child that 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 assistant) Frtiz also feels a sense of self-loathing that is 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 certainly contributes to problems later in an adult's life.

Those who experience abuse, neglect, and mistreatment when young are at great 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 the development of 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 original human host of the dead brain may have been abused as a child. The brain is "reset" when placed in the cranium of the monster. Perhaps deep down in the recorded memories of this brain there may be latent thoughts about prior abuse.

While the newly created amd brought to life creature might not yet be able to tap into the learning and intellectual capabilities of the brain, the emotion 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 possibly act as a trigger to 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, like many abused and neglected children, is forced to grow up quickly. He 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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