Jenny Zimmerman  ~  Director  ~  Academic Resource Center

FYS 101XX32

Responses October 22

1       In the article “Texts for Torturers” by Martha Nussbaum, one reads about Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo who performed the Stanford Prison Experiment.  Nussbaum’s article focuses on how good people in the SPE turned “evil.”  This article does in fact relate to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein because of Nussbaum’s statement that the guards in the experiment lacked the ability to see the prisoners as human.  The guards lacked empathy and compassion, just as Victor lacked these qualities towards the monster. 

            Shelley’s Frankenstein provides support for Nussbaum’s claim in many different ways.  For one, the Stanford Prison Experiment deprived the prisoners of sleep and caused symptoms of depression and dislocation.  This attitude alone reflects the way Victor felt while creating the monster.  Another surprising comparison is the one between Zimbardo and Victor.  Zimbardo was so wrapped up in his experiment that he didn’t even realize the pain and torture he was inflicting upon his volunteers.  According to Nussbaum, “Zimbardo’s experiment showed the power of situations to overcome people’s better judgment” (2) which was true for not only the relationship between the guards and the prisoners, but the experiment proved true to Zimbardo’s character as well. 

The theory of situations overcoming people’s better judgment holds true to Victor’s character in the novel as well.  Victor is overcome by his ambition to gain knowledge and his desire to be known for something “great.”  His ambition becomes negative obsession and as a result, he creates a monster.  The monster is ugly and not at all what Victor had hoped to create, which is Shelley’s way of symbolically showing readers the negative outcome of one attempting to “play God.”  In the same way that Victor was attempting to play God in the novel reflects the similarity in Zimbardo conducting the Stanford Prison Experiment.  Nussbaum attacks Zimbardo’s own dual role as an investigator and prison superintendent throughout the conduction of his experiment.  Nussbaum believes that “Zimbardo is much too emotionally involved in the outcome, and is too present on the scene, steering his actors around, for the resulting behavior to be scientifically reliable” (2).  Like Victor, Zimbardo does not fully see how thoroughly his own personal “drama” affects the entire set of events.  Likewise, Victor eventually sees the catastrophes that his own actions have inflicted upon the rest of society however he chooses to not take personal responsibility. 

Nussbaum’s thought is that “research has amply confirmed that people of many different kinds will behave badly under certain types of situational pressure.  Through the influence of authority and peer pressure, they do things that they are later amazed at having done, things that most people think in advance they would never themselves do” (3).  This idea mirrors one of Shelley’s themes in Frankenstein because of the idea that Victor became completely engrossed in his work and failed to realize his actions would result in a negative outcome for not only himself but for the rest of society.  Zimbardo, likewise, failed to see that he was hurting people emotionally while performing the Stanford Prison Experiment.  Consequently, it took his wife “who was shocked by the abuse she witnessed” (1) to persuade him to end his unethical experiment.  What the guards lacked in the experiment was compassion and empathy.   Correspondingly, Victor also falls under the category of failing to show compassion.  Once Victor created the monster he abandoned his creation which only resulted in negative consequences, displayed throughout the entire novel. 


1  In the article “Texts for Torturers,” Martha Nussbaum claims, "What the guards in the experiment crucially lacked, when they lacked the ability to see the other as human, was empathy and its close relative, compassion." Shelly’s thought experiment, Frankenstein, does indeed provide support for Nussbaum’s prolific and profound claim. There are many parallels between the Lucifer’s Effect experiment and Shelley’s Frankenstein. In the case of Frankenstein, The Creature can be substituted in for the prisoners and Victor can be substituted in for the guards.  Victor’s “reflective sunglasses,” or inability to see The Creature as human, extended from the simple fact that he viewed his creation as a mistake; that is where. Victor hyped himself up by thinking and imagining that his creation would make history; he was determined to achieve something that no one else has achieved. Victor never gave himself room for error. When the labor of his work finally blossomed, disappointment served him a slap in the face. He did not expect The Creature to turn out the way he did. Because there was that lack of chanced failure, he aborted The Creature; he aborted a life that he deliberately created. It may not have been what he expected it to be, but he was still responsible for that life. Because of his unwillingness to show empathy or compassion, he proves to be no better than the guards in Lucifer’s Effect. He stripped The Creature of ever having an identity by never giving him a name, because he abandoned him.  Just as the guards, Victor caused The Creature to possess much fear, frustration, and loss of control. His fear stemmed from being physically abused by those he came  in contact with, his frustration came from being rejected not only by society, but by his own creator, and his loss of control came from  not being able to help what he looked like and even existing. He created this monster that society would never find acceptable.  


 Shelley's story does demonstrate the transformative possibilities that Nussbaum attributes to the arts and humanities. Shelley, or herself, embodies the source of arts and humanities, which Nussbaum suggests is imagination. With Frankenstein, Shelley explores the many struggles of man. She explores man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus self.  She successfully and boldly gets her feet wet in the aspect of science that sometimes is said that it should be left alone to God; man has no need to interfere with God’s work. She strategically addresses the “what if’s” of science. As a woman in her era, it took emotional stamina, development, and imagination to achieve the message she was trying to get across.


1 From the beginning of time, creation has been intended to be the result of a compassion action, meaning that one is able to show a concern for another in completing the deed.  According to Christian beliefs, humans were made simply so God could express love for them. Human reproduction was “designed” so that differently from plants and other organisms which produced asexually, there would be an action essential to procreation that allowed for the expression of compassion between beings.  In Shelly’s Frankenstein, Victor’s purposes for the creation of the monster are not of a selfless nature.  The pursuit is meant to bring satisfaction to only his self.  In lacking this, compassion, which Nussbaum argues to be necessary to one’s human view of another being, the experiment of Frankenstein is certain to be void of prosperity and consideration.

Although Victor’s aims in the creation of a “monster” were not fueled by compassion, they are not worthy of the label evil, as many readers are quick to assign.  The intentions for creation were not of a demented or twisted nature, simply one teeming with the human flaws of egotism and uncontrolled ambition. In support of Nussbaum’s theory, the metamorphosis of Victor’s creation from a creature to a monster is due to the fact of his uncompassionate creation.  Victor did not create the monster to love the creation, as did the Christian God and as do the majority of humans, but only to receive glory and notoriety in its manufacture.   

Nussbaum attributes loss of compassion to a generation taught to be emotionless, and encourages self-reflection at young ages.  However, it seems that the isolation that would be caused by such an introverted evaluation could only fuel more questions and ambitions like that of Victor Frankenstein’s.  Letters from Frankenstein discloses the separation experienced by Victor’s family as he worked towards his pursuit of creation.  Traditions are in place for a reason.  If a certain method always failed, it would not be repeated and hence, would not become a tradition.  True, there are some traditions that are not conducive to intellectual or emotional growth, but the theory of reproduction and some others have worked relatively flawlessly.  If children are encouraged to question everything they are told, America will be breeding a generation of haiku-writing, organic food eating cynics wondering aimlessly through life because nothing can be certain.  Many “traditions” and questions of life are not meant to be altered or answered, as Victor discovered in the work of Shelly.  


      1      Shelley’s Frankenstein supports Nussbaum’s claim that people who cannot see others as human lack empathy and compassion. In the novel, Victor is comparable to the guards who “were required to wear reflecting sunglasses, which inhibited any human connection with the prisoners”(Nussbaum 1). Like the guards who were not allowed to see the prisoner as human, Victor was not able see his monster as human because he lacked empathy and compassion for him. The monster’s “yellow skin”(Frankenstein 37), teeth which were “of a pearly whiteness”(Frankenstein 37), and hair which was “of a lustrous black”(Frankenstein 37) rendered Victor incapable to see the monster as a human. These characteristics only repulsed Victor and pushed him further away from the monster so that he was unable to empathize and have compassion with the monster.

            Shelley’s Frankenstein demonstrates the transformative possibilities that Nussbaum attributes to the arts and humanities. Nussbaum claims that the arts and humanities provide “vigorous challenges”(Nussbaum 5), which in turn strengthen the imagination. For Victor, he was able to indulge in the arts and humanities when he went off to Ingolstadt. There, he was able read “Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus” (Frankenstein 30) who are “the men to whose indefatigable zeal modern philosophers [are] indebted for most of the foundations of their knowledge”(Frankenstein 30). These men’s works provided victor with the challenges of interpreting and understanding them. Another vigorous challenge that Victor was able to overcome while in Ingolstadt, was that he was able to make “discoveries in the improvement of some chemical instruments”(Frankenstein 31). The arts and humanities provided Victor with many vigorous challenges while he was at Ingolstadt.

            The vigorous challenges that Victor was faced with at Ingolstadt substantially strengthened his imagination. Victor’s improvement of the chemical instruments was probably most instrumental in strengthening his imagination. His imagination was so strengthened that that he began to wonder whence “did the principle of life proceed”(Frankenstein 32)? He decided to solve this “bold question”(Frankenstein 32), which had always “been considered as a mystery”(Frankenstein 32) by attempting to create life. He was successful in this endeavor and he was able to create a monster with the help of the new chemical tools that he came up with in Ingolstadt. Victor’s imagination was so strengthened by the challenges that the arts and humanities at Ingolstadt provided him with, that he was able to create a monster. He was so transformed by the arts and humanities at Ingolstadt, that he was able to come up with the concept of creating life.


1Martha Nussbaum uses The Lucifer Effect to demonstrate how people react in different environments. The guards acted rude and mean because they were supposed to be the guards. Zimbardo “urged them to create an experience that included frustration, fear and loss of control” (Nussbaum). If, however, they were the prisoner’s they probably would not have appreciated the behavior. They lacked the compassion, just as the children in school did. When the brown eyed children were the underdog, so to say, they probably felt hurt and underappreciated. Yet, once the tables turned they gave no thought to how they were treated and would be cruel to the blue eyed children:The behaviour simply reverses itself: the brown-eyed children seem to have learned nothing from the pain of discrimination” (Nussbaum).

Victor Frankenstein had no compassion for the monster, just as the guards had no compassion.  He had no idea what it felt like to be abandoned and rejected. Victor had love and a family who cared. He relates “No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself” (Frankenstein 19). He never once thought about how the monster needed love and care. Victor only knew that the monster was gruesome and a horrible creation and upon looking at him felt the “bitterness of disappointment” (Frankenstein 36). If, however, Victor had not had the family he grew up with, he might have been more aware of the monster’s feelings and needs.

Nussbaum believes that people should be able to have the vivid imagination to be able to have empathy and compassion: “Compassion… is closely linked to the ability to follow the story of another’s plight with vivid imagination” (Nussbaum). For, if someone can actively empathize with a person they will be more caring and willing to help that person. People simply make judgments today never considering what the other person may have actually went through. Victor “escaped” (Frankenstein 35) monster and ignored him, creating a murderer who in the end destroyed him.  If he had taken the time to talk to the monster and treat him like a human his fortune might have ended differently.


     1         In Frankenstein, Shelley describes the lack of compassion Victor shows toward the monster that he created.  In turn, the monster does not know how to show any compassion toward anyone or anything. This sequence of events is similar to the experiment the school teacher carries out on the students of her class, in which she “informs them that children with blue eyes are superior to children with dark eyes. Hierarchical and vindictive behavior ensues. The teacher then informs the children that a mistake has been made: it is actually the brown-eyed children who are superior, the blue-eyed inferior. The behavior simply reverses itself: the brown-eyed children seem to have learned nothing from the pain of discrimination”(Nussbaum).   The monster has not learned anything from the pain that he has felt due to Victor either.  All that the monster wants now is revenge, so he hurts Victor in return.  He, too, learned nothing from the pain and discrimination.

            When people are placed in stressful situations, their better judgments can be overcome. Zimbardo concludes that “situational features, far more than underlying dispositional features of people’s characters, explain why people behave cruelly and abusively to others”(Nussbaum) .  He also explains that anyone can behave out of the norm, and that just because one behaves badly in a pressured situation does not mean that they are a bad person.  Yet, “other research suggests that deformed images of masculinity are to blame for at least some of the readiness for aggression that we see around us,”(Nussbaum) because young children are raised to believe tainted images of a “real man.”  They are taught that real men do not show emotions of sadness or pain, and that they should never be weak. 

This research, again, “suggests a Rousseauesque conclusion: we should bring up young men (and women) to understand that mutual interdependence and caring are not shameful or “unmanly””(Nussbaum).

            Victor could have retained his masculinity while being  caring and compassionate toward the monster.  He could have raised the monster to understand that being tough and mean is not the only way for a male to be. Had the monster been shown love, he could have been able to show the same emotions.  The monster did not know that he was only causing more pain for he and Victor by retaliating Victors harshness.  Had Victor known that his cruelty toward the monster would cause such chaos, his problem could have been solved before it was even a problem.


      1      I agree that Frankenstein supports Martha Nussbaum’s claim about situations transforming empathy and compassion.  In Frankenstein, the people he met judged the monster before they knew him, just as the prison guards in Zimbardo’s experiment dehumanized the prisoners by calling them by their number as opposed to their name.  Likewise, Frankenstein’s monster turned hostile because he repressed the compassion he learned to feel from the family that lived in the cottage.  He says of the family, after Felix and Agatha walked in on the monster at the feet of their father, “I could with pleasure have destroyed the cottage and its inhabitants” (Shelley 103). 

The reason the monster was so hostile was that because no one showed him any compassion, he could not reciprocate it to others.  He says, “I… finding myself so unsympathized with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin” (Shelley 104), because he felt so rejected by mankind.  So because he lacked that empathy from other human beings, he had no way to reciprocate it to human beings, and therefore the destruction he caused was due to his lack of empathy; this supports Nussbaum’s claim.  Similarly, in Zimbardo’s experiment, the guards could inflict sleep deprivation on the prisoners because the guards associated no humanity with the prisoner.  The guards were ordered- as part of the experiment- to feel no pity or empathy towards the prisoners as a means to make their role as the guards more effective.  However, it also served to dehumanize the guards to the point where the experiment became unethical.

            Frankenstein’s monster was educated solely by observation.  He did not study from books until he learned how to use a book and likewise how to read it.  He did not learn from lectures or typical schooling but only by watching the family that lived in the cottage, and other men that he encountered, as they interacted with each other.  Thus his education was highly transitive because there was little foundation.  Morally, he fluctuated based on the way human beings treated him.  When the old blind man accepted him into the cottage, the monster acted very humanly and proper.  He called the family “kind- [they are] the most excellent creatures in the world” (Shelley 102).  But when faced with rejection, he became a “scoffing devil” (Shelley 162) and said that, “feelings of revenge and hatred filled my bosom” (Shelley 105). 

Depending on how the humans treated him, Frankenstein’s monster responded in a similar fashion.  Thus he personifies the transformative possibilities Nussbaum suggests.  The less humanity he is shown, the more likely he is to respond violently whereas the more humanely he it treated, the more humanely he responds.  This goes along with Zimbardo’s conclusion that, “situational features, far more than underlying dispositional features of people’s characters, explain why people behave cruelly and abusively to others” (Nussbaum webpage) because Frankenstein’s monster exhibited both compassionate and completely destructive dispositions to humans.  The key factor as to how he treated the humans, however, was the human beings’ predisposition towards him, that is a situation feature.


1 In her article, Martha Nussbaum discusses the results of a famous experiment involving the removal of human qualities, specifically empathy and compassion. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein illustrates the conflicts that arise from the lack of humanistic traits. To escape from the ignorance he was placed in, Frankenstein’s monster pursues an education from reading Paradise Lost. This is an effect described by Nussbaum the she attributes to the arts and humanities. The story Shelley untwined collaborates with Nussbaum’s conclusion and the issues of violence present in our society.

According to Nussbaum, when humans conflict, one of the factors involved in the aggression of one toward the other is the lack of empathy and compassion toward the fellow human (Nussbaum). The conflict within Frankenstein between Victor and the monster supports this claim. The monster’s aggressions toward others arise from the lack of compassion he received from his creator. Nussbaum identifies this aggressive, power seeking trait in children, which can mean that the empathy and compassion in humans is a learned behavior (Nussbaum). The monster can be viewed as a child in this example.  Since the monster was not raised “properly,” he was not taught the importance of understanding the emotions of others.  When the monster does begin to recognize the “gentle manners” of the family of the blind man, he feels drawn to them, in contrast to the repulsion he experiences with Victor (Frankenstein 81). Thus, the inability of both Victor and the monster to empathize with one another leads to the unavoidable dissonance they exhibit.

                The importance of a broad, well founded background in the arts and humanities is recommended for the ability of human identification to develop adequately and it does demonstrate transformative possibilities in Shelley’s Frankenstein in the case of the monster (Nussbaum).  The exposure of the monster to literary works and the observation of humans transforms his ability to sense the pain of others.  After reading Paradise Lost, the monster feels more complete in his understanding of the workings and emotions of the people he encounters (Frankenstein 98). His actions against Victor are now a direct result of his revenge for the pain Victor caused him. Hitting him closer than ever as a direct act of aggression, he promises to hurt Elizabeth in their moment of the most intimacy (Frankenstein 131).

                Through understanding and compassion, the human element can dominate the situations one gets placed in. According to both Nussbaum and Shelley, the lack of emotional connections between humans initiates the struggle for dominance and aggression. If one can understand and identify with another person’s situation, then the likelihood of oppression of occurrence of violence would be lessened.


1  The monster that Dr. Frankenstein creates tortures him because he himself is tortured. The monster shows remorse for his actions, which requires some degree of compassion, but he continues to kill regardless of guilt. This is because of the lack of compassion that was shown for him. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, like Zimbardo, supports the notion that our torturous nature is due to society’s pressure, rather than some internal force. It could be argued that the monster is not human so his actions do not apply, but for the sake of this argument, he is human, and all his actions represent human ones.

            Nussbaum seems to suggest that Zimbardo is false in saying that the evil actions of men are because of their societies. Frankenstein, however, agrees with Zimbardo in his assessment. In Shelly’s novel, the creature and creator meet. The monster tells Frankenstein that he was once a “virtuous creature,” (FN 126) and that Frankenstein “treated him like a fallen angel, instead of Adam” (FN 124). These statements tell the reader that the creature was once good, but because of the way that Frankenstein treated him, he is now evil. The monster was tortured by Frankenstein through neglect. In kind, the monster killed and framed others to torture Frankenstein. This suggests that if Frankenstein had not neglected the monster, he would have been good.

            Zimbardo states “the humiliations and torments suffered by the prisoners were produced not by an evil system that…virtually ensures that people will behave badly” (TfT 5th par). In Shelly’s novel, the monster was good, until he was place in a system that made him do evil. The monster tells Frankenstein “If the multitude of mankind knew of my existence they would arm themselves for my destruction” (FN 125). For the monster, mankind is the system, and he is the victim. That is why he later states “Shall I not then hate them who abhor me?” (FN 125). He shows no compassion for his victims because he himself was shown no compassion. This is coherent with Zimbardos idea that human wrongdoings are directly due to society or the system.

            Nussbaum disagrees with both. He seems to think that human wrongdoing is due to some other inner problem. He states that “Situations do not elicit bad behavior from a stone, or even an elephant” (TfT 11th par). This insinuates that situations do not dictate outcome, but Shelly makes it quite clear that if the monster had not been treated in the manner that he was, he would not have turned out as evil as he was. Therefore, if Frankenstein is the reference, then Zimbardos evaluation of human compassion and coldness being influenced only by society are correct.


1   Frankenstein’s Feelings

            In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there were many shocking moments when the creature was badly mistreated.  This ties in to the claim that Nussbaum puts out about their being a “lack of empathy and compassion.”  When people saw the creature they did not think about the way that he may have felt or the situation he was in.  They just viewed themselves as being different and not belonging in the same ranks as him.  The only person who viewed him as a human being was the blind man and the only reason for that was that he was not able to judge the creature based on his looks.  On the other hand the children of the man did not take the time to try and find out who the creature was and attacked him.  Felix “struck him violently with a stick” (Shelley 103) within seconds of seeing him.  This shows the lack of compassion that was brought about by the lack of empathy.  If he had any empathy at all for the creature, he would have asked at least one question.  This also displays the fact that he did see the creature as human.  If the creature would have had a more human form, he would have been nicer to him and treated him as he had many others.  “The poor that stopped at their door were never driven away” (Shelley 100).  The reason was because they had a familiar human appearance, so they were not judged. 

            Shelley’s story demonstrates the transformative form of the arts and humanities because the creature was good until he was “shunned and hated by all mankind” (Shelley 111).  If the creature would have been treated in a humane fashion he would have been a good person, but the constant abuse caused his attitude to change and he did what he thought was necessary to stand his grounds and live life. In the article, the Zimbardo states the victims “blame the system,” which Shelley proves true with the creature.  He blames the system on which he was created and that is focused on his creator.  He aims to “work at his creator’s destruction” (Shelley 111).  This is because he sees his creator as the source of his problem and that is where they exert their anger.

            The creature is the perfect example is displaying Nussbaum’s view of Zimbardo’s topic.  The creature shows how society can change your attitude towards yourself and others.  An example of how his views on society changed are established after he saves a girl’s live and is wounded afterwards.  “Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind” (Shelley 108).  This was a major turning point in the creature’s life because at this point he felt as though he “was not made for the enjoyment of pleasure” (Shelley 108).  When people feel mistreated they tend to turn to anger and destruction to make them feel as though they matter and to give them a sense of self-control.  This is why Zimbardo says that people should be “educated so that they can learn to cope with life’s uncertainties.” 


  1           Martha Nussbaum believes that when people are unable to see each other in a compassionate way that is what makes them go crazy.  In Philip Zimbaro’s Stanford Prison Experiment Nussabaum says that the lack of the “ability to see the other as human” was what led to their depression and dislocation (TLS).  Those people who were chosen to play the role of the guards had to wear reflective glasses so that the people who played the role of prisoners would have no emotional connection.

 Victor Frankenstein tries to play the role of God by attempting to “infuse a spark of life into the lifeless thing” which becomes the monster (Frankenstein. 5).   Victor creates a creature and then completely abandons him.  The reason that the creature becomes a monster is because he is not treated with compassion, which is what Nussabaum says is the key ingredient in life and the way people view others.  The monster was being looked at by the people in the same way those who were imprisoned were seeing the guards.  Empathy was lost in the way that both sides were seeing each other. 

If the monster had been looked at with compassion and not through the glasses blocking the true view of what he was or how Victor responded to him, he would not be the monster that he became.  The monster ends up seeking revenge on Victor because of the absence of love that he was given.  Victor created him with nothing more than a passion to generate life.  He did not think that he was creating something that needs love to survive.  The monster says to Victormake me happy, and I shall again be virtuous” (Frankenstein. 10).   This just proves that the monster is misconstrued.   He is made out to be purely evil but it was his lack of tenderness and affection.  The monster “was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend’ (Frankenstein. 10).  He is admitting that if he had someone like him he would be happy and leave Victor alone.  Victor is in the wrong for creating the monster in the first place, then for abandoning him and forcing him to lead a life of suffering, and for not helping him find happiness.  Especially when Victor is the only one who would be capable f helping the monster find any form of happiness.

Victor’s “heart palpitated in the sickness of fear” when he finally realized the monster that he had created (Frankenstein. 9).  It is the same way that Zimbaro felt when he came to see that his experiment was not turning up with the results that he had hoped for.   Nussabaum was very right when she said that compassion is the answer to everything.  The world is seen through completely different eyes when it is seen with empathy for other people.


1            Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is misfortune and accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. Martha Nussbaum, the author of the Texts for torturers, believes that humans are naturally evil and that most individuals lack the ability to see evilness. In her article, Martha Nussbaum discusses Phillip Zimbardo’s Lucifer Effect.  Lucifer Effect is a famous experiment conducted by Zimbardo in 1971.  Its purpose is to study human behaviors when they are under isolation and pressures.  There are two objects in the experiment, the guards and the prisoners.  Nussbaum claims that “What the guards in the experiment crucially lacked, when they lacked the ability to see the other as human, was empathy and its close relative, compassion.”  Mary Shelly supports Nussbaum’s claim with her work Frankenstein

            Victor Frankenstein, the protagonist of Shelly’s novel plays the role of the guards in Frankenstein and the monster assumes the position of the prisoners.  It is because of Victor’s lack of empathy and compassion toward the monster that turns the monster into a murderer.  Victor is the sole reason why the monster takes on the path of evilness. Victor’s purpose of the creation is completely for his own good and in term, he “lacked the ability to see the other as human.” He states, “I, who continually sought the attainment of one object of pursuit, and was solely wrap up in this, improved so rapidly, that, at the end of two years, I made some discoveries in the improvement of some chemical instruments, which procured me great esteem and admiration at the University.” (Frankenstein 31-32)  Victor is constantly being terrified of the creature therefore, pushing it away.  For example, in the scene that Victor storms out of his house after his encounter with the monster, he states, “I took refuge in the court-yard belonging to the house which I inhabited; […] listening attentively, catching and fearing […] of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.” (Frankenstein 38) Victor clearly lacks the ability to view the creature as a being and turns it away.  It is because of these views and actions that the monster becomes a murderer.  If Victor would just show a little compassion then the result will perhaps be different.  In Nussbaum’s article, Zimbardo argues, “the humiliations and torments suffered by the prisoners were produced not by evil character traits but by an evil system that, like the prison system established in the SPE, virtually ensures that people will behave badly.” (Nussbaum)  The society is what people should challenge, not the individual. People tend to just things on its appearance more than anything does.  Victor despites the creature because of its look before he even gives it chance.

            Shelly’s story is a clear example of how the society is.  People follow the society’s standard of viewing an individual being rather than having individual judgments.  The loss of individuality contributes much to the lack of ability to see others as human. 


 1           Martha Nussbaum’s argument finds support in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and in the development of the monster as a character within the story.  While the creature’s humanity may be debatable, his personality and psychological development were negatively affected by society’s inability to see past his appearance.  Even Victor, his creator, failed to see things through the confused eyes of the creature.  Imagination enables a person to place themselves in another person’s shoes, and to relatively experience the pain other people are experiencing.  This alone enables compassion, and in the case of Frankenstein, he squelches this creative though with fact of science and rigid goals.  Shelley’s story provides the perfect example of the results from taking this lack of empathy to an extreme.

Over the course of the novel, Victor Frankenstein and the human species are portrayed more like the oppressive guards from the SPE, and the creature is the one abused in the beginning.  The creature was derived from a scientific endeavor in which Victor forgot his family and his previous passions.  The creature was doomed because it was borne through fact not passion, and it was never shown any creative outlets.  The creature’s sole focus became the prolonged misery of its sole creator, Victor.  Once targeted in this fashion, their roles switched, and the situation took over like in the article where “the behavior simply reverses itself: the brown-eyed children seem to have learned nothing from the pain of discrimination.”   Even though the creature knows true misery, now in power it still wishes to destroy its father.

            The creature feels no compassion towards his sworn enemy, and even experiences delight in causing misery in others.  “I gazed on my victim, and my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph,” says the creature after he murder’s Frankenstein’s young brother (Frankenstein 109).  This remorseless slaughter is the result of a similar situation to the SPE experiment; the creature had been oppressed since its inception and where it could have turned out a kind being it resorts to abuse in a position of power.  The creature’s whole story relates to the reader by appealing to the more negative side of life which everyone experiences at some point, and enabling the creature to express the rage created by those situations. 

            Mary Shelley’s horror novel provides adequate support to the statements of Martha Nussbaum in her detailed tale of oppression and lack of understanding.  Victor refuses to consider the creature’s position, leading the monster down the path of despair.  At the creature’s fall, it reaches out at reverses positions with Frankenstein to destroy everything he cared about.  This tale of misery could have been avoided if some form of compassion had ever been shown to the monster.  Pure focus and sole consideration of fact leads to an unhealthy atrophy of the imagination.  Without creative thought, humanity is doomed to neglect expression and the release of complex emotions.


  1          In Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, the character Victor Frankenstein parallels the guards from Philip Zambardo’s Stanford University experiment. Just as the guards did not see the prisoners as human, Frankenstein looks at his creation from his experiment as an inhuman monster. The reason he views his creation this way is due to a lack of empathy and compassion for the creature (Nussbaum).

            From the moment of creation, Frankenstein completely deserts his experiment and offers him no friendship or companionship. The moment Victor lays eyes on him, Victor runs away and leaves the monster. This neglect the monster experiences causes him to feel “wretched, helpless, and alone” (Frankenstein 98). The monster is insecure because he has no friends and is rejected by every human being he comes in contact with. According to Nussbaum, “fear and insecurity have often been linked with aggressive behavior” (Nussbaum). Nussbaum also claims that, due to situations that an individual may be placed in, “good people can do bad things under pressure” (Nussbaum). This is certainly the case for the monster. He was once an individual whose “whole being overflowed” (Frankenstein 177) with happiness and affection. Because he was deprived of compassion and sympathy from everyone, he became “a malignant devil” (Frankenstein 177). His situation of deprivation caused him to become what he, Walton, and Victor all refer to as a “wretch.”

            Mary Shelley’s story is a definite illustration of Nussbaum’s claims concerning the arts and humanities. Nussbaum attributes the arts and humanities as having transformative qualities that are crucial for one to view oneself as an individual rather than an “anonymous heir of tradition” (Nussbaum). This outlook will cause one to be “less likely to act on aggressive impulses” (Nussbaum). When the monster is residing outside of the cottagers’ house, he comes across a collection of books that he takes interest in and reads. These books produced in him “an infinity of new images and feelings, that sometimes raised [him] to ecstasy” (Frankenstein 96). He was at first confused by these feelings, but soon grew to enjoy the education he was receiving. The books became “never-ending sources of speculation and astonishment” (Frankenstein 97). He was beginning to think critically, which, according to Nussbaum, is essential in the development of an individual. The monster gets lost in the literature he has found, and a positive change overwhelms him. He begins to relate to the cottagers and becomes the most human he has ever felt. The only reason these feelings are reversed is because the monster experiences the rejection by the cottagers.


1   Science Project


            The claim, “What the guards in the experiment crucially lacked, when they lacked the ability to see the other as human, was empathy and its close relative, compassion,” made by Martha Nussbaum in the article “Texts for Torturers,” directly relates to Shelley’s thought experiment in Frankenstein (Nussbaum). The assertion focuses on the inhumane actions that lead the subjects involved in the science experiments to understand their responsibility in promoting “frustration, fear and [a] loss of control” to their surroundings (Nussbaum). The transformative possibility that Nussbaum centers upon, is in the development of an emotional state of mind that results from a vigorous and evil confrontation—such as the confrontation seen in Frankenstein and the Stanford Prison Experiment.

            Martha Nussbaum brings to attention the idea that “through the influence of authority and peer pressure, [people] do things that they are later amazed at having done” (Nussbaum). The proposal supports one of Shelley’s key points by instigating the importance of aiding another’s sense of individuality and confidence. Victor ultimately causes the creature’s distress because he overlooks his responsibility in initiating the essential emotional development; “when people are anonymous or think they will not be seen, they are more willing to do bad things” (Nussbaum). The preceding quotation is an obvious parallel to Frankenstein, because in the creature’s mind, he lives an anonymous existence. His lack of individuality and loss of confidence is followed with an aggressive persona, leading him to act upon his emotions by hurting others. 

            To take into consideration the emotions of another is an attribute that Nussbaum claims will lead to exemplary performances in the arts, humanities and sciences. Frankenstein demonstrates the negative effect that results from a lack of attention, because Victor abandons his creation due to its frightening physical appearance. The resulting emotional state “exhibits symptoms of depression and dislocation” (Nussbaum). Victor must understand that people “are all vulnerable, and [he] should judge [others] in a merciful way.” An individuals uncertainty will lead to demonstrations of negatively based emotions—a faulty analysis of the subject’s psychological structure.

Today’s scientific research would see results of superior worth if the consideration of others was taken into account. As seen in Frankenstein and the Stanford Prison Experiment, the scientists lacked the attributes Nussbaum views as essential in scientific research. The subjects, in the situations they were in, behaved badly due to the scientist’s forgetfulness toward the attention to emotions. Victor’s abandonment led to the distress of the creature, an action that will lead “good people to do bad things under pressure” (Nussbaum). It is the flawed performance of the scientist that led the experiment’s to their awful ends.



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