The Monster Ate Vegetables

Stefany Anne Golberg in Lapham's Quarterly:

Frankenstein-thumb-490x300-2344 Mary Shelley was nineteen when she wrote Frankenstein. We wonder how a teenager could come up with this uncanny tale of a young student who, becoming obsessed with the mysterious science of galvanism, drops out of school and transforms himself into a “Modern Prometheus,” a god who gives life to an artificial creature, composed of the stuff of man but larger than man, and far more dangerous. Perhaps the clue to Shelley’s creation lies in youth itself. Only the young can really give us our monsters. Only the young see shadows where there is sunshine, hear the march of drums when the rest of us hear a song we used to dance to. Only the young can see pure evil, because only the young believe in the power of purity. Only the young really know why monsters are so terrifying, and what they show us about ourselves.

It’s surprising that Mary Shelley would make her horrible Monster a vegetarian. Surprising, because we think we know our monsters well. We’ve looked at Frankenstein’s monster a million times. But we never really listened to what he had to say. It shouldn't be surprising that Frankenstein’s monster is a vegetarian, because we've always known that vegetarians are monsters. Mary Shelley understood this. “Devil,” “fiend,” “insect,” Frankenstein calls his creation, but for Shelley he was Adam—purity before the Fall, goodness, gentleness, freedom, and also loneliness, failure, devastation. For all these reasons, Shelley made her Monster a vegetarian.

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