Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How The Monster Shaped His “Ego”: An Analysis of “Frankenstein”

Mary Shelley published her masterpiece “Frankenstein” in 1818. In her intricate story-telling, protagonist Victor Frankenstein succeeds to create a life from an assemblage of corpses, but he promptly turns it away, seized with a tremendous fear. The abandoned life, which Frankenstein calls “the monster,”  learns to live, interacts with people, and at last turns to a terrifying murderer with accumulated hatred of his creator, Frankenstein. Not only does the monster allude to the danger of science, but Shelley also depicts him as a sympathetic, fascinating character. In fact, she devoted whole six chapters to delivering the monster’s monologue (Chapter 11 to 16). By detailing the monster’s intellectual development meticulously, Shelley demonstrates how one’s self is shaped, and her depiction exhibits astonishing coherence with the ideas of modern psychologists, including Sigmund Freud.

In “The Ego and the Id” published in 1923, Freud defines the term “ego” as the sensible mental process driven by both conscious and unconscious in each individual. Such unconscious forces are what he calls “id.” The ego represents reason and common sense, while the id contains passions. (Freud 27) These mental interactions are specifically seen in the monster’s early days. Once the monster materializes, he seeks for food and drinks at first. He simply follows his primitive desire, saying “I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness.” (Shelley 42) Even though he has to survive the harsh winter with no protector, his reasoning skills enable him to manage the adversities; he conveys, “I examined the materials of the fire, and to my joy found it to be composed of wood.” (Shelley 42) The monster’s experiences are not always tasteful. When he enters a village for the first time, he unexpectedly faces the violence of human beings, recollecting “The whole village was roused; some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country, and fearfully took refuge in a low hovel, …” (Shelley 43) He perceives the villagers’ hostility toward him and learns the necessity for his safety to stay away from humans.

In addition to the id and ego, Freud introduces the concept of “super-ego.” This controls the idea of goodness: what you ought to be and what you may not be. The super-ego ranges from religion to morality to a social sense. (Freud 49) As for the monster, the observation of the De Lacey family greatly helps him develop his super-ego. He figures out that the family, whose members reside in a secluded cottage, was in poverty. He studies language as well as abstract concepts, “such as ‘good,’ ‘dearest,’ ‘unhappy.’” (Shelley 47) Freud, too, emphasizes the importance of word presentation which helps elevate a notion from being unconscious to being conscious. The monster also finds that doing good can fulfill himself. He covertly contributed to the cottagers, especially for his admirable Felix, by collecting wood for the fire and clearing their path from the snow. This proves the maturity of the monster’s super-ego. Meanwhile, the monster first sees his figure mirrored by a pool. He reveals his shock as “how was I terrified when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am …” (Shelley 47) Here the monster literally recognizes his look. Through this perception, part of his unconscious became conscious, which stimulates development in his self-awareness. Shelley shows that we construct our self by degrees.

Lastly, Freud concludes that there are two types of instincts: the life instinct and death instinct. The life instinct, or Eros, includes drives for survival, pleasure, and reproduction, whereas the death instinct is a craving for death and destruction. (Freud 55) Perhaps stimulated by Safie, cottager Felix’s love, and a biblical tale in “Paradise Lost” by John Milton, the monster begins to desire love and intimacy. He intimidates Frankenstein into creating another “monster,” or Eve for Adam; however, Frankenstein rejects that idea. This deep depression urges the monster to curse Frankenstein. (Shelley 59) Freud argues that both Eros and the death instinct exist at the same time. He writes, “after Eros has been eliminated through the process of satisfaction, the death instinct has a free hand for accomplishing its purposes.” (Freud 67) Now that the monster has lost any means of satisfying his Eros, the death instinct might be dominating his mind. As a result, he pursues the destruction of Frankenstein.

Freud sees the ego as a victim of the id, super-ego, the external world. (Freud 69) The self, or the internal perception, is always influenced by the outside. The De Laceys’ benevolence has grown the monster’s humanity. The desperate injustice and Frankenstein’s selfishness have mirrored the monster’s brutality as well. After Frankenstein’s death, the monster confesses: “Evil thenceforth became my good.” and “the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil.” (Shelley 98) At last, the monster was completely swallowed by the death instinct, saying “I shall die. I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me.” (Shelley 99)

The Romantic authors embraced individualism, the idea that everyone is inherently unique and possesses good human nature. The imaginary, gigantic monster Shelley embodies is more human in terms of psychological development. He is born innocent. He gradually brews his ego and super-ego while distressed by both the life and death instincts. Like the monster’s figure reflected in a pool in the forest, we can only see ourselves by interacting with the external world. Shelley teaches us how the self is being developed.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. “The Ego and the Id.” The Hogarth Press Ltd. London, 1949. Print.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. “Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus.” Public Domain, 2008. PDF file.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Priceless Gift From Dad

I was fifteen when my father Nobukazu died of complications from diabetes at the age 52. Our family’s laments lasted long, and this loss was also a pivotal point for me from which I began to think of what I was meant to be.

Nobukazu was born into the family hotel business in Honbetsu, Hokkaido—the north-most and coldest area in Japan. In his teens, his mother passed away, which forced him to help his family by laboring. After graduating from college in Tokyo, he got a job as a salesperson at a construction firm, where he met my mother. It required seven years of patience for this couple to have their first and only child. It was December 31st of 1982 when I first saw the sun.

My father long suffered from serious health problems. His diabetes eroded his kidney, and, as a result, he was required to take a hemodialysis treatment three times a week after his grueling full-time work. Despite his obvious fatigue, I often complained that he hardly played with me or took us on a family trip. His only peace of mind was music; he collected vinyl records and cassette tapes of American folk singers, including his favorite Simon & Garfunkel.

I remember a humid, sweltering day in the summer of 1998, the year I started high school. I told my dad that I did not intend to go to college. I said, “I’m sick of rote learning. The school’s curriculum is nonsense!” I had studied music by my own and dreamed of being a composer.

“No, Yosuke! You definitely need to obtain a bachelor’s degree, at least! This will surely benefit you. Follow my words,” my father said, infuriated with my statement.

I rebelled, shouting “I am to be an artist. I’m not interested in being a boring, ordinary employee, someone like you!”

We never compromised. The conversation between us disappeared after that argument, which still adheres to my memory like sweat that never gets wiped off. I did not know that Father’s illness had worsened so acutely. Complications involved glaucoma and red rashes pervading his skin constantly irritated him.

In the November of the same year, Nobukazu was placed in a hospital due to persistent fevers. I saw him every other day after class. We exchanged some words. When he showed anguish, I held his hand. He smiled at me. His arms were connected to millions of ducts for the interminable intravenous lines. Over the window I saw a maidenhair tree, all of whose leaves had fallen, preparing for winter. On December 15th, I was jolted by a call from my mother. I rushed to the hospital, but a few minute after I arrived, my father’s heartbeat gently faded out.

I was in confusion for a while, but his Buddhist funeral taught me that this was an indubitable reality. A couple of days after Father’s death, I, attired in a new, uncomfortable black suit with a tie and prayer beads, headed to the hall with my mother. There were a lot of chores for preparation. “We are too busy to mourn for him,” grinned my mother. Her cell phone was relentlessly ringing while we had a meeting with the ceremony staff. After the meeting, they brought in the casket in which Nobukazu rested. My relatives gathered around it. I opened the casket, uncovered the cloth on his face, and let them see his placid countenance. “Beautiful… What a beautiful face!” my maternal aunt sobbed. He looked as if he was just sleeping, but his skin was as cold as windows in winter. Above his casket were a myriad of white chrysanthemums and lilies cuddling up to his smiling picture. A Buddhist priest burned incense, the dense smoke of which blurred Nobukazu’s postmortem name, Nikka—given by the priest for use in “the afterworld”— inscribed on the spirit tablet.

Father’s ceremony drew over six hundred visitors, including my teacher Mr. Sakai and my newly acquainted classmates. One of my classmates was too young to perform the ritual of burning incense properly. Everyone was unprepared for his premature death. On the following day, a golden hearse took my parents and me to the crematory. After his body was burned at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, we collected his remnants into a cinerary urn with chopsticks. His bones and ashes were buried in his grave as the first resident.

This event made me want to be independent. I started working at a video game company while I was in high school. I did not go to college. Instead, I continued my career as a software engineer in several industries. A few years later, my mother revealed two things about my father. “The day before his death,” she said, “he just said ‘Yosuke would be alright.’” He believed in my success whichever route I would choose. She also told me how he decided upon my name.
I am thankful for my father, who has been a guide for me even after his demise. If I could speak to him now, here are the words I wish to say:

Dear revered Dad,

How many winters have passed since you commenced a long, long journey? Since you were gone, I’ve discovered many things about you. I didn’t know you were liked and respected by hundreds of your colleagues. I didn’t know you were good at cooking and playing the guitar. I didn’t know you were always caring about me as a first priority. I was living in a bubble. Now I, as an adult, have come to understand how hard it is to put bread on the table, how exhausting a hemodialysis treatment you took was, how agonizing your endless pain was, and how much you dedicated yourself to others throughout your life. You and Mom are the best parents in the world! I’m so proud of being your son. I really want to be someone like you.

And I heard where my name, Yosuke, had come from. In the early morning on the day after my birth, you were walking along the Edo River full of jubilation. There you saw the first sunrise of the new year. Stunned by the sanctity of that scene, you spontaneously named me Yo—the sun in Japanese. I feel my name is a special gift bestowed by you.

I am now a student in the United States after having worked in Japan for years. Here, every day brings a new adventure. Sometimes I miss Mom, but we are alright. Wherever in the world we are, the sun rises every morning.