Who’s The Real Monster Here?
Frankenstein is a novel about monsters, for monsters, written by a monster. This may offend some people, but the truth is that the darkness that lies within this novel and its character are within each person that reads it. No one in this world is perfect; therefore, each flaw that exists within the reader should allow that person to connect and relate to each character on a personal level. Whether the story is describing Victor Frankenstein, his creature or Elizabeth, the reader is acutely aware of their shortcomings, for it has existed within themselves at one point, in some way. Its universality is also evident in its critique of society, which Mary Shelley crafts cleverly in this novel.
Shelley spares no rod in her critique of nineteenth century society, for not only does she cut quick and sharp, but she does so over a variety of matters. In chapter fourteen of Frankenstein, the tragic story of the cottagers that the creature has been observing comes to light. Corruption, pride, and xenophobia was the source of the beloved cottagers’ sorrow and poverty. According to the text, it was the Parisian way to judge and condemn people based on “religion and wealth rather than the crime alleged” (Shelley 110). Safie’s father’s otherness as a Muslim Turk in Paris, who was bold enough to vocalize his opinion, led to his fatal condemnation. This discrimination is continued and upheld in society to this day in a plethora of ways.
Many countries, communities, and societies have a conditioned prejudice towards people of differing appearances and beliefs to that of the majority in that area. There are thousands of examples worldwide where this can be observed, but one of the more recent discriminations being done are against transgender people in the United States. In June, policy from the White House was finalized “that would remove nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people when it came to health care and health insurance” (Simmons-Duffin par. 1). Sex, according to this policy, is described as the biological assignment from birth, rather than a person’s internal identification. Though many may argue that this is a more accurate depiction of a person’s sex for medical purposes, it brings up more complicated issues in the discussion of medical coverage.
“Gender dysphoria,” or “distress caused by a discrepancy between the gender that a person identifies as and the gender at birth” (“Trump Admin…” par. 4), is a medically recognized condition that has medically-induced treatments, which were covered under the Affordable Care Act until now. This change was influenced by religious and political views that believe that the concept of transgender is ridiculous or conflicting to their beliefs, and see transexuals, people who have undergone a physical transition from one gender to another, as monstrosities. This change in policy not only makes the price of transitory surgery, a procedure that allows people to lead more mentally healthy lives, astronomical, but also bans medical coverage for transgender individuals for common conditions, such as diabetes, heart problems, and even regular check ups.
Many states and organizations have vocalized their outrage through lawsuits, but that doesn’t reverse the harm being done to people who identify as transgender. The government and parts of society have ostracized this group socially, but they took it one step further by attempting to exile and abandon them just as Victor Frankenstein did to his creation. Trans people are still American citizens that are part of the social contract between them and the government they live under. They exchange their compliance with the law for protection by the law, but now that their protections are gone, there is little that can prevent the outrage and chaos that will inevitably ensue. All peoples that have lost protection from their government have reacted this way throughout history and Frankenstein’s creation is no different.
Abandonment and rejection led the creature down a path of loneliness and shame. After revealing himself to the cottagers that he had taken a liking to and being rejected, he realized that he will never be accepted amongst humans. Even though they claim to be intellectual and knowledgeable, many humans lack the emotional intelligence and understanding to accept and care for the creature because of their xenophobic societal conditioning. The very people that were put into poverty because of the government’s fear of otherness ironically showed no kindness to another being’s otherness. Not only are humans rude to the creature, but even his own creator is actively seeking to kill him and remove his otherness from this world.
It’s disappointing and horrifying to see humans treat other beings in such cruel ways, especially when the differences between each person/being is not as drastic as many people like to make it out to be. Often, otherness is highlighted rather than likeness because hate is easy. It’s so much easier to have an enemy or idea to fight against rather than banding together to support and love each other. It’s easy to point the finger to another or blame a group of people. It’s hard to actually put work in to solve the problems that need to be solved. Victor takes the easy way out every time rather than accepting his responsibility as a creator and owning up to his wrongdoings. Even Elizabeth admits that she feels wrong for calling others monsters when she herself has done wrong. She knows she cannot cast the first stone, for she too is a monster in her own right. She is simply one of the few who are able to admit it.
In many ways, the novel Frankenstein can be boiled down to one word: monstrosity. It describes a creature that is thought to be a monster created by a monster named Victor Frankenstein, and the novel itself is like the monster it describes, stitched together by many different voices and perspectives. As a social critique, this novel elucidates the reality that higher knowledge and intellect does not always result in morality or justice as can be seen by the many ethical dilemmas weighed by each character and the way they respond to these dilemmas. These critiques also have direct relation and relevance to the issues surrounding transgender people and their access to medical care and coverage today. Although the circumstances relating to trans rights are not directly analogous to the creature’s, Frankenstein serves as an example of just how far this issue can worsen if left unresolved.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Diane Johnson. Frankenstein. Bantam Dell, 2003.
Simmons-Duffin, Selena. “Transgender Health Protections Reversed By Trump Administration.” NPR, NPR, 12 June 2020, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/12/868073068/transgender-health-protections-reversed-by-trump-administration.
“Trump Administration Revokes Transgender Health Protection.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 12 June 2020, http://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-06-12/trump-administration-revokes-transgender-health-protection.
Peanut Butter and Honey Sandwich
My heart is a kettle boiling water on a stove. Heat radiates around it, pressure increasing, and it screams louder and louder until it’s too hot to even touch the handle. This heat comes from many sources on this metaphorical stove but let me talk about the one that controls the stove’s dial, my mind. Since anxiety and worry have pervaded my mental existence for as long as I can remember, the dial tends to stay fixed at high heat settings. I like to blame my mother for passing this down to me, that I was genetically predisposed to caring too much. However, that is not the case, and I know it. I must choose to take full responsibility for my thoughts and the actions that transpire from them. There are people with chemical imbalances in their brain which can result in a lack of control over their brain’s functions, but I am not one of them.
I allow myself to replay moments, useless thoughts, and worst-case scenarios over and over in my head, turning up the heat of the stove until my heart is screaming at me to stop. I choose not to listen because searing heat is what I’m used to and pretty much all I’ve ever known. The few times I have heard the screams were during meditation, but hearing and listening are two different things. If I had been truly listening, I might have taken the day off instead of working a double shift or let go of a toxic person in my life long before I became dependent on them. Whatever the situation was, if I had been listening to my heart, maybe the water within would be at a gentle, rolling boil instead of a scorching, explosive one. It would be a temperature you can steep tea and cook noodles at nicely. A temperature that doesn’t cause all the water, the emotions, to evaporate within minutes, leaving nothing but a blackened bottom.
Being the master of one’s own mind is easier said than done. Many people think they’re in control of their mind and many believe that their mind is outside of their control. However, those that are truly in tune can be sensed even by those that are completely out-of-synch with their surroundings. They’re the eye of the storm. While everyone else is caught up in the hustle and bustle, worrying about things they cannot control, there’s the people who seem strangely calm and collected. The world could be ending, and they’d just laugh and crack open a beer. My best friend, Duane was one of these people.
On a bright, windy, September morning, Duane invites me to go spear fishing with him and his coworker. I hadn’t done much more than snorkel and swim before, so I was hesitant. Over the phone, he said, “Lani, I won’t let you drown. I may get mad if you scare all the fish away, though.” I couldn’t help but laugh and meet him at the beach later that day. The wind had died down a bit at this point, but the break was still strong. We unload all the gear from his suburban and make our way down to the entry point. He gives me the layout of the land in this underwater world he so often visits. I nod nervously while he explains the areas to avoid. We suit up and make our way into the water.
As soon as I get in deep enough, I try to put my fins on, but the waves had another plan for me. The ocean pushes me around like a little girl in a death metal mosh pit. Spitting up water, I continue to try to get my foot in the fin. Once I do, I swim a short distance into the break until my fin strap snaps. Exasperated, I let myself wash back onto the shore and sit on the sand trying to fix the strap. Duane and his coworker are already quite a way out and I’m still fiddling with this darn strap. I give up on trying to fix it and swim out holding them in my hands. I finally reach Duane and show him my broken fin. He takes it and within a couple minutes hands it back to me fixed. I gape in astonishment that he was able to do it so quickly and underwater no less. He looks at his watch and says we better get going.
It’s this kind of energy that magnetized me to him. I felt like I’ve always been awkward and bumbling. Then this beast of a man comes into my life and tells me that I’ve got potential. He sees what I and many others don’t see in themselves. He sparked a fire within me. Even though he had years of experience on me, I was determined to get stronger and be better to one day rise to or above his skill level. We trained on land and in the water to strengthen my heart and lungs. He went to the gym with me to help build my confidence in the weight room. It’s such a great feeling to be able to squat just as much or more weight than the guy twice your size next to you.
That spark that became a strong flame quickly turned into a raging bonfire the more we trained together. However, I knew I would never catch up to him. He had more practice and was putting in twice the work I was, as if it came as natural as breathing. Eventually, I gave up trying to beat him and decided to work on my strengths instead of my weaknesses for a while. I still beat myself up occasionally for giving up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Duane was starting to lose touch. It gets lonely at the top. He loved training and anything physical, but there were fewer and fewer people that could keep up or even wanted to go because they knew Duane wouldn’t make it easy. I wonder if I would have kept with it if I could have been there for him in Molokai… maybe he wouldn’t have gone so deep or came up so fast.
It was the day after Valentine’s Day. Duane had decided to fly to Molokai for a “man’s weekend” where he would go free diving and hunting, enjoying the great outdoors. When he told me his plans, I assumed he was going with one of his buddies and told him to be careful. He looked me in my eyes, held my shoulders, and asked ever so quietly, “Am I ever not?” I looked away ashamed because I knew he was right and, if anything, he should be the one telling me to be careful while he’s gone. Little did I know that he would be gone forever.
He was twenty-six years old, the biggest asshole I ever knew, and the first person you’d choose to head into a fire fight with. He was there for me at my weakest moments and proudest achievements. When I felt my motivation going into a downward spiral on a run, he’d trot back to my side and laugh at me. Then he’d look me up and down and say, “Is that all you’ve got?” That would incite a flash of defiance into my step, clearing my vision, forcing me to push my shoulders back, and helping me to forge ahead. To me, it’s the smallest actions that show me a person’s worth. That was one of the little things he did for me: he always encouraged me to be harder, better, faster, stronger… and the rest of Kanye West’s “Stronger.” Yet, even the strongest and toughest people are just that, people, and like all people, they die. At some point, their heart stops beating, their lungs stop expanding, and the light leaves their eyes. The dead can only live on in the people’s lives they’ve touched.
There are moments you share with people that stick with you like honey on your tongue or like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth. Both pleasurable in taste, but quite different in how you remember the flavor. In the beginning, it was all honey. Drinking Corona with a twist of lime on Secret Beach as the afternoon sun blazes above us, diving into a school of fish like a mirror shattering brilliantly before your eyes, and hiking Waimano Falls to be able to swing into the brisk pond below. Sweet and lovely, these memories sit lightly on my tongue, but I know they will fade in flavor with time.
It’s the peanut butter moments that stick with you forever. The thick, gooey flavor that gets stuck in your teeth and leaves a peanut-buttery taste in your mouth for hours. My favorite peanut butter memory was after a long day at school. He invited me over to have a couple drinks because his day had been even longer than mine. “Jet surgery is hard work, yah know,” he states haughtily, “I don’t just sit around all day.” I shot him an icy glare and he laughed a deep belly laugh. I had just come from a workout, so I desperately needed a shower. He tossed me a towel and turned on the water. I had spent the afternoon trying to figure out what classes to register for, whether I was going to continue with my Biology degree plan, whether I wanted to continue college at all, and what I was going to do with it. These thoughts had continued to run through my mind the rest of the day.
I let my mind turn up the heat so high that the additional heat from the hot shower caused me to explode. My strength broke and my walls crumbled as I slid down to the shower floor. I poured my heart out through my tears as the warm water poured down over my head. I cried until my breath was ragged and I was shuddering. I emerged from the bathroom 20 minutes later slouched over, red in the face, and eyes swollen. He takes one look at me and walks over to pull me in for a hug. He holds me until I stop shaking and whispers into my hair, “It’s okay. You’re okay.” I didn’t believe him, but I kept repeating it in my head until I calmed down. When I finally did, he walked to the counter, poured out two shots of Proper Twelve, handed me one, and toasted, “To all the bullshit that has yet to come.” We laughed and poured what is now my favorite whiskey down the hatch.
The “truth” is that there is no Truth. Badass people choose to be badass and shit bags choose to be shit bags. Terrible people can live a hundred years and awesome people can live twelve. People chalk shitty things up to a greater plan or purpose, but I think, sometimes, terrible things just happen. You can use that as an excuse to be dick or you can let it be the heat that boils the water in your kettle and create the most delicious tea imaginable, sweetened with a little honey.
I feel her iron stare boring into the back of my skull. I slowly swivel my head around to meet her glassy eyes.
“I worry about you, you know,” my mother states emotionally. I can tell she is being sincere, but I question her reasoning. Usually, she points out a fault in my mind, body, or soul and blames it on Dad. I wonder what she has up her sleeve today.
“Why?” I don’t really care for or need a response because I can think of a thousand reasons to worry about a person without adding her paranoia to the mix. However, I feel obligated to continue. “You know I’m fine, Ma. When you worry, you suffer twice.”
“Well, I know you’ve been under a lot of stress lately. I can tell because the bags under your eyes are so dark. I guess you can’t help that. Your dad gave you such thin under eye skin.” I almost don’t want to continue this conversation because I already know where this is going. Ever since I hit my teens, my mother started using her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy to diagnose and therapize me. My dad’s side of the family has a short, yet consistent history of bipolarism amongst the women. At least one woman from each generation for the past three have had it to some degree. She’s just waiting for the signs to arise to prove that this curse is true.
Practically begging, I say, “Ma, I’m fine. Can we just eat dinner together?” Stress isn’t even half of it. I know her fears are legitimate because I share her same worries. The rubberband that I call my mind has been pulled so taut that I just hope no one’s in the way of the backlash when it snaps. I know that I won’t be able to protect anyone from the pain, especially not those closest to me.
Obama had just left office and Trump was on his way in. My parents were losing their minds over this. In utter disbelief, my mom ruffled her feathers and cocked her head from left to right as my father grunted angrily upon hearing the election results. I just stared blankly at the screen. I had lost all interest in politics after Trump was chosen as the Republican nominee. Now that Trump and Biden are the main nominees, I’ve reached the pinnacle of my apathy towards all presidential campaigns. I only care about my local elections at this point. However, that doesn’t stop my parents from ranting.
I would go into detail about these rants, but I don’t think anyone really cares, least of all me. However, I care for them, so I listen to them with a facial expression of vague interest. The worst part is when my mother asks me a question.
“It’s insanity, right?” my mom asks forcefully.
That’s when I realized I hadn’t been listening at all. Instead, I had been imagining what interdimensional surfing would be like. I sputter, “I know! I can’t believe it.” I guess it answered the question well enough for her to continue. She settles into her rant and I prance back to my daydream land. Lately, conversations with her tend to go this way: she lays down a subtle yet cutting comment, I play a defensive spell that whisks my mind into a state of aloofness, she continues to berate the every fiber of my being, I unconsciously hear all of it and internalize it, and she ends every conversation the winner whether it was a debate or not.
I gaze out the car window and imagine being a bird in the lush forests we pass on the way downtown, being anywhere but here. I used to try to stand my ground, arguing my point until we’re both red in the face. Now that it’s my last year living at home, I’ve kind of given up. Maybe it was the hope that one day she’d listen and see the validity of my opinions that kept the fire stoked. All that’s left are the embers, slowly smoldering in my stomach. Coursework has never been that difficult for me. I was a casual straight A student that spent her free time doing activities that would boost my college scholarship application to, hopefully, exemplary status. How disappointed I’d be when I realized that all those hours of community service, sports, and student council would be better spent actually enjoying my life.
It wasn’t until I moved away that my mother would call me to actually talk rather than scold or remind me of all my shortcomings. Supermassive Black Hole blares on my iPhone 5C to notify me that “Mama Bear” is calling. I pick up on the third ring. “Hey, Mom… what’s up? Everything ok?”
“Of course… Is everything okay with you?” she asks with a twinge of worry in her tone.
I try to respond back with what I know she wants to hear. “Of course,” I state pointedly, “why wouldn’t it be?” I feel as though she’s fishing for something to get angry about, so I try to be as vague as possible. “I love it here and my classes aren’t too difficult,” trying to placate her unsettled mind.
“I worry about you, you know,” she whines into the phone. I can feel her anxiety rising through the speaker.
I sigh, “I know.” So I decided to give a few specifics that would make her feel better. “My roommate is really nice. She’s from Shanghai and said I could visit her anytime she’s back home.”
Her voice lightens as she says, “Wow, that’s lovely,” and deepens ever so slightly as she continues, “but, tickets to Shanghai are really expensive. Maybe she should come visit you in Hawaii.”
What a party pooper, I groan in my head, but say to her, “Yeah, maybe.” Silence settles between us that I’d rather not break. Usually an uncomfortable silence is enough for her to say the real reason she called.
“Well, I just wanted to see how you were doing and talk a little bit,” she states cheerfully.
“Oh,” I squeak in surprise, “ok.”
“I gotta get back to work. Love you. Bye.”
“Love you too. Bye.” I hang up the phone and all I can think is What the fuck was that? Having a normal conversation with my mom felt like one of the most bizarre situations in the world. But, it was also… kind of nice? There was no animosity between us, just genuine curiosity. Then it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, she missed me. Just before I started packing my bags for college, she’d say how she couldn’t wait for my “ungrateful ass” to finally move out. Now, here she is calling me as if those words never passed her lips. The bite of each insult she ever spoke upon me still stung. I had come to believe that all she described me as was true. I really am just a dumb, disrespectful bitch with no common sense.
Then why am I smiling right now? I should be furious! The very thought of my own mother should make me want to run my fist through a wall. Yet, here I am smiling, forgiving her, and hoping we can talk again soon. As 2016 flew by, we had the chance to talk on the phone every week or so. Each conversation was led by the more or less the same questions: “How’s school?”, “How’s work?”, “Has the weather been ok?”, and “are you ok?” The last was an unspoken question that I attempted to answer with my response to the other three questions. I basically tried to convince her that I was mentally stable when I had given no indication that I ever wasn’t. I mean, sure, I’m a bit of a crybaby, but I’m sensitive, not questioning my sanity.
When summer break rolled around, I had decided to move back home. We just couldn’t afford to send me to Kansas State University anymore even with my partial scholarship and in-state tuition rate. Being back in my childhood home, despite only being gone for a year, felt surreal. The house looked the same. The garage filled to the brim with random tools, bits, and bobs. Shoes scatter the floor before I walk through the door. The scent of curry and Yankee candles linger in the air as I step in. After I moved out, my little sister had stolen my old room and left me with hers, which was approximately the size of a shoebox. I felt like my reality had been downgraded, as if my Wifi speed dropped so low that one can only expect to wait at the buffering screen forever.
I was living back home and going to community college. It was actually really nice. I loved my classes and professors because I could understand their accents and had way less homework. I also could hang out with my friends and family. I guess the year away did some good. It showed my mom an alternate reality where I’m not always physically there for her. Her main love language is physical touch; whereas, mine has always been quality time. I hated being near or touching people and my mom never had the time. It was a dance I had known the choreography to for almost all my life, but suddenly all the steps had changed and rearranged.
Now I can talk to my parents calmly about things. Now I can let my guard down every once in a while without fearing that what I say will be used as ammo against me. Now I can look her in the eye. Now I can breathe. Now, I know that love levels eventually.
© 2021 Writings by Z