A Shintoists View of Frankenstein’s Creation

 

Jon Cox

Junior English

June 17, 2002

Mr. Andersen

 

 

            People view things differently depending on their beliefs. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley is a book that can be interpreted on many levels. As such, the book can be understood differently by people of various nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures. With these diverse viewpoints there are also different outlooks on the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. One such view towards Frankenstein can be observed from that of a Shintoist.

            Shinto, an ancient religion largely based in Japan, was formed about 550 BC when Buddhism came from China into Japan (Buko). Shinto is a religion largely reserved purely for the Japanese. This creates a world in the religion that basically goes with the rules of Japan. It was stated by Rosemarie Bernard that “Shinto beliefs are often values that are entrenched in Japanese folk culture in general.” Shinto is very much at the heart of Japan, as it is really the only country that houses the religion. Being so distinct, Shinto takes on many different views compared to more modern western religions, and has no real dogma or code that its members are forced to abide by. Shintoists are also able to have multiple religions. It is not uncommon to find someone practicing both Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan. These unique views from a religion not widely known about provide a very different interpretation of this piece of classic literature. Shintoist views differ from many other religions, and most likely many other people. A Shintoist would deny Victor Frankenstein the right to create life in the manner that he does because of their cultural and traditional beliefs.

            A major belief in Shinto is that the body is as holy as the mind. Thus, the idea of when to declare a body dead according to Shinto beliefs is tough. Just because the brain has irreversibly lost its function, by proclaiming a person dead, it could be viewed as disrespectful toward a future ancestor. This causes the issue of organ transplant to be a taboo one. Brain death, as it is referred to when someone dies in Japan, is an item that reflects Shinto’s belief in the spirit in the body (Haldane). In a recent article from 1999, Yoshinobu Miyake, President of Relnet Corporation, states that for an event he invited doctors from Kyoto University's prestigious teaching hospital, to discuss the idea of brain death and organ transplant. They had done many donor operations in their past. It was during this discussion that Miyake found that the doctors were obsessed with the way the organ would be transported for surgery, “usually in a cooler box strikingly similar, in fact, to those used by fishermen to carry home their catches.” It was this form of transportation of the organs that disturbed them, possibly upsetting an ancestor through inadequate respect for the organ. In the story of Frankenstein, Victor creates his monster fashioned out of parts from the dead that he collects from graves. Victor’s rooms for the creation of the monster described, “The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased,” (Shelley 48). The dissecting room and “slaughter-house” were the areas that Victor used for his work on the creation of the monster. Through his use of a slaughter-house and definition of the word, he would have completely disrespected the bodies of the dead. Even doctors retrieving organs from the brain dead in Japan always give an anesthetic when removing an organ, just to make sure the body feels no pain (Miyake). In the process that is taken in Japan in order to respect the ideals of Shinto, Victor Frankenstein does not follow as the doctors do, and would have been officially denied permission to complete his project.

            In not respecting the ideal of Shinto, Victor also does not complete his task in an ethical manner. Shintoists have no real dogma, but do have morals and ethics they live by. These morals and ethics are told in the Four Affirmations of Shinto: Tradition and family, Love of Nature, Physical cleanliness, and Matsuri (Celebration) (Buko). Victor Frankenstein in his creation of the monster shuns the monster immediately. While Shinto calls for tradition in family, Victor as a father and creator of the monster abandons it.

“… I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life” (Shelley 52).

            With the creation of this monster Victor immediately sees what he has done. He is afraid of the monster, and when he comes back from refuge in the courtyard he is relieved to find his creation gone. Victor is this monsters creator, and as such his father. The monster is left on his own, to find food and shelter unaided. As quoted by Kim Woodbridge, “Instead of reaching out to his child, Victor rushes out of the room disgusted by the abnormality of his creation. When the creature follows after him, Victor runs away in horror completely abandoning his child.” Victor does not show any influence in his relations with the monster, and instead runs away because of its sight. Following the story of Frankenstein, the monster soon learns of his creator shunning of him and vows revenge. This revenge results in numerous murders of Victors loved ones, a terrible act from the monster. In the final conclusion of the book, Victor died in his quest for vengeance of the monsters murders. The monster admits to his appalling life, but confesses he still loves his creator, Frankenstein.

"But it is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept and grasped to death his throat who never injured me or any other living thing. I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery; I have pursued him even to that irremediable ruin. There he lies, white and cold in death. You hate me, but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself. I look on the hands which executed the deed; I think on the heart in which the imagination of it was conceived and long for the moment when these hands will meet my eyes, when that imagination will haunt my thoughts no more” (Shelley 241).

            This monster, however wretched he may be, merely wanted “love and admiration,” the love of his creator, and true family tradition. Frankenstein rejects him, causing him to commit these evil deeds, and further unethical crimes against innocent beings. Victor does not provide any love or comfort to his creation, and was very unkind in his reaction towards his own creation. As a father figure in his life Victor was unethical in his treatment and not following the ideals of Shinto.
            Shintoists believe very deeply in purification. We have very deep feelings for our ancestors and the dead. As a part of Shinto it is believed that “outward appearance reflected one's inner state,” and that “illness indicated a possibly unclean spirit.” As described throughout the book, Victor’s creation not only has the body parts of numerous people, but is ugly, large and daunting. When first created the monster frightens Victor immensely, and Victor realizes what he has created.

“How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips” (Shelley 51).

            The monster with his yellow skin, watery eyes and shriveled complexion would be viewed horribly by anyone.  Through an appearance that no one on earth has, this monster is a new being, but one that no one would want to meet or be. During his creation Frankenstein found that “…the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionally large” (Shelley 47). With such height the Frankenstein’s creation could be considered a freak to society, and thus impure according to Shinto. Victor created a monster not fit to live, and should not have been allowed to create it.

            A Shintoist takes on a very distinctive view as a result of their religion. As a scientist working at the heights of his field at the time, Frankenstein did not take the necessary steps to make his project clean and unthreatening to the dead. He followed his manner in a way most unacceptable and through consolation with no one. The manner and result of Frankenstein’s labors is the main problem. If he were to simply create life from another instead of using the body parts of other human beings, there would be no issue with his work. No problem would be found if he were moral and ethical in his creation. This is not the case though, showing Frankenstein as an inventor of a monstrous creature that possesses parts from the dead to form a hideous concoction of a being. Having not taken the proper precautions according to Shinto beliefs, Victor should not be permitted to assemble any such individual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Bernard, Rosemarie. Shinto and Ecology. 1998. Harvard University. 15 June 2002 <http://environment.harvard.edu/religion/research/shinhome.html>.

Buko, Stacy. Shintoism. 10 Jan. 2001. University of Virginia. 15 June 2002 <http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/~jkh8x/soc257/nrms/shinto.html>.

Haldane, Maeve. Cultural concepts of brain death and transplants. 24 Jan. 2002. McGill Reporter. 15 June 2002 <http://www.mcgill.ca/reporter/09/lock/>.

Miyake, Yoshinobu. The Japanese View of Corpses. 7 Dec. 1999. Relnet Corporation. 15 June 2002 <http://www.relnet.co.jp/relnet/brief/r12-50.htm>.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1993.

Sichina, Ellen S. Japanese Culture. 18 July 2000. University of North Carolina. 15 June 2002 <http://www.uncg.edu/phe/immigrant/japanese/japanreligion.html>.

Woodbridge, Kim A. The 'Birth' of a Monster. 26 June 2001. 15 June 2002 <http://www.kimwoodbridge.com/maryshel/birth.shtml>.