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Although it may seem strange at first to analyze Mary

Shelley’s Frankenstein from a psychoanalytic perspective, the founder of


psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and French psychoanalyst Jacques
Lacan theories of The Mirror Stage and the Oedipal Complex
enable Frankenstein to be read as a novel embracing psychoanalytic theories. A
psychoanalytic reading of Frankenstein shows the reader that the novel is the
monster’s struggle to escape from the Mirror Stage and enter the Symbolic
stage.
There are three distinct dreams in the novel, all of which Freud would interpret
in one of three ways: wish-fulfillment, condensation, or displacement. The first
dream in the novel is a prime example of displacement. In his dream Victor sees
Elizabeth approaching him and after he embraces her, she turns into his dead
mother. This moment can be defined as the point at which, at least in Victor’s
mind, Elizabeth assumes the role of his mother. The second dream is had by the
creature and is preceded by his discovery in the cottage. It consists of the
monster dreaming that he is being torn from the blind man’s feet. If the blind
man represents a father figure and the monster dreams that he is being torn away
from him then it is a representation of condensation and the monster’s fear of
his creator, Victor, being taken away from him. The third dream is the simplest
of all; Victor’s feeling of hands around his neck strangling him represents the
manner in which the monster killed William and Clerval. Each of these dreams
is associated with the stages of life. The first mirrors The Real stage, the second
reflects the Imaginary / mirror stage, and the third The Symbolic stage.
According to Lacan, there are three stages of the first four years of one’s life.
These stages: The Real, The Imaginary, and The Symbolic, are each important
in the studies of psychoanalysis, but for our purposes we will be focusing on
The Imaginary or, as it is more well known, The Mirror Stage. This stage
occurs from 6 to 18 months and is the beginning of an individual’s realization
that he or she is a tangible person who exists in the world. It receives its name
from the concept that this stage typically begins when an infant sees himself in
the mirror. At this point, the infant separates himself from The Real stage and
his mother and begins identifying as “I.” This marks the infant’s consciousness
of selfhood.
Shelley takes advantage of the Mirror Stage and applies it to the creature. After
making himself a hiding space in the woods, the monster discovers a family of
cottagers and takes interest in them, but in especially their reading habits. The
monster longed to understand the books the cottagers were reading but was
unable to do so. This signifies his entrapment in the Mirror Stage and his fight
to enter the Symbolic, where he would become literate. Like an infant, the
creature first entered Mirror stage when he discovered his reflection “but 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, I was
filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” This
scene in the novel is a literal representation of the Mirror Stage and allows the
reader to view the monster as an infant first discovering himself as a concrete
individual for the first time. However, this part of the novel, like all others, only
occurred as a consequence of Victor’s abandonment of his creation. Meaning, it
was Victor’s direct actions that allowed for the creature to leave the Real Stage
and transition into the Mirror stage.

During the Real Stage, an infant is incapable of distinguishing oneself from his
parents. As a result, to move into the following stage, the Mirror Stage, the
infant must learn that, while he may be an extension of his parents, he is also his
own person. Shelley enables Victor to leave this stage by the death of Victor’s
mother. Only after her death is Victor able to leave his home “My departure for
Ingolstadt, which had been deferred by these events, was now again determined
upon.” (Shelley 68) This is the culmination of Victor’s Real Stage. Her death
allows Victor to separate himself from his parents, much like the infant who
looks in the mirror.

Like in life, Victor is unable to fully separate himself from his mother
and rather than accepting her death he simply finds a replacement. Freud would
interpret Elizabeth’s role as the surrogate of Victor’s mother as a branch of
the Oedipus complex. Additionally, instead of Victor’s mother being portrayed
as the ideal mother, Elizabeth is portrayed as such. Meaning, Victor never fully
leaves the Real Stage.
The monster’s journey throughout the novel is his struggle to leave the Mirror
Stage and enter the Symbolic Stage, the stage where an infant acquires
language. This typically occurs anywhere from 18 months to four years of age.
As can be seen in the novel, only once Victor hear the eloquence of the
monster’s speech does he allow him to tell his tale, “I consented to listen, and
seating myself by the fire which my odious companion had lighted, he thus
began his tale.” (Shelley 122)
The creature’s telling of his tale focuses on the family of cottage dwellers that
he forms an attachment to. It is where he enters the Mirror Stage and struggles
to cross over into the Symbolic Stage. The last stage of the process involves
the discovery of symbolic order, in which one learns the norms of his society.
The monster attempts to accomplish this by observing the cottagers and
succeeds until he is discovered, “At that instant the cottage door was opened,
and Felix, Safie, and Agatha entered. Who can describe their horror and
consternation on beholding me? Agatha fainted, and Safie, unable to attend to
her friend, rushed out of the cottage. Felix darted forward, and with supernatural
force tore me from his father, to whose knees I clung, in a transport of fury, he
dashed me to the ground and struck me violently with a stick.” (Shelley 160)
This encounter is a primary obstacle in the monster’s effort to cross over into
the final stage.
A psychoanalytic interpretation of Frankenstein allows for it to be read
inLacan’s stages of human development. The monster’s journey from the Real
Stage to the Mirror Stage and his struggle to enter the final stage, The Symbolic
Stage shape the novel. The three dreams in the novel parallel the stages the
creature and Victor undergo allowing the novel to be interpreted using
psychoanalysis.