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Over the years, humanity has made a significant effort towards removing the inequality many people experience. After many years of fighting, segregation has been banned in America and the fight for equal gender pay still perseveres. Unfortunately, discrimination is still present even when inequality is removed. Lewis R. Aiken defines discrimination as “differential treatment of people according to race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disabilities, and other physical or behavioral characteristics” (85). This definition of discrimination gives several examples of different characteristics people have as a part of their identity; this shows that there are all kinds of people that experience a form of discrimination.
Fiction books like Frankenstein and Kindred, have made subtle (and some not so subtle) digs at the themes of discrimination that are actually present in our non-fiction world. When considering the society in Frankenstein, a novel written by Mary Shelley, judgement based on looks is undeniable. Also, in the society of Octavia Butler’s Kindred, racism, as well as sexism, is apparent throughout the novel.
These two books deal with major forms of social discrimination although they were written over 150 years apart. By looking at Frankenstein and Kindred, we can see that both novels are concerned with appearance and acceptance even in the different time periods. Because those themes are relevant in today’s modern society, readers should consider the emotional damage that can come from valuing appearance and acceptance too highly. Characters in both novels struggle with appearance and acceptance in their physical traits, education, and relationships.
The physical traits of characters are brought to awareness in Frankenstein as well as in Kindred. The monster in Frankenstein is described as having yellow skin, black hair, and pearly white teeth, “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 shrivelled complexion and straight black lips” (Shelley 83). Victor Frankenstein’s evaluation of the Creature contains positive aspects about him, but he still manages to dwell on the negatives. In the past and present in Kindred, Dana’s identity is based solely on her skin color. Because she is African American, her worth to Rufus as well as the other white people in the story, is majorly decreased. They choose to make her skin color a barrier even though she is fully competent in other aspects. Victor Frankenstein does the same when rather than choosing to rejoice over the fact he brought something to life, he finds something wrong with its image. Shelley has crafted “the monster” to be repulsive looking in order to create rejection from others which, in turn, ends up making him the antagonist of the story. The Creature comes across as scary to the reader and forces the reader to believe he is only after harm. Sadly, his appearance makes it hard not to resent him. This differs in Kindred in the way Dana and the slaves are likable. Most readers understand how horrible slavery was and the fact that these are real, capable humans. Both Dana and the Creature inflict the reader with feelings of compassion and sympathy because he or she also longs for acceptance in life.
Dana and the monster are not receiving acceptance in their physical appearance even though they are good on the inside. This parallels with our society’s struggle with allowing acceptance in individuals whose appearance differs from our own. Kindred directly deals with racism and sexism that is relatable in today’s world. Kindred takes place in 1818 for most of the book so the historical background differs from the current time period now. For example, the female slaves were forced into having relations with their owners but this wasn’t uncommon during the time. In Kindred, Dana and Kevin mention the three kids that resembled Mr. Weylin and each other but they all had different mothers. Also, Dana thinks to herself that Rufus “had spent his life watching his father ignore, even sell the children he had had with black women” (Butler 231). But when Dana is in the 1970s, she experiences racism in the workplace from Buz. Sexism is also in Kindred because of the idea of a woman’s worth to Rufus. We see this in how he treats Alice, Dana, and other female slaves. Not only do the female slaves have to worry about getting beaten but they also must be concerned with the threat of sexual violence. Alice gives in to Rufus Weylin’s sexual demands in order to protect herself. Dana and the other female slaves face two dangers because of their race and her gender. Thankfully, in the current time period, women have made major progress in the workplace and in public life over the past decades, but some factors such as less pay compared to their male counterparts, are still a work-in-progress for women.
Education in Frankenstein and in Kindred is presented in a widely different way but at the root of both texts, acceptance is the only desire. The Creature in Frankenstein becomes devoted to learning to appear human-like only to be accepted. Shun-Liang Chao writes that “the monster’s desire to master human language arises from his aspiration to be accepted and loved by the De Lacey family-and indeed, all of human society-inasmuch as he sees command of language as a royal road to the family’s disregard for his deformity.” Chao’s argument is essential to expressing The Creators feelings. The Creature wanted the De Lacey’s to overlook his physical appearance and admire is human-like knowledge, that some of which came indirectly from the family. The fact that The Creature must fight for society to “disregard his deformity” says a lot about the people it encompasses. The Creature’s “heart yearned to be known and loved” (Shelley 145) by the De Lacey’s but instead, he learned they were not much different from the cruel villagers who attacked him before. Similarly, in Kindred, Dana’s “deformity” is the fact that she is black and in order to gain acceptance by Rufus, she tries to show her worth by her knowledge and ability to read. Rufus begins to notice and tells Dana she “talk[s] like a damn book” (Butler 125). Rufus does not like this because Dana talks like a “white person” in his eyes. This is implying education is strictly for white people. Dana must continually walk a fine line between her actual role as an educated African-American woman who has privileges and her assumed role as a slave. Despite the moral and human-like behavior both Dana and Frankenstein’s Creature possess, it is impossible for them to be acknowledged as part of the human community. Therefore, it’s not surprising to see why Dana killed Rufus or why the creature turns into a murderer. They simply used the knowledge they gained to give the unsympathetic society the violence they received and what it deserves.
When looking at our current society, The Creature and Dana make it easy to understand why the rejected and discriminated participate in violent acts such as protesting. Jarim Kim points out that “scholars have identified motivation as a key concept in protest or social movement contexts” (503). These motives include “grievances, efficacy, identity, emotion, social embeddedness” (Kim 503). The anger and resentment that still lingers from the many years of slavery involving African Americans and other races is understandable. One can only imagine what slaves were forced to endure. Dana and The Creature were both educated individuals that experienced enragement and frustration that turned into violence. No matter how educated someone is, feelings of rejection and isolation are enough to make he or she participate in irrational acts. Due to the fact that knowledge plays a part in the rejection and violence the characters experience, education in these two novels comes across as a negative aspect to have. Even in the Creature’s creator, Victor Frankenstein, we see the destruction that happened because of his desire for acceptance with the college professor and in his scientific work. Frankenstein put his passion for education above friends and family which meant he had zero balance in his life. Without these relationships, he will always feel unaccepted and alone.
Strong and healthy relationships with others are an essential part of life. They can provide feelings of love, acceptance, and belonging in people. Sadly, many relationships can be deeply impacted by appearance which then causes barriers to form. Several relationships in Kindred and Frankenstein suffer from differences in physical appearance. From Rufus’ and Dana’s complex familial relationship to the Creature’s and Victor Frankenstein’s servant and master relationship, it is easy to see the cracks in those relationships. In Kindred, Dana’s 1818-character attempts to communicate with Rufus from the position of an equal in order to stop the expansion of slavery but her efforts fail. These attempts backfire and lead to Rufus forcing the relationship into more than what it is. “I could accept him as my ancestor, my younger brother, my friend, but not as my master, and not as my lover,” Dana thinks to herself, “He had understood that once” (Butler 260). At that moment Dana was aware she would have to kill Rufus in order to free herself from the slavery he thrusted upon her because of her skin color and sexual feelings for her. Before she makes this decision to murder him, Dana thinks about how her feelings towards Rufus were “complicated” because they have such “a strange relationship” (Butler 229). She then realizes “slavery of any kind fostered strange relationships” (229). These complicated feelings caused by Rufus lead him to feel isolated from the rejection and resentment he received from Dana and Alice because of his racist and discriminating ways.
Victor Frankenstein and his Creature in Frankenstein have a terrible relationship from the start. Victor first exclaims of his Creature’s ugliness when he first brought him to life. He rejects him from the start because of his appearance. One day when Victor and The Creature encounter, Victor tells The Creature to “Begone! relieve me from the sight of your detested form” (Shelley 120). “Detest” is a strong word to use and it makes it clear how Victor is feeling. The creature pleads for mercy to Victor by asking if any number of pleas will cause him to “turn a favourable eye” (Shelley 119) on him because he contains “goodness and compassion” (119). This is one of the moments readers may have a good amount of sympathy for the monster. This quote is an example of how hard The Creature is trying to persuade Victor to accept him because he does not intend to cause harm. The Creature then proceeds to say he “was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity: but am I not alone, miserably alone?” (119). The creature is showing feelings of hope, despair, and sincerity. He is showing human-like emotions, but Victor is relentless. The Creature blatantly asks Victor if he can’t tell how alone he is. Victor remains unsympathetic. The Creature, once again, turns to murder because he’s so alone – nobody accepted him, including his creator. Loneliness tends to be common in a lot of the characters’ lives from the lack of acceptance. As far as society goes, our intentions should outweigh our differences in appearance. What should matter to people is how kind someone is.
Frankenstein brings awareness to the prejudice and discrimination that is in our society even today. Every character in the novel believes the monster to be dangerous based only on outward appearance when he is kind and open-hearted. The monster only finds rejection in people and villages despite his only wish for acceptance. The discrimination and prejudice the monster encounters reflects what some people in our society experience every day. De Lacy was the only character who comes close to accepting the monster and he was blind. This suggests that mankind is cruel and unfair. In Kindred, racism is a major aspect of the story and shines the light on the fact that racism in the 1970s is not much different than in today’s world. Aiken points out that even though events like the Civil War, the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and other events “designed to ensure equality of opportunity and status, Black-White relations have remained a source of concern in the United States” (85). This is largely due to the discrimination that is still present. There is a thin line between inner and outer beauty in Frankenstein and Kindred. It seems that no matter how good the Creature or the African Americans are on the inside, what is on the outside always overrules. This suggests that appearances play a major role in defining someone as well as how they’re perceived. Society tends to treat beautiful people as heavenly and kind but unappealing or unique people as impure and unworthy.
The significance of looking at the misshaped ideas of acceptance and appearance in Frankenstein and Kindred is that it reminds our society the negative impacts of focusing so heavily on physical traits. Social prejudice occurs when we judge someone based off of their skin color or even the clothes they wear. Appearance seems to determine how people are accepted into society; it is a major part of our lives and relationships. Frankenstein and Kindred show readers the negative aspects that come with putting appearance and acceptance in a society that discriminates so easily and quickly as a top priority. Even in different time periods, this message is conveyed. Although some may argue acceptance based on appearance is necessary to have an overall appealing society, these two novels prove otherwise when considering how it affects the characters’ perception of their physical traits, their education, and the toxic relationships formed. The government can’t stop social discrimination, but it can help reduce it by eliminating support for it. Lewis R. Aiken suggests removing “stereotyped conceptions of the appearance and behavior of certain minority groups” (94). This could consist of a demonstration that minority group members are not all like the stereotype portrayed of that race. The media has been beneficial in assisting in this by showing minorities in high-status occupations or placing them in more major roles. This is a useful way to reach different classes and different types of people.
Books like Frankenstein and Kindred are also strong examples of media that discourage discrimination based on appearance. They also show how acceptance should be more freely given to people who are different from himself or herself. Society has come a long way in implementing some of these principles but there is still progress to be made to eradicate discrimination. Frankenstein and Kindred will continue to serve as prime examples of the damage discrimination can cause for many generations in the future. Hopefully, in the future, these two works of science fiction can show the cruelty of discrimination intertwined in the novels as a thing of the past.
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