First Impressions

First Impressions

The Labeling Theory states that if a person is given a specific label, and is continuously referred to as that label, then over time he or she believes that they are the label. However, the human mind is extremely powerful and the circumstances that the Labeling Theory would be applicable to are rarely that simple. In the book Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the creature is consistently assigned as being a monster and Victor Frankenstein, the creature’s creator, is thought of as a highly esteemed educated gentlemen. The internal conflict within the creature between being horrible looking vice actually being horrible, as people so easily accuse, cause him to act violent.  However, it is the ability to recognize the iniquity of his actions, and separate those actions from the label the creature was defined as, that shows he has not internalized and accepted the “monster” label. Thus, The Labeling Theory that stands out in the novel is that labels are based primary on looks which lack any substance of a person, questioning how an individual truly responds after a label is given. There is also the question of responsibility, the people giving the label, or the one receiving the label? In addition, is the person receiving the label only becoming the label in order to have some sort of acceptance?

In the beginning of the creature’s life, before studying the cottagers and understanding the folkways of society he was not evil. His first thoughts were confusion of who he was and what he was doing in the strange environment of Victor’s lab, but he didn’t open his eyes and automatically know that he would commit irreversible crimes. The creature’s initial aspirations were not to be a thief and killer, but simply trying to understand all the sensations that our human body can identify. It is only after studying the cottagers, learning how to speak, and eventually read, did the creature start to understand the structure of society. The difference between good and evil was a learned behavior, and it was self taught through observation. After the creature learned what stealing was, and how he was harming the cottagers, he proceeded to help them, which further shows the lack of evil intentions. The recognition that he was ugly compared to other humans, ignites the internal battle of acceptance. The ability to separate his actions of selflessness compared to his outer appearance, provides enough hope that others will be able to do the same. Up until this point, every single person he came across has ran away. The label he was given was already active in his mind, but there was no internalization that allowed him to believe that he was a monster.

It is however, the same accusation of being a monster that leads him to do horrific acts. The lack of companionship that the creature has, compared to the love that other humans have for each other fuels the conflict in his mind and leads him towards a path of destruction. Even after he murders an innocent child and meets with his creator, there is still hope for a companion. While there is no justification for the conscious decision to murder, the creature’s continuous ability to recognize his actions, whether wrong or right, and still grasp towards the intangible concept of love, shows the depths of the human mind. It also shows the power perception can have, to deny an individuals basic desires and wants based on outer appearance. Our minds can work a variety of ways. In some ways it is extremely complex and defies the oversimplification of the labeling theory; on the other hand, our minds can choose to ignore the complexity of a situation and stick with assumptions that may or may not be true in order to follow the accepted mainstream standards, making this theory inconsistent.

In contrast, Victor Frankenstein is the prime example of accepted mainstream, therefore according to the labeling theory, and the characters in the novel, provides him a positive label. There is also an internal conflict within Victor that others perceive as illness. The conflict is a refection of his creation and effects it has on his loved ones and society. Throughout the novel Victor has a guilty conscience, knowing he has responsibility for his creation, but publicly not accepting responsibility, resulting in an innocent woman’s death.  He frequently states that his personal grief triumphs over others sorrows. However, even when Frankenstein is falsely accused of murder, which gives him an inaccurate label, putting him in the shoes of his creation, cannot relate to how the creature feels. The repeated declaration of internal guilt being greater than loved ones close to him in the novel, does not make sense if Victor cannot find compassion for others when being put in the same circumstances. Truly accepting responsibility would be voicing his problems to those around him and facing the potential consequences. Since no one knows his contribution to the murders that have happened his label remains positive. The choice to remain silent gives him the power to keep his given label, whereas his creation does not have that opportunity, which puts Victor in position of being a labeler.

Clearly in both situations with Victor Frankenstein and his creation, referred to as the creature, the perception is bias and based on the superficial standards of society. Victors lack of true empathy and not vocally admitting his responsibility shows that he struggles to separate his actions from his mental state, which potentially caused his illness. Whereas, the creature’s internal conflict of being a good person and looking hideous, and eventually leading him to murder innocent people is the same conflict that separates him from actually becoming his initial given label. This separation occurs at the end of the novel when the creature realizes the consequences of his actions and vocalize’s it to the captain of the ship he is on, Robert Walton. A true monster would support his actions and attempt to justify them. However, the creatures understanding and acceptance of his wrongdoings identify his true being as human, not a monster.

Overall the power of choice is what does or does not validate the labeling theory. It is the choice of the labeler, to give or not give a label, and the choice of the one being labeled, to accept or deny the given label. In addition, society also has the power of choice, either follow the mainstream or make their own independent decisions after fully understanding a topic or person. The vagueness of the theory does not compensate for any other potential outcomes, and the superficial nature of the theory does not give an accurate description of a human’s capability, good or bad. There are too many conditions that effect of the labeling theory and Shelley’s novel is a prime example of a potential avoidable tragedy.

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