Is Frankenstein’s Monster a Zombie?
by Jesse Stommel
I would argue that the philosophical precursor for the zombie is the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. While there are significant differences between her monster and subsequent incarnations of the walking dead, Shelley’s novel sets up many of the theoretical and philosophical questions of our contemporary zombie: What makes us human? How have we evolved as a species and how will we continue to evolve? How are notions of identity being transformed in the wake of technological advancement? In our incessant push toward invention, what sorts of monstrous havoc are we wreaking upon ourselves and the world around us? And, conversely, what sorts of wonders and miracles do evolution and invention beget?
Shelley’s Frankenstein is about the capacities of flesh. The opening words explore many of the questions central to the remainder of the work: “I am by birth . . .” (29), she begins the first chapter. These four words raise a question that gets explored throughout Shelley’s novel: Are we, as individuals, made or are we born? Victor’s opening words suggest that existence is only possible through a natural birth (that we are only because we are born). Nevertheless, the monster (who is decidedly made and not born, a literal assemblage of chunks of human flesh) is set in opposition to Victor and ultimately seems the more lively of the two. And, like Frankenstein’s monster, we are (as humans) at a moment in our history where we face monstrous transformation and rebirth with a similar set of moral and ethical consequences.
The zombie similarly disrupts conventional notions of how we come into (or out of) being. As you continue to read Frankenstein, offer some tentative connections between the novel’s themes and the themes you expect us to explore throughout the rest of this course. Does it make sense, to you, for us to begin a course about zombies with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? You don’t have to take a side; feel free to give thoughts both in support and defense of this choice.