Peter Brooks' essay "What Is a Monster" tackles many complex ideas within Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and the main concept that is the title of the essay itself. What is the definition of a monster, or to be monstrous? Is a monster the classic representation we know, green skin, neck bolts, grunting and groaning? A cartoon wishing to deliver sugary cereal? or someone we dislike so greatly their qualities invade our language and affect our interpretation of their image and physical being? Brooks' essay approaches this question by using Shelley's narrative structure to examine how language, not nature, is mainly accountable for creating the idea of the monstrous body.
Brooks begins his argument by analyzing the relationships of the novel and how they build tension between the characters. He speaks to how the narrative frame itself positions the reader to "supplement" the story of the "speaker", which in the case of Frankenstein is both the text itself and the individual narration of the characters. Most importantly, he sets up how Frankenstein's narrative frame, essentially a series of conversations relating one characters unresolved issues to another, begins creating the concept of the monster. Creation of the monstrous, in the idea of Brooks happens solely through language, a medium deemed corrupt and insufficient. This is the source of the monstrous, as Brooks reveals that through the Monster's exposure to the world, he no longer takes part in the imaginary order as he finds that he cannot be accepted on appearance alone, and instead uses language as a tool to express his desires.
However, this proves to be insufficient, as once the monster uses the symbolic power of language, an expression of the conscious, he no longer can quantify what his desire actually is. By using language to express his desires, and knowing that he is using language as the ends to a mean, he is creating an excess of meaning that has no direct tie to a signified any longer - there is too much signification and no signifier. Actual unconscious desire that the Monster seeks is not apparent to him, and that lack of meaning tied to one's desire is passed on through his plea to his creator, Victor Frankenstein. Subsequently this "lack" of meaning touches Victor's tale to Walton, and finally the reader as a surrogate receiving Walton's letters to his absent sister. The Monster becomes a symbol (and signifier) of the detachment from unconscious desire (the signified) created by language and relationships, a "monster" in the truest sense of the form, signifying deficiency and the unnatural, an object beyond comprehension and meaning itself. By extending beyond meaning, the Monster no longer is part of an interlocutionary relationship, but a symbol to be discussed, viewed, and compared.
Brooks' argument takes a firm look at the text and how it uses language to position the internal mechanics of desire. Since what we desire is no longer part of our vocabulary in language, we...