The Reign of Classism: Social Bias in Frankenstein

By Sarah Winkler

Classicism is defined as a bias toward, or against persons of given social classes. In the films The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), and Frankenstein (1931), there are underlying, or otherwise distinctly presented elements of classism that surround the characters depicted in each film. These are currents of social bias which become highlighted by the characters themselves, through their behavior and interactions. Whether relevant bias is shown to be positive or negative in tone, classism exhibited by characters of both films will be explored: along with divisions and conflicts generated through that classism.

In both the 1931 and 1957 Frankenstein-titled works, a number of characters were presented per film: yet not all of these persons served to promote social conflict. The characters that served as a catalyst for the dynamics of classism, which were presented throughout each of the films, became heavily focused on in each respective Frankenstein film. As a result of this focus, the characters discussed will similarly be limited per film, a focus based on the amount of conflict and social bias that given characters respectively contributed to, and otherwise presented within each of these cinematic works. The people that will be addressed include the (1931) Henry Frankenstein, The Monster, Fritz, and Elizabeth, beyond the (1957) Victor Frankenstein, The Monster, Paul Krempe, and Elizabeth Lavenza.

Similarities exist between each cast in terms of character depth. There are, however, differences between both cinematic works in terms of how characters are shown, and how they interact. These two sets of characters differ in their depth and background per the cinematic work: and this is an element that drives the similarly unique conflicts between the characters as each film develops. Henry Frankenstein, for example, can be considered a counterpart to his later (1957) Victor Frankenstein rendition, but the latter version is shown to be much more conniving, if not complex a character. In this facet, the dynamics between each separate cast differ as elements themselves.

In the 1931 work, the plot and characters allow for social dynamics, but this 1931 version of Frankenstein creates a sort of classism that can be considered more simplified, or depicted in a more straightforward manner, than that of the later 1957 film. This causes a basis of classism which is instigated most actively– in both films– by the characters Henry (1931) and Victor (1957).

In the 1931 Frankenstein, Henry is much more direct in how he treats others. His bluntness toward people is a highlight of his character. This characteristic is emphasized most notably in his interactions with Fritz, who he seems to see as far less than himself in often admonishing or ordering the other to complete tasks, as happens throughout the first half of the 1931 film (Yapp). It is a characteristically brazen behavior that contrasts with the subtlety of Victor’s conniving and certainly more murderous nature. According to Graeme Robertson in his review of the film, Victor can be seen as sociopathically obsessive: he goes inhumanely far in his “mission to get what he wants”.

Both of these socially instigating characters are further shown to actively manipulate and berate other members of the cast, but in the case of Henry, his degradation of other persons’ seems to overall fall to one person: the film’s respective Monster. This is similar to Victor’s overall degradation of his Monster, but unlike Henry, Victor actively manipulates other surrounding persons, regardless of their perceived class.

Even famous and well-respected professors are safe from Victor.

The Monster, or Monsters themselves are highlighted in this sense of social differentiation: the simplistic behavior shown by the actors playing each film’s respective Monster further allows for a social divide between each creature and the rest of the respective casts. In each film, there is a seemingly ‘validation’ of the harsh treatment subjected to the creature by Henry, Victor, and others present in each of the films. Yet, the lack of apparent, displayed intelligence per creature is not singularly presented as a reason for this dividing factor. The fact that The Monster in the 1931 version is shown to wear working clothes contrasts with the finery that Henry and others– who are presented in the 1931 film– also creates a visual social depth. This is something which is echoed by the lack of finery sometimes displayed by the 1957 version of The Monster.

Characters of the 1931 and 1957 versions are, in result, depicted to be in an overall sense “above” the creatures of each Frankenstein film, not just in intelligence but in terms of societal worth. Both cast’s reactions to their respective Monster, and how each cast overall regard both with fear and aversion speaks a lot about social norms, through how these divisions are presented.

Yet, divisions do not just exist between each Monster and the rest of the different casts. In-between the character sets, divisions exist in the moment: these are blurred perspectives created through conflict, and this conflict itself is generated by the different (sets of) characters’ wants and needs. In this regard, most of the characters do not conflict with each other unless the respective films’ Henry Frankenstein and Victor Frankenstein are somehow involved in their interactions.

As Henry and Victor seek to put their respective aims and goals above the other characters’ interests, social bias and classism tends to present itself where each character, per

their respective films, both attempt to manipulate and verbally or physically fight against the other characters who are interacted with. In terms of conflict, the most social dispute occurs, per film, whenever either Henry or Victor become questioned in terms of their authority.

As a result, they demean the people who challenge them: often yelling or otherwise diverting those persons’ opinions. In this regard, people who otherwise would be on equal grounds with them are somehow put “below” either Henry or Victor. This may not quite be on the level of the Monsters they create, but in-the-moment, both of these characters become “higher up” on a shifting social ladder.

“Sit down”, as a phrase, is a request, demand, and otherwise order that occurs in both of the Frankenstein films, and something that is frequently (more frequently in the 1931 version) uttered by both Henry and Victor, this to other characters’ per film– not just to each Monster, whom they also aforementionedly attempt to assert dominance over and socially degrade.

However, this is not a behavior; by either character; that is put up with indefinitely by either remaining cast. As each film progresses, there are not just verbal conflicts, but physical ones: where earlier asserted dominance becomes subverted and once-subdued characters become more dominant in their influence. Paul Krempe, in the 1957 film, fights against Victor in order to prevent him from going any further. This is not just in a physical sense, but in terms of law: effectively, a threat is made against Victor where the authorities are concerned. This scene echoes another in the 1931 version, where Henry also has to contend with what he has done, although not quite as dire as the situation that Victor ends up in.

Both characters meet an ending scene of sorts. Where Henry is concerned, this is a more off-key, but positive finale: he eventually loses his insanity and the marriage spoken about throughout the film commences. This subverts from Victor’s fate: instead of regaining his own

social standing and stability, he is sent to the guillotine for his crimes, and is never redeemed socially, or personally– in the eyes of Paul and Elizabeth Lavenza; who see him as a lost cause. Paul’s final words, in-film and for Victor himself, present bleakness, not only for his person because of his actions, but in how his actions caused him to be thrown off the social ladder.

“There is nothing we can do for him now. Come on, I’ll take you home.”

Citations

Yapp, Nate. “Frankenstein (1931).” Frankenstein (1931) | Classic-Horror, October 20th, 2002, https://classic-horror.com/reviews/frankenstein_1931.html.

Robertson, Graeme. “October Horrors 2019 Day 15 – The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).” October Horrors 2019 Day 15 – The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), OCTOBER 15, 2019, https://www.flickeringmyth.com/2019/10/october-horrors-2019-day-15-the-curse-of- frankenstein-1957/.

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). Directed by Terence Fisher, performances by Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, and Christopher Lee, Hammer Film Productions, 1957.

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