Justice for Frankenstein’s Monster

The real monsters in the 1931 Universal classic Frankenstein are the twisted assistant Fritz who whipped the Monster and the angry lynch mob that burned the Monster alive. This was nothing but a revenge killing for the accidental death of Little Maria, who was negligently left alone by her father.  At its core, the classic film is a reanimated Pygmalion, where torturing a person turns him into a killer. Moreover, calling someone a “monster” can turn him or her into one. The question remains, what justice was there for Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster?

Henry Frankenstein brought the Monster to life, cobbled together from stolen bodies and an abnormal brain. The Monster first killed Fritz, who had tortured the Monster with fire and a whip. The next victim was Dr. Waldman, who drugged the Monster in self-defense, and was going to perform a dissection of the still living Monster to kill him. The final victim was Maria, a little girl who showed the Monster kindness. During a game where Maria and the Monster each threw flowers into the water to watch them float, the Monster threw Maria into the water as part of the game. Maria drowned and the Monster was horrified at the result of his actions.

The Monster acted in self-defense against the brutal torture by Fritz. Fritz antagonized the Monster with a torch and a whip. A reasonable person could subjectively believe their life was in danger if fire is shoved in their face. The Monster was tormented and acted to protect himself from fatal injury.

The Monster’s mental capacity was that of a child. It is highly possible the Monster did not understand the concept of death when he killed Fritz, thus did not fully appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions. The Monster clearly wanted the torture to stop and might not have understood he had killed Fritz, given the Monster attempted to keep Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Waldman away from the hanging corpse.

Dr. Waldman was going to dissect the Monster in order to kill him. The Monster might not have understood the Doctor’s exact actions, but the motive was clear: kill the Monster. The Monster again acted in self-defense to preserve his own life.

Maria’s death was a reckless homicide. The Monster did not know throwing her into the water could result in her death, but a jury could find his actions were in the reckless disregard for her safety.

Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Cal. Penal Code § 187. The United States Supreme Court has held that children are constitutionally different from adults for the purposes of sentencing, because children have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform. Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 471, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2464 (2012) [citations omitted]. Children are still developing their character and are more vulnerable to negative influences. Id.

The same can be said of Frankenstein’s Monster. The “Monster” was only days old. To borrow from Dr. Frankenstein, the Monster had not yet lived. The Monster did not understand the world and needed to be taught how to live. This required giving him what any child needs, love, understanding, and compassion. The “Monster” was given none of those things, instead tormented by fire and ordered destroyed.

The real monsters in Frankenstein are the lynch mob that burned the Monster alive. Maria’s father carrying her corpse into town only inflamed rage. Law enforcement is supposed to uphold the public good, not fan the fires of revenge. The Burgermeister had no interest in following probable cause or affording the Monster the right to counsel or a fair trial. The soul purpose was to go out to kill the Monster to avenge the death of Maria. Only right can make right, which would have required a trial, so a person with limited mental capacity was not burned alive. The “justice” issued to the Monster was the equivalent of lynch mob hunting a four-year old with torches.

Anyone accused of a crime is entitled to due process of law. This even includes “monsters.” Civil societies do not executed children or those with diminished mental capacity. Those who decide they are the judge, jury, and executioner to exact death, are the real monsters in the world.

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