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Monsters and Their Culture and Skin

Monster and Monstrous stories have always interested me, so here my take on the classic tales.

monsters-and-their-culture-and-skin

Fear and Horror

Monsters are embodiments of fear and horror and they represent otherness and deformity that sets them apart from normal beings. Thus, they turn into the ugly side of society and are also representations of our deep and dark desires. Skin and culture play a huge role in shaping a monster. Skin is the house of the body that determines the boundary that separates inside from outside, evil from virtuous, and good from the bad.

The cultural body of the monster is prejudiced by fear of difference. The cultural body of the monster is categorized as being displaced from society because of differences. The monsters represent otherness in society and because of that they are cast away and become the monsters we know today. The aim is to see how the skin separates a monster from other beings and how much impact the culture has on making these monsters. The paper is going to look at different monsters and see how skin and culture play a role in giving them a unique identity.

Skin and Culture

Skin

The monsters are distinguished by their skin as the skin is what separates them, contains, or hides their monstrosity. And monsters are a cultural body, according to the thesis of Cohen, ‘the monster's body is a cultural body’.[1]

The monsters of different generations are represented by their skins that house their monstrosity. Their skin makes them different from the rest. “Skin might be too tight (Frankenstein’s creature), too dark (Hyde), too pale (Dracula)”.[2]

The nineteenth-century monster Frankenstein by Marry Shelly is a body that is pieced together to make a sewn beast.

Dracula by Bram Stoker cannot go into the sun or his skin will burn.

In Jekyll and Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, the monster is characterized by his deformed body and its skin. It is the monster's body that brings horror and fear. They are the physical embodiment of fear and horror. They signify the bad and evil of society and symbolize the dark desires and wishes and embody what society and humans fear and represent through their skin.

Jekyll and Hyde

The monsters are shown to be ‘all body and no soul’.[3] In Jekyll and Hyde, Dr. Jekyll is shown as a good social person but when he transforms into Hyde he loses all morality and sensibility. Skin hides Jekyll’s monstrosity but reveals it in Hyde and he commits violence openly. His monstrosity is what gives him power, as people are afraid of him. And his deformed skin represents the evilness and his monstrosity.

Frankenstein's

Frankenstein’s monster is physically ugly and brings terror to whoever lay their eyes on it. Victor, his creator is taken back upon seeing his ugly skin and yellow eyes, and huge sutured body. The monster of Frankenstein is an embodiment of the unknown and that creates fear. And the mere appearance of Frankenstein’s monster creates horror.

Dracula

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Dracula is a vampire and vampires suck blood and they can compel people to do what they want. First, this makes them immensely powerful as they can bend people to their will. Secondly, this makes them very terrifying. And Dracula is terrifying. His blood-thirsty fangs are on display. He is only motivated to feed on people and create more vampires. “Count Dracula can be considered a parasite to humans”.[4] He invokes fear within people and yet he appears like a normal human being. Thus, his monstrosity is hidden skin deep.

How culture plays a role

These monsters are also culturally created according to Cohen’s thesis that the ‘monster body is a cultural body’.[5] Frankenstein’s monster represents the unknown or foreignness and becomes a victim of xenophobia and he is cast out because he doesn’t fit in.

“Frankenstein’s lonely monster is driven out of town by the mob when he threatens to reproduce”.[6] Thus, his banishment is what turned him into a monster. Jekyll and Hyde is also a cultural body. The class conflict in the Victorian era is what makes Jekyll and Hyde into a monster. As Jekyll belonged to the lower class and wanted to be respected and powerful so he got his power through Hyde by creating an atmosphere of fear.

Dracula is also a cultural body, at Dracula's request, he was turned to be powerful to fight the Ottoman Turks in war. He is as much a product of culture as the rest of the monsters talked about. ‘The monster is born only at this metaphoric crossroads, as an embodiment of a certain cultural moment—of a time, a feeling, and a place’.[7] Dracula’s desire to be powerful and win the war with the Turks made him turn into a monster.

Conclusion

To conclude monsters are represented by their skin which makes them different from normal beings. Every culture is different and their monsters are different and they signify different things. Frankenstein is characterized by his physical form, and his sutured skin and that is how it instils fear and horror among people. Frankenstein’s monster is also a cultural body as he is considered a foreign body and xenophobia of people and Victor shoves it out and ultimately terms it a monster. Jekyll and Hyde’s skin is a representation of their monstrosity and it is also a product of Victorian-era culture. Dracula’s dark villainous desires are hidden by his skin as he does not have physical deformity, but Dracula is also product of culture and his desires are reflected in his monstrous spree. Thus, skin and culture play a huge role in defining a monster and its characteristics.


Sources

[1] [1] Judith Halberstam, skin shows, (Durham and London, Duke University Press, 1995) p. 07

[2] Judith Halberstam, skin shows, (Durham and London, Duke University Press, 1995) p. 07

[3] Halberstam, p. 01

[4] N. Monk, On Fear in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, (2020), The Quill

[5] Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Monster Theory : Reading Culture, (University of Minnesota Press, 1996) p. 04

[6] Halberstam, p. 06

[7] Cohen, p. 04

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