“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change” says Mary Shelly. In her novel Frankenstein(1818) , she reflects her lonesome life in which almost all her family died one by one at a very early age starting with her mother that died soon after childbirth due to fever. Shelley characterizes the creature created by Doctor Victor Frankenstein as an autistic adult in a very indirect manner, stating major symptoms of autism in his behavior with every sudden change that occurs.
First, according to a Daily Mail reporter (2011), babies that are born in winter are 16% more likely to have autism than those born in summer and according to the novel, Frankenstein says “It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly out, when, by the glimmer of the half- extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open;…” This describes the weather conditions when the creature was formed. The rain and darkness gives the impression that it is during winter season.
Second, Frankenstein says “….; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.” This line shows that the creature had some motor disability. Dr.Densue Reynolds RD(2012) mentions in her article “Children with Autism Have Difficulty with Motor Skill Development” a researchers done at Washington University School of Medicine, which proved having impaired motor skills as one of the major characteristics of autism.
Third, Frankenstein seems to limit the creature’s verbal tendencies to inarticulate sounds, which could be link back to one of the obvious signs of being autistic, language impairment. This was confirmed by Dr. Nicola Botting et al. (2006) in the “Journal of child psychology & psychiatry” when they mentioned that autism and specific language impairment (SLI) were considered as discrete disorders but there are evidence that provide a positive correlation between them.
Fourth, autism can however be induced or triggered by being neglected by the society. This was explained by the psychologist Zimbardo in the Stanford prison experiment where students were randomly assigned as prisoners and guards. Prisoners actually started behaving lonely and abused. Similarly the creature was not only conceived with autistic tendencies but the syndrome was also encouraged by how the community loaded him with epithets like when his creator called him “Devil”, “Abhorred monster” that he started behaving autistic. A study, from Kennedy Krieger’s Interactive Autism Network, mentioned in the article “Why Autistic Children Are Bullied More -- And Bully In Return” by Alice G. Walton, confirms that autistic patients were three times more likely than others to be bullied. This is where again the results of this research can be linked to Frankenstein’s murder cases. He unintentionally killed the little boy (William, Frankenstein’s brother) when he started calling him names like “monster”, “ugly wreck” and “ogre” and the drowning girl that he got shot for just because he looked aggressive and huge, not only that but almost a whole village attacked him. After, these unintentional attempts of murder, he took revenge and killed Victor’s fiancé and his best friend Henry Clerval.
Fifth, it was indeed very surprising that studies have found that increasing vitamin B consumption in the diets of Autistics reduces symptoms such as anxiety and emotional explosion. Nye, C. and Brice(2005), A mentioned in their article “Combined vitamin B6-magnesium treatment in autism spectrum disorder” that “A number of studies attempted to assess the effects of vitamin B6-Magnesium (Mg). It was found to reduce undesirable side effects on characteristics such as verbal communication, non-verbal communication, interpersonal skills, and physiological function, in individuals with autism. Frankenstein’s creature lived on berries and acorns which are very rich in vitamins B6 and B12. According to how the story goes, the creature starts being able to take control over his emotions and behavior. This helped him stay near some family’s cottage where they taught a Turkish woman, referred to as an Arabian in the novel, to talk English and, thus, he absorbed the language automatically.
Sixth, music and autism go together hand in hand. According to the journal article “Searching for music's potential: A critical examination of research on music therapy with individuals with autism” Robert Accordino et al. mention a significant number of case studies about autistic patients responding to music therapy. In a similar way, the creature in Shelley’s novel responded positively and liked it when the man at the cottage played music. He said “She took something out of a drawer, which employed her hands, and she sat down beside the old man, who, taking up an instrument, began to play, and to produce sounds sweeter than the voice of the thrush or the nightingale.”
Seventh, the creature said, “I longed to join them, but dared not.” He said these words when he was hiding in the basement of a cottage where the latter family lived. According to the Falkirk Council Social Work Services, Children with autism find dark and enclosed spaces the perfect place for them to hide and the creature found the crypt a perfect place for hiding from people that abused him emotionally with loaded words and physically harmed him. He explained that by saying “ I remembered too well the treatment I had suffered the night before from the barbarous villagers, and resolved…..for the present I would remain quietly in my hovel, watching, and endeavouring to discover the motives which influenced their actions.”
Eighth, In the article “Hot topics in autism”, Stephen J.Sheinkopf(2005) discuss that patients who suffer autism show cognitive deficits by failing to reason the intentions and beliefs of other people. In this paragraph the creature was narrating what’s in his mind of confusion and cognitive agitation while he was watching how beautifully Felix was narrating and explaining to Safie the history of several empires that existed. He was puzzled with how humans could be so powerful and spiteful yet godlike and harmless.:"These wonderful narrations inspired me with strange feelings. Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base? He appeared at one time a mere scion of the evil principle and at another as all that can be conceived of noble and godlike. To be a great and virtuous man appeared the highest honour that can befall a sensitive being; to be base and vicious, as many on record have been, appeared the lowest degradation, a condition more abject than that of the blind mole or harmless worm. For a long time I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow or even why there were laws and governments; but when I heard details of vice and bloodshed, my wonder ceased and I turned away with disgust and loathing.
Nineth, the international center for autism research and education (2010), published the national autistic society (NAS) research that was conducted in England where they linked autism to depression and suicidal attempts. The results proved that 56% of the autistic participants suffered with depression while 8% actually committed suicide. These results can totally be applied to Frankenstein’s creature since he followed the 8% that attempted suicide. To narrate this Mary Shelley wrote “He sprung from the cabin-window, as he said this, upon the ice-raft which lay close to the vessel. He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.”
To conclude, first impressions aren’t always right. The creature looked horrible and huge but he was only a victim of the outside world. He was born with autistic tendencies and was encouraged by the treatment he received to develop the symptoms mentioned above. The moral of the novel is not only to stop judging a book by its cover but it’s also to take responsibility of your actions, unlike Victor Frankenstein whom abandoned his creation.