Papyrus spacer
spacer

Poems

Thunderstorms
In Flight
Questions
Forced Smiles
Shackles
Recluse
Where
Burn
Winter
Happy Oblivion
Ducking Destiny
Chance of Showers
Chance Encounters
Myopia
The Thinking Dog
Misbehavior
The Race
Flight of the Ostrich
Monster Under My Bed
The Rose Garden
Haiku
Window Shopping
Dramatic Romances
Musings on Nature
A Day at School
The Holy Light
A Rainy Night

Stories

The Roller Coaster
The Purse
Sammy's Lesson
The Legend of the Hungry Dragon
Spirits in the Night

Essays

Essays
My Philosophy of Life
Five Scholarship Questions
Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois
Prophets for God
My Service Project (1999-2000)
My Service Project (1997-1998)
The Beauty of the Forest
Reaching Beyond

Satires
The Pastry Menace
A College Just for You!
The Rights of Plants

Literary Analyses
Saving Harry:  Clearing the Controversy Over Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Essays on Wuthering Heights
The Creature in Frankenstein and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Edna's Decision in The Awakening
Character Comparison in Kate Chopin's The Awakening
Why The Chosen?

Research Papers
Race, Norms, and the Sidewalk
Analytical Exercise
The Validity of Comparing Governments
The British System: Legal-Rational Or Traditional?
The Importance of Framing
Madison on Factions
Spirituality and the Brain
Sea Water and Conductivity

Speeches
Clinic Violence: A "Moral" Way to Bring About Change?
Graduation Speech
The Call to Relationship
Mark Twain Speaks Again (original version)
Mark Twain Speaks Again (shortened version)

Editorials
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Year 2000
Hunting for Sport?

Articles
Mercury Spill Exercise
Chocolate Feature Exercise
Character Sketch
Reaction Story
Aspiring Actress Profile
"Shark Attack" Exercise
Villa Maria Academy Hosts Diversity Panel

Nonfiction
Coastal Vacation

The Creature in Frankenstein and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

For months, a poverty-stricken family living in a picturesque country cottage, in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, has had a secret friend. This unseen helper gathers firewood during the night, enough to last for many days, and neatly piles it at the cottage’s door. The invisible friend also clears a path through the snow in front of the door and performs various other services. This unknown friend’s help saves the family great time and effort, which is now better spent overcoming the family’s poverty. The cottagers cannot feel grateful enough for this friend (Shelley, 1831, p. 80). One day, the friend decides to no longer remain invisible. He makes a tentative step into the family’s world, conversing with the blind father. The helper hints cautiously at his status as an outcast who is seeking friendship, and the old blind man evinces sympathy. Unfortunately, discord soon interrupts this hopeful scene, as the younger, sighted members of the household return and violently throw their unknown and horrifyingly ugly friend out of the house. Their actions drive the final nail in the coffin of the friend’s good nature. Convinced now that he must be evil if even this family thinks he embodies evil, he embarks on a murderous rampage through Europe (pp. 94-97). The family’s perception of the friend as evil and consistent treatment of him increased the probability that he would become evil, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Other’s perceptions and predictions concerning a person can have a profound impact on that person’s actions (Landry, 2001, p. 1). For example, Jack’s perception of tall, lanky Jill as a klutz will cause Jack to act cautiously around Jill and to never give her anything fragile to hold. Jill, noticing Jack’s treatment of her, will begin to believe that she does move awkwardly, which will lower her self-esteem and make her feel nervous when given breakable items. Her nervousness may cause her hands to tremble, causing her to drop things and confirm her perception of herself as klutzy (Perrin, 1986, p. 469).

This phenomenon Jack and Jill experience is known as the Pygmalion effect, and it is defined as one type of self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy is a forecast of a future incident that enhances the probability that the event will happen (Landry, 2001, p. 1). The self-fulfilling prophecy process causes a person to behave in a way that meets the perceiver’s preconceived expectations (Nelson & Klutas, 2000, p. 127). Self-fulfilling prophecies fall into two basic categories: the Pygmalion effect, discussed above, in which a person’s behavior is changed in response to another’s perception and treatment of the person, and the autonomous self-fulfilling prophecy, in which a general prophecy is made and people, acting of their own accord, alter their behavior to agree with the prophecy. The bank runs of the Great Depression form a good example of this second type of self-fulfilling prophecy. A few banks failed, so people thought all banks would fail. In hordes, the people withdrew their money from all banks, no matter how stable, causing the banks to fail when they ran out of funds and making the original prophecy come true (Landry, 2001, p. 1).

Self-fulfilling prophecies make a vicious cycle. Like everyone else, Victor Frankenstein’s creature cannot get a break from the self-fulfilling prophecy process, either, apparently. After months of warming the De Lacey family up to him, they still reject him (Shelley, 1831, p. 97), like everyone does from the moment Victor gives him life. Even Victor cannot bear to look upon his creation’s face (p. 35). Admittedly, the monster possesses a face even a mother might not love:

His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same color as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips. (p. 35)

However, while, when forming the creature, Victor may control his initial appearance, Victor cannot control the creature’s initial personality. The creature takes life with a blank slate, and his environment, including other people’s perceptions of him forms his eventual character. Unfortunately, the creature’s appearance causes others to perceive it as a monster and react accordingly, the typical beginning of the Pygmalion effect (Landry, 2001, p.1).

Victor becomes the first human to reject the creature, actually fleeing from his sight after months of obsessive work (Shelley, 1831, p. 35). Next, a strange, destitute old man screams and runs in fear after perceiving him (p. 73). The De Laceys turn on the creature soon after, although he strives invisibly for months to curry their favor (p. 97). He saves a young girl from drowning only to receive a shot from her father (p. 101). Finally, a small boy whom he hopes to befriend jeers at his monstrous appearance, and the creature, finally broken, actually becomes the monster everyone perceives him to be, strangling the helpless boy (p. 102). With that violent act, the creature fulfills the prophecy has been hanging over his head since his inception.

The example of Frankenstein’s monster serves to demonstrate the danger inherent in self-fulfilling prophecies. Psychologists’ experiments, such as the study conducted by Lori J. Nelson and Kristin Klutas, have shown that expectations based on given characteristics create self-fulfilling prophecies. People see what they want to see in certain types of people, creating situations to force their perceptions into reality. For example, a white interviewer may subtly alter questions for a black person, causing the black person’s responses to appear less competent than a white person’s responses (2000, pp. 132-133).

Race, along with sex, socioeconomic status, physical or mental disabilities, and even political affiliation, can form the basis of self-fulfilling prophecies in social situations (Landry, 2001, p. 1). The Pygmalion effect seems especially dominant in the classroom, where, especially in the primary grades, a teacher’s perception of a student’s intellectual ability can influence how much attention the student will receive and, consequently, how well the student will perform. A teacher may deem a student with poor grooming or poor initial test scores incompetent and treat the student as such. The student may react by believing he cannot succeed, which will cause him anxiety when he must face tests of his ability. His anxiety will then cause poor performance and reinforce the prophecy (p. 2).

Self-fulfilling prophecies also become a problem in psychological experiments. Researchers expecting or desiring a certain result become more likely to pass over evidence that disagrees with their theories. Their results will, instead, unwittingly support the researchers’ hypotheses, leading the researchers to draw the wrong conclusions (Perrin, 1986, p. 496).

The other characters’ false perception of the creature causes them to draw the wrong conclusion about him, forcing him, in reaction, to believe in their assessment and become a monster. Victor not only makes the creature physically unattractive, but he also begins the self-fulfilling prophecy by abandoning the creature. The newly-created monster swears to hunt down and kill every person dear to his creator as revenge (Shelley, 1831, p.102). The creature’s character progression in Shelley’s Frankenstein follows the self-fulfilling prophecy pattern, specifically demonstrating the Pygmalion effect. The creature’s downfall demonstrates the potential for social destructiveness of the self-fulfilling prophecy.


Copyright © 2002 Colleen Fischer | Last updated October 7, 2002