Monsters In Society

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Monsters In Society In Ballad of Black Tom and Frankenstein, both characters start the story as civilians trying to fit into society. Yet both from the very beginning are shunned by society and are looked at as monsters. Both the Creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Tommy Tester in Ballad of Black Tom never initially had wrong or horrid intentions. Their surroundings and interactions with society changed their perception of themselves and made them into characters with criminal purposes. Choices that eventually lead to unneeded suffering by other characters in both writings. 

         At the beginning of both Frankenstein and Ballad of Black Tom, we are introduced to our eventual monsters, the Creature, and Tommy Tester, both of our monsters come from different backgrounds and are quickly introduced as outsiders in society. Seen when Victor Frankenstein first saw the Creature “You devil! … do you dare approach me? and do not you fear the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head? Begone, vile insect! or rather stay, that I may trample you to dust! And, oh, that I could, with the extinction of your miserable existence. Restore those victims whom you have so diabolically murdered!” (Vol. II Chapter II)

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Monsters In Society

The Creature’s first interaction with a human. In this case, his creator Victor, sets the tone for how everyone in society will treat it. Seen when he says, “You devil… Begone, vile insect!” (Vol. II Chapter II) Victor truly despises his creation. This view of the Creature continues throughout Frankenstein, but from the Creature’s point of view, it remembers little of its beginnings; it just remembered that it was filled with pain and misery. After the Creature’s initial creation. We get to see how it reacts when it comes to identifying its own social identity and the development of its mental state.

We were able to see this in the Creature’s description of spring here “Spring advanced rapidly; the weather became fine, and the skies cloudless. It surprised me, that what before was desert and gloomy should now bloom with the most beautiful flowers and verdure. My senses were gratified and refreshed by a thousand scents of delight, and a thousand sights of beauty.” (Vol. II Chapter V)

In this description, we can see the Creature’s mental state and how fluid it was in the early stages of its life. Viewing the story from the Creature’s perspective helps humanize the Creature because up until this point, we just saw the Creature as this devil-like creature that Victor Frankenstein was horrified by. In contrast to the creature’s curious view on the world in the Ballad of Black Tom. We are quickly introduced to Tommy Tester, an African American growing up in Harlem, NY. Who is familiar with the divisions of society between races. In The Birth of a Monster: An Open Discussion on Anti-Blackness Segregation by Nichelle Womble, we are able to take a deeper dive into the racial inequalities and divides during the 1900s.

Monsters In Society

Two points Nichelle goes into further that is particularly important to focus on when it comes to Tommy Tester were the segregation of housing when it came to race and the preexisting Jim Crow laws. The segregation of housing due to race or more commonly known as redlining. Was a way to separate mainly African Americans and White Americans from living in the same neighborhood. “The redlining tactics, kept Black families in poverty since no money was coming in and its residents had no access to loans with reasonable interest rates. Redlining brought on unimaginable despair and struggle for members of those communities. Businesses also stayed away from those communities, furthering the gap. This, once again, left Black families with no opportunity to flourish.” (pg. 68)

Beyond these standard practices of segregation, they had also felt in other ways such as Jim Crow laws, which were laws to “make it easier for social control based upon containment; with police officers enforcing the laws and creating social control by force.” (pg. 75) The police force was and still is particularly prone to be biassed. When it comes to policing Black individuals vs. White individuals.

Monsters In Society

This is particularly important in Tommy Testers case because in the beginning of the story when Tommy takes the train from Harlem to Queens there is a noticeable change in how society perceived him which consequently made him adapt “Becoming unremarkable, invisible, compliant—these were useful tricks for a black man in an all-white neighborhood. Survival techniques.” (pg. 12) Throughout both Frankenstein and Ballad of Black Tom our two main characters, the Creature and Tommy Tester. Are perceived as monsters by society from the very beginning, but despite society’s negative influence on each of their lives, it has not dramatically influenced their actions yet.

         In the process of the Creature learning more about its surroundings and Tommy Tester going to Queens, NY on a more frequent basis both characters continued to interact more with those that may perceive them as a monster. In Frankenstein the Creature, after acclimating to its surroundings, starts to see society in a different light. The Creature is most influenced by two parts of society: The De Lacy family and the three books he read. As the Creature is being introduced to the world the Creatures sees society should look like in the family of the De Lacey’s. The De Lacey family is a perfect representation of what the Creature had been longing for from the very beginning.

The other influence the Creature had were the three books the Creature had read. Which were: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Sorrows of Werter, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. All of these readings had a profound effect on the Creature and how it viewed the world.

Monsters In Society

As Rebecca Baumann discussed, she talked further about these readings in Frankenstein 200 which provided a more in depth look at the readings the Creature had read. In the readings Baumann talks about how Frankenstein is able to learn more about the “social organization of the world, that heredity and wealth dictate one’s position in society” (pg. 77), but among all the readings. The Creature’s most influential book was Paradise Lost by John Milton, the monster’s entire understanding of its existence is shaped by Paradise Lost.

In Frankenstein 200 Baumann dissects what John Milton talks about in Paradise Lost.

Moreover, what had made the Creature transform into the monster. “The monster too decides to join the Devil’s party, identifying throughout the novel with Milton’s Satan… rejected by his very creator, powerful yet impotent to obtain his desires.” (pg. 80) Explaining how Victor’s actions towards the Creature had made it the monster it eventually would become. Milton goes on to explain the monster’s fixation on having a “mate” and how this book led the Creature to kill many of Victor’s close friends, family and eventually Victor. 

         Both the Creature and Tommy Tester each having their own influences from society and other devices makes them turn into the eventual monsters we see in Frankenstein and The Ballad of Black Tom. In Frankenstein the Creature’s interaction with the De Lacey’s after reading the three books. Only confirmed his belief that he was the monster he read about in Paradise Lost.

Society’s harshness on Tommy Tester in The Ballad of Black Tom while different from the Creature in Frankenstein was still very much apparent.

In the Ballad of Black Tom prior to Tommy Tester’s father’s death. We saw him as one that was shunned by society just because of his skin color and was taken advantage of by those in power. “The wide one reached into Tommy’s coat and removed the ten-dollar bills. “We saw you take these from the old man,” he began. “That old man is part of an ongoing investigation, so this is evidence.”” (pg. 23)

For instance when Tommy received his first 100 dollars from Suydam. Tommy’s money was immediately taken from him.

During this time period this was representative of the injustice African Americans went through. But the realities of Tommy’s situation did not affect him too much until his father had died. When this had happened Tommy did not act out in the outrage that one may think. But “For the first time in Tommy’s life, he didn’t play for the money, didn’t play so he could hustle. This was the first time in his life he played well.” (pg. 70) It was almost as if he was “free” from how he should behave as an African American in society. Free from the invisible constraints when walking through a majority white neighborhood like Queens, NY.

         Throughout both literary works, we see the transformation of both of our “monsters”. How they acted before much interaction with their surroundings. How they acted during, and the ultimate result to the main action. While both the Creature and Tommy Tester both end up as the ultimate monsters they both have very different paths to this point.

The Creature knew very little about its surroundings. In addition, was able to learn a lot about society for the first time. From the literary works he read and observing the DeLacey family.

Monsters In Society

While Tommy Tester had already known much about society. His introduction to Robert Suydam led him to have more interactions with a society that perceived him as a monster. Both characters, while coming from vastly different backgrounds. Were vulnerable to become monsters mainly due to society’s own views on how they may act, not who they were. Society looked down upon the Creature and Tommy Tester. Moreover, as people who you should despise and be fearful of at all costs. In conclusion, this view of the characters is what eventually led the Creature and Tommy to become what society had feared. Lastly, they were from the very beginning, monsters. 

Monsters In Society Works Cited:

CASE 8 The Monster’s Books.” Frankenstein 200: the Birth, Life, and Resurrection of Mary Shelley’s Monster, by Rebecca Baumann and Jody Mitchell, Indiana University Press, 2018.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

LaValle, Victor D. The Ballad of Black Tom, a Novel. A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 2016.


Schoene, Berthold. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein. Icon Books, 2000.