Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

94: Carol J. Adams part IV:
Frankenstein's Monster; Bearing the Vegetarian Word 2

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is an example of bearing the vegetarian word. “Frankenstein’s Monster was a vegetarian. This chapter, in analyzing the meaning of the diet adopted by a Creature composed of dismembered parts, will demonstrate the benefits of re-membering rather than dismembering vegetarian tradition.”

         Mary Shelley, the author speculates, may have been a bit of an outsider in the circle of friends that included her husband Percy and Lord Byron because she was the only woman permitted to intellectually engage with the men. This circle of friends the author labels as romantic vegetarians because they reinterpreted many texts in a romantic style from a vegetarian perspective. A romantic style can be thought of as focusing on human sentiment and feeling more than human logic and reason.

        At the time of Shelley’s writing an influential moral theory was in vogue consisting of concentric circles of moral claims in which inner claims had to prevail over outer moral claims. In the case of Frankenstein’s Monster his most inner circle of morality consisted of a declaration of vegetarianism and respect for all living things. The monster respected all animals just as much he respected himself. By contrast when the creature tried to enter into human society he was rejected every time. “Human beings see themselves as their own center, into whose moral fabric neither gigantic beings nor animals are allowed.” The creature is in fact a huge threat to the existing moral order of English civilization because in its declaration of vegetarianism and inclusion of all living things it challenges the dominant moral structures in the “us versus them,” classist, racist, and sexist English society. (Q1)

        “Romantic vegetarians sought to expand the human-centered moral circle that excluded animals from serious consideration….They argued that once meat eating had redefined humanity’s moral relationship with animals, the floodgates of immorality were opened, and what resulted was the immoral, degenerate world in which they and their contemporaries lived.” (Q2)

        Genesis 1:29 is the source of the notion of a vegetarian Garden of Eden: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” Very specific food was given to Adam and Eve before the fall. And again it was understood as vegetarian in Genesis 3:2 “The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden’,”. Then at the fall after eating from the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ which the romantic vegetarians interpret as meaning meat eating (Q3) we get this line in Genisis 3:21: “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” The skin is interpreted as the left over remains of the first butchered animals – why would God kill his created animals just to clothe Adam and Eve? “Approaching the Fall from this interpretation deflects attention from the role of Eve as temptress, and removes that patriarchal obsession with the feminine as the cause of the evil of the world.” In fact this interpretation, given the masculine role of butcher, reverse the cause of evil from the feminine to the continued roles men take on as butchers and hunters in defiance of God’s command after the Fall in Genesis 3:17-19: “To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, You must not eat from it, Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’” For romantic vegetarians humanity continues to live in disobedience to God by virtue of not being vegetarian. (Q4)

         The myth of Prometheus is interpreted by romantic vegetarians as the point in prehistory in which cooking meat is introduced. “Without cooking, meat would not be palatable….cooking also masks the horrors of a corpse and makes meat eating psychologically and aesthetically acceptable.

         Mary Shelley also throws in some forward thinking arguments. Apparently the creature at one point points out that a starving cow owned by a starving poor family can’t produce enough milk from the meager food it is provided but that the poor family could feed itself from the same field the cow uses to graze. This foreshadows modern arguments about the tremendous resources needed to have a meat-centric diet. Mary Shelley also equates grave robbing and a slaughterhouse in that Victor Frankenstein used both as sources of material.

         Vegetarian interpretations, like feminist interpretations, are muted and excluded (like women and animals) from the dominant patriarchal circle of ideas that are considered worthy of consideration. (Q5)

Q1 Does vegetarianism as a respect for all animals really challenge or offer and alternative to the existing structures of class, race and gender?

Q2 How does the notion that meat eating ushered in the degenerate and immoral aspects of our world today strike you?

Q3 Does the interpretation that the fruit of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” is really meat sound convincing or farfetched? Why?

Q4 Could you imagine that the world would be very different if the romantic vegetarian notion of sin, as eating meat, had become the dominant discourse of the West for the last 2000 years? Would this world be better or worse than ours? In what way?

Q5 Are vegetarian and feminist ideas still muted in our society?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren