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Category: Books and Stories

⤹ can i feel sympathy for a monster?

Hello hello! This is Zabeth with a late update to my weekly blog (school). Today we're dipping our toes into the tragedy of monsters. The monster simply born to existence only to find that their existence doesn't fit the mold of which society has created. Sympathy is the only thing I feel when seeing such monsters, a tragic being of itself. As always this blog post is not meant or written to harm anyone. Please do continue reading with an open mind as these are all my own opinions and thoughts. Enjoy Reading!~

To Feel For A Monster

To empathize with a monster is to go against thousands of years of storytelling precedent. The traditional mythic role of a monster is to be a kind of living obstacle, typically one that embodies dominant fears in its culture of origin. It's traditional and mythic role is to be a kind of living obstacle, usually one that embodies fears in it's culture of origin.

The Latin word for monster comes from the word 'monere' meaning 'to warn'. When a hero vanquishes a monster, it's not meant to be tragic. Instead it's seen as a victory, for it gets rid of a societal anxiety that was caused by the monster itself. This is the conventional method of monster-hood story telling is the one we are most familiar with. They are as close to a cultural universal as you can get, meaning to say that wherever there is a story, there is a monster of some kind with it.

But what is considered monstrous and worthy of fear varies across cultures and time. So what one culture might say is irredeemable, another might pity and sympathize with it. Leaving it all to come down to perspective. 

As a child I never really feared monsters. I found myself thinking of how they were just animals. They never looked fearsome or angry but instead sad. 

And the older I’ve become, the more media I’ve seen where monsters suffer… the less monstrous they seem. But sympathizing with a monster isn't exactly a novel concept, but it is one that has evolved over time. One of the most important turning points of film came in the early 20th century where Universal thrusted the tragic monster into the Hollywood zeitgeist with the success of the film Frankenstein. 


This story is one we all know, where a scientist sews together a bunch of corpses and reanimates it into a living corpse. Upon waking up, Frankenstein's monster is essentially just an innocent newborn. But because of his strength and appearance, he's abandoned by those around him and mistreated. It is through this mistreatment that Frankenstein learns to act monstrous. Lashing out with anger at a world that has given him anger in return. The film emphasizes that this creature does know how to show kindness if treated with kindness. Even if he cannot help being inhuman to the eyes of others, his nature is not inherently bad in that sense or inhumane.

Where the novel and the film itself differ is that in the movie, the creature remains infantile until the end whereas in the book he becomes eloquent and cunning, committing inhumane acts to punish his own creator. Yet the novel too indicates that the creature's cruelty simply stems from its initial abandonment and the horror that follows is the fault of only Dr. Frankenstein's hubris.

The very idea of the story itself, which was written by Mary Shelly, comes from her own apprehension towards people trying to revive dead corpses using electricity. While his monster embodies fears of human recklessness, but is also the victim of that said recklessness.

Yet Frankenstein wasn't the only 19th century movie about a monster that can be sympathized with that came out at this time. Let's talk about Dracula for a moment here.


Universal’s Dracula was an even bigger hit — sticking more closely to a folkloric model of monster-hood, with a largely unsympathetic monster threatening the sanctity of a social good. This Dracula can be seen as a manifestation of U.S. postwar anxieties over perceived external dangers coming from afar to threaten the home, as can many of the Universal creature-features that followed. Yet a surprising number of these films also find pathos in their monsters, with the writers aware, at least on some level, of the tragedy inherent in being rejected by society for something you can’t control. So maybe it’s no surprise that many of these monsters have been reimagined over the year as more sympathetic and non-threatening figures. Asking audiences to empathize with, say, a vampire, is far from unheard of these days.

The story of a circus performer mutilated as a child into having a permanent grin, the central figure in The Man Who Laughs is neither a supernatural creature, nor in any way villainous. He is only a ‘monster’ from the perspective of a public that will not accept him. Though likely the inspiration for the iconic villain the Joker, the original man who laughs never snaps and becomes the monster everyone expects him to be. In fact, he gets a happy ending despite his appearance never changing. For a movie from the film is surprisingly nuanced in its exploration of the lead character’s lived experience.

Fear of the Unknown

At the time of release, the man who laughs was lumped with figures like the Hunchback of Notre Dame by marketers under the umbrella of ‘Universal Monsters’ — which speaks to a callous public perception of people that were physically non-normative. This tragically echoes the history of many so-called monsters in folklore, with werewolf legends, for example, likely related to individuals with hypertrichosis — a condition that causes hair growth throughout the body.

Fear of the unknown or of that which a social majority deems abnormal is at the heart of a lot of monster myths, with the label of ‘monster’ used to demonize and dehumanize those perceived as ‘other.’ In European history, fear of the unknown also manifested in the form of ‘geographic monsters’— the kinds of beasts that populate the edges of Medieval and Renaissance maps, meant to invoke the perceived dangers of far-off locations. 

Over the centuries, tall-tales of fantastical beings from distant lands and distorted accounts of actual wildlife combined with growing Imperialism into a worldview that linked monsters with regions unmapped by Europeans. By the early 19th century, this worldview merged with paleontological discoveries to create ‘Lost World’ narratives, wherein adventurers would discover not mythic monsters but lost prehistoric life — which they then ‘conquered’ in a manner that reflected imperialist attitudes towards nature and indigenous populations.

There are so many examples as to how monsters in stories have evolved since that day and age. King Kong in film and cinema, Skyrim for virtual monsters and game media, Zombies in pop culture. King Kong was a creature born into this world too big, too much, couldn't fit into the ecosystem that it was born in and yet us humans sought to attack it for research, for the use of the militia, using it as an animal and viewing it as a monster when it resists. In Skyrim, there is a choice for you as the player to break from the cycle of the typical monster slaying for rewards, but at some point in the game you will reach a point where you can slay a peaceful dragon for a reward. You have the option not to initiate this fight, it gives you a choice, but according to the media shown, many choose to kill this peaceful beast. Zombies are people who had lives, who were people, who lived just like you and me but was stripped of their humanity into this aggressive beast that seems so awfully devoid of the humanity they once had. In "The Last Of Us" we can hear in the background how these zombies behave when out of view, some of them crying, begging to stop themselves. Maybe under it they were conscious, even when the virus has taken hold of their body their mind runs free to watch and endure how they've hurt innocent people, infected others, out of their own will. Trapped inside of themselves and yet us, the living, choose to kill them.

To kill, to slay, to rid the world of them. 

Looking through the lenses of these creatures, these 'monsters' as we call them, as cliche as it is. The monster really is truly us.

Humans and monsters have been inexorably intertwined since our beginning. In fact, you could argue humans used to live in a world of monsters. There used to be significantly more megafaunal species that posed a threat to our ancestors. It’s easy to imagine that life in such a world would have been one of constant fear.…But that’s not what you see in ancient art of these lifeforms. You see an incredible amount of care and reverence for each creature — even ones that they’d probably had violent encounters with. Though it’s impossible to know the authorial intent behind prehistoric paintings, when I look at these portraits… I feel like the artists were aware that these creatures were alive like they were. I feel like they sympathized with them. The main reason why I pitied dragons when I was little… is because they seemed like animals minding their own business until someone invaded their habitat. Indeed, many dragon myths likely stem from interactions with then-unfamiliar and dangerous animals. But to my child self, these creatures didn’t appear threatening — just misunderstood. I felt that if someone took the time to document their behavior, their fate could have been avoided.

Seeking Understanding

In total truth, we cannot escape monsters. They are our culture and our history, how a person defines themselves and others. Though it's easy to frame our understanding and sympathy of a monster to be on a linear scale, always slowly increasing, monsters are ever changing. They will always begin to represent a new fear or a new avenue for understanding. 

This brings me back to my original question, can I feel sympathy for a monster? 

Yes, I believe we can. As individuals, we have the ability to sympathize even with the most horrid looking monsters but sadly most see sympathy as a weakness. We are naturally wary and doubtful people, to be sympathetic and to act on that sympathy is a rare act a person does in general. Though I hope I find our world to change to be more understanding. To understand the view of how others live their lives. Maybe one day. But it won't be in my lifetime, at least I don't think so. 

And thank you all for reading!! It took me a couple of weeks (truly only two) to get back on track and I understand that this is sort of a late post. Truly I went through multiple weeks of scratching things off and putting it on the board and doing it again. But now that hell week is over we can rejoice in the normal schedule I usually follow for my blog posts. I try to update every weekend as much as I can. Thank you for reading this far!

With matsalab,


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⊹ ࣪ ˖ elizabeth

⊹ ࣪ ˖ elizabeth 's profile picture

wc: 1871 words!! <33

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