The Tempest, Frankenstein & Cloud Nine
The Social Construction of Value Judgments
If we examine the texts of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and Caryl Churchill’s drama Cloud Nine, we see that values are as socially constructed as surely as Dr. Frankenstein constructs his monster. Value judgments abound in all three works. When individuals do not fit into preconceived conceptions, stereotypes, and roles, they are de-valued, considered abhorrent, vile, and monstrous. The dilemma is that the individuals doing the judging can only define the other, i.e., what is NOT them, as “bad”, “wrong”, “monstrous”, or some other devaluation. For example, Caliban is only considered vile because he is not like those who label him as such, i.e., he is not English or white. As Miranda says of her father’s enslaved native “’Tis a villain, sir,/I do not love to look on” (Shakespeare 5).
What we see in the above is a binary at work. In other words, what is white is good and anything not white by virtue of this definition is not good. Thus, individuals who do not fit into a socially constructed label, one constructed by the empowered status-quo, are often labeled as bad, vile, monstrous or something else that devalues them merely because they are NOT what has already been established by their judges as “good.” We see this in Frankenstein. In this novel, Shelly’s depiction of the monster is truly ironic. In an effort to illustrate the social construction of values and how value judgements often pigeon-hole, ostracize, and oppress individuals outside of their boundaries, Shelly’s monster is the most humane and sympathetic character in the novel. However, conventional society views this laboratory-born individual a “monster” because he does not conform to their perceptions and definitions of “good” or “normal.” To society, anything that is not the “self” (i.e., group n...