NOTE: This is a brief play that imagines a scene in which the Creature, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, meets Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa). If you would like to know more about these individuals, you can read the summary of Frankenstein here, and you can read the summary of Equiano’s personal narrative, here.
GUSTAVUS VASSA, OLAUDAH EQUIANO
SCENE: GUSTAVUS VASSA sits, terrified, as he views himself in a transparent pool. He starts back upon first glance, unable to believe that it was indeed he who was reflected in the mirror. GUSTAVUS collects himself and becomes fully convinced that he was, in reality, the monster that he was made to be. He is filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification at the thought.
GUSTAVUS: Alas! It was only after they scrubbed and scrubbed at my flesh to no avail did I come to realize this is the complexion to which I am tethered. How could I have known the fatal effects of this miserable deformity? I did not ask to be brought into this new world, to be wrought by the monstrous men upon their ship, led by captains who held me captive.
(GUSTAVUS looks upon his image in the pool for a final moment before getting to his feet. From Off-Stage-Right, THE CREATURE howls, which sends a chill coursing through GUSTAVUS’s body; he recoils and searches the barren setting with apprehension.
THE CREATURE: (enters with stark rigidity) Why must you stare?
GUSTAVUS: (despite any attempt, fails to look away from THE CREATURE. The two look upon each other with curiosity.) You are a novelty.
THE CREATURE: No, (anguish wells in his words) I am an abomination! I am unsafe, and so are you.
GUSTAVUS: I haven’t yet to experience safety. There is no haven for me.
THE CREATURE: Why do you stand with such stoic bearing? Why, after perceiving the deformities that enumerate my being, do you not run in terror? Why do you not seek my destruction?
GUSTAVUS: That is all I have ever known. Why do you not seek to bind me in chains and lash my back for acting against your will? (he pauses and contemplates) I ponder; we have much of the same enemy.
THE CREATURE: You are my enemy!
GUSTAVUS: I have done nothing to earn that title. We have just become acquainted. What ill will do you expect of me to hold against you?
THE CREATURE: My very appearance inspires ill will from all those I meet.
GUSTAVUS: (smiles) Well, for you, I have none, friend.
THE CREATURE: I am no man’s friend. I am no man’s ally. I am the monster that enters your home and strangles your dearest. (overcome by agitation) I shall be deprived of companionship for the duration of my existence.
GUSTAVUS: How shall I refer to you?
THE CREATURE: I do not understand.
GUSTAVUS: What is your name?
THE CREATURE: (swallowing his anguish) My name?
GUSTAVUS: Your name.
(THE CREATURE paces about the stage, basking under the warm light of day amongst the bare trees and the blackness of the earth.)
THE CREATURE: I have none. I am not referred to. The men and women call me a creature, an abomination—an animal. My master, Victor Frankenstein, gave me nothing.
GUSTAVUS: (lost in thought) My master. He calls me Gustavus Vassa. That’s my name.
THE CREATURE: You have a master who has sewn and stitched you together? You’re an abomination, the same as myself?
GUSTAVUS: The men and women call me a savage, a disgrace—an animal.
THE CREATURE: They do not use your name?
GUSTAVUS: Gustavus Vassa? That’s not even my true name. My parents gave me another. A name that others find deplorable, despicable, disgusting.
THE CREATURE: What is it?
GUSTAVUS: Olaudah Equiano. “Gustavus Vassa” is more pleasant upon the tongue of the white man who buys me. It is familiar. It is safe. It makes me an animal he can tame.
THE CREATURE: (softly) Olaudah Equiano. It feels as the raindrops do as they dribble on the leaves overhead. It feels like life.
OLAUDAH: I know no such word—“life.”
THE CREATURE: We are much the same; cast away as the abject! Tell me more about what it means to own a name.
OLAUDAH: A name is who you are, who you ought to be. A name is given to one based on who one is expected to become. Parents name children with names from the Holy Bible to imbue the child with the spirit of the holiest of men and women. Those who will bring light to the darkness. A name can mean endearment, a signification of affection, honey on the comb that tastes sweet when swallowed with a glass of tea.
THE CREATURE: I lack parents; I lack a partner to care for me. I lack the connection to earn a name.
OLAUDAH: You were never given the opportunity. A name is an identity. You may not yet have received a name, but you may offer one to yourself.
THE CREATURE: Myself? (OLAUDAH smiles and returns to sit before the reflective pool) I do not understand the myriad of consonant combinations that formulate a name. How could I create something when all that I am known for is destruction? What am I to do, Olaudah?
OLAUDAH: (gently) Come, sit beside me and glance into this pool. Look inside and tell me who you see.
THE CREATURE: I have already done such a task! All that awaits in that mirror is an image of horror.
OLAUDAH: That is what they want you to see. That is the same that I see. I have attempted to wash away the grime I witness when I look upon myself, but after meeting you, I now realize there is beauty in us all. Now, come sit before this pool and see yourself. For the first time.
(THE CREATURE hesitantly sits beside OLAUDAH and pierces the soil with his fingers. He glances into the water, lets out an excruciating wail, but does not look away. He stares until the sensation of despondence and mortification transforms into fleeting reflections of who he was.)
THE CREATURE: I see myself.
OLAUDAH: And what else?
THE CREATURE: I see who I am to be.
OLAUDAH: And what is it?
THE CREATURE: A name.
OLAUDAH: Your name.
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