Film contains many allusions to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Both stories are centered on the creation of life and the difficulties that the one who was created must face as a result. However, Frankenstein is entirely composed of Gothic elements, while Burton chooses to sharply contrast Gothic elements with those of modern suburban life. In Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton satirizes the conformity of American suburbanism, which is counter to many ideas popular during the Gothic period.
Conformity is an important theme in the suburban city in which Edward Scissorhands is set, as it greatly influences the behavior of the residents and is ultimately the deciding factor in the plot. This theme is first conveyed in the story that the grandmother is telling the child, which unfolds with Peg Boggs selling Avon products in the neighborhood that is soon to be Edward’s home. She goes from door to door of each cookie cutter house, and much like her inevitably pleasant manner, the response of each woman at every house remains the same. Because of this unchanging pattern in which no one wants to buy Peg’s products, she first encounters Edward within the Gothic style mansion on the hill. This is the first occasion in which conformity, and the behavior that follows in suit of it, is the cause of an important event within the plot. Immediately after this, conformity comes into play from the moment Edward arrives in the city.
As he and Peg make their way to the Boggs’ home, the constantly gossiping women of the city are met with their newest topic of discussion—Edward Scissorhands himself. They gather at the street corner to share their speculations regarding Edward’s identity and the reasons for his presence. This becomes a regular and highly symbolic occurrence after his arrival. It epitomizes the general attitude of the people of the city. They do not think as individuals, nor do they seem to be capable of even forming their own opinions about the reasons for the presence of this stranger. Through their constant gossiping and “group think”, it becomes apparent that the act of conforming to what “everyone else” is doing is the norm in this society. The setting is another aspect of the movie used to emphasize conformity in the community. At the start of each new day, the movie shows every father pulling out of the driveway of every cookie cutter home in what appears to be perfect synchronization.
The only difference in the homes is the varying shades of pastel that they are painted. This, as well, is symbolic of the theme of conformity, as the only true difference among the homes are their facades, while the core of each home is the same—structured, concrete, and without any sense of variation or creativity. The homes are emblematic of the homogeneity among the suburbanites, as it is revealed when they all succumb to their true nature that they are just like the houses in which they live—slightly variant in appearance, but all too similar in their truest essence. The overwhelming aura of conformity in this suburban city, which ultimately drives Edward away from those that he loves, is a common thread in the movie and is highly influential in the plot. When Edward first enters into this suburban society, the suburbanites view him with a sense of fascination and intrigue. This only grows as they discover his talents, such as cutting hair and sculpting bushes into magnificent works of art.
He introduces a refreshing and exciting sense of creativity to the suburbanites. One particularly selfish and scheming member of the community, an aging seductress named Joyce, attempts to reel Edward in through a series of schemes and plots. This is all in an effort to satisfy her personal desires. She convinces Edward to visit a beauty salon that, according to her, could potentially be the future location of a beauty salon run by Edward and herself in which he could put his hair-cutting talents to use. They arrive at the unoccupied salon and she attempts to seduce him in a back room. However, this ultimately only serves to scare Edward and ends disastrously. She is greatly angered by his rejection, and proceeds to spread rumors that Edward took advantage of her, rather than tell the truth, which was quite the contrary. This is only the first case in which other’s selfish interests in what Edward can do for them results in him doing something that ends in total chaos.
Jim, who is the boyfriend of Peg’s daughter Kim, tricks Edward into helping him rob his own house because he wants to take some of his own father’s belongings. He sets the alarm off and the police arrive at the scene, and he is then taken to jail for his actions. After a psychological examination, though, he is declared to be unfit to judge right from wrong due to the great amount of time that he spent in isolation in the castle on the hill, therefore he is not punished for the break-in. However, because of the reputation he begins to obtain from Joyce’s rumors, along with the city’s new perspective of Edward as a thief, their infatuation with him greatly declines. After this, the next incident caused by his creativity and unique qualities occurs, and this is the final one. While Edward is making exquisite ice sculptures, Jim comes by to instigate even more trouble. As Jim is provoking Edward, he causes Edward to accidentally cut Kim’s hand. Kim and Jim then begin to fight angrily with one another and Kim finally breaks up with him, which sends Jim, remaining true to character, into a drunken rage. He and his drunk friend nearly run over Kevin, and when Edward tries to help, he accidentally cuts up the boy’s face and hurts him.
The police arrive, and following Kim’s advice, Edward flees to the mansion on the hill. At this point, it is quite obvious to the viewer that Edward’s creativity and individuality may only be a source of issue and the conformist suburbanites will never be able to truly accept him. While both Frankenstein and Edward Scissorhands are stories based on the creation of life, the messages of these two works are somewhat different. Shelley strives to warn the reader of the dangers of reaching for knowledge that is beyond the realms of what humans should be limited to, as well as to inform the reader that nature is sublime. Burton’s goal is to reveal the folly of humans when it comes to conformity and homogeneity. When Edward returns to the castle, the vast difference between the castle, along with the knowledge of the type of thinking that has taken place within, and the city below, where no individual seems capable of thinking or acting based upon their own opinions, both serve as reminders of the vast difference in these two methods of life.
In the castle, the architecture represents creativity and individuality. The castle also serves as a reminder of the creation of life that took place within—Edward’s creation. The closeness of these two settings and the contrast between the two illustrate the difference between the philosophy of the Gothic period and the philosophy and ideas of modern society, particularly American suburbia. Through scenes in the movie illustrating the significant role of conformity in Burton’s fictional suburban city, along with scenes depicting Edward’s struggle with being a creative and unique individual in a conformist world, Tim Burton satirizes the ideals of modern suburban society. In contrasting this with elements of the Gothic period, he draws attention to the folly of modern society’s obsession with conformity, along with the desire to “be normal” and “fit in”.