Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an exploration of the relationship between parent and child. Inspired in many ways by Mary Shelley’s own experiences as a motherless child and a grieving mother, Victor’s tale follows a linear trail of decline traceable to his mother’s death. Up until that point, though fascinated with alchemy and life science, Victor’s ideas retain a manner of scientific remove. His egotism is controlled and does not boast a power over life or death. It is only when confronted with death that the fissures begin to appear and the idyllic scenes from his childhood begin to show the full remove of affection Victor experienced.
Unable to deal with this abandonment realistically, he manipulates death to create renewed animation of the body in place of actual life. In his creation of the monster, he assumes the role of mother to child in his single-minded manner but overcome by his own ego and lacking compassion he abhors and shuns his “child” as an abomination. Victor’s monster finds himself thrown into a society for which he was neither prepared nor accepted. His abandonment is immediate but his initial reaction differs greatly from the destructive creationism of Victor.
His rage at being ostracized is at first controlled and in a newborn state he recedes into the woodshed of the De Lacey family where he learns of and comes to yearn for a familial connection. Being denied this connection, yet again, his rage consumes him but does not obliterate this desire. That the novel should center on the idea of the mother-child relationship and the deep-seated effects of rejection and abandonment is no surprise considering Mary Shelley’s own experiences with motherhood.
Her own mother Mary Wollenscraft died from complications to childbirth when Shelley was only 10 days old (Adams 72). Throughout the author’s childhood and adolescence she experienced feelings of abandonment and guilt. As a child she saw her birth as the cause of her mother’s death. Shelley’s own experiences with motherhood were no less tragic having lost her first child when she was only 17, just one year before she began writing Frankenstein. Shelley used her pain, to turn the tables to have death create life.
As Will Adams explains, “Shelley’s feelings and fantasies about killing her mother became on of the formative influences in her life […] Frankenstein is a meditation on the destructive consequences of growing up without a mother (or consistent father […]) (73). Art was Shelley’s coping mechanism to come to terms with her own internal demons stemming from the guilt from her mother’s death and her own helplessness in the face of her first child’s death. Similarly, Victor struggles with the absence of parental affection and the death of his mother, which permanently removes this possibility from his life.
His efforts to reconcile the science of his youth with the realities of his emotional and familial life, while carrying potential, become perverted in his quest to overcome death. Though Victor clearly idolizes his mother, his affections for her are based on the ideal of motherhood and not interconnected with the woman herself. Through Victor’s descriptions we see and feel a symbol of motherhood but not the day-to-day tasks and affections one associates with motherhood. Victor’s relationship to his mother suffers from his inability see her as a person and not simply a maternal symbol.
Victor’s sense of his mother is directly related to his parents’ relationship with one another and not Victor’s relationship to them individually. Viewed through his father’s eyes, Victor’s mother is a creature of adoration. As Victor explains his parents’ relationship, “There was a show of gratitude and worship in his attachment to my mother, differing wholly from the doating fondness of age, for it was inspired by reverence for her virtues” (Shelley, Chapt. 1). Critics have questioned the role that being an only child played in Victor’s reception and perception of his parents’ affections.
Feeling left out of their love for one another, Victor childhood consists of a “love/hate relationship with his parents because he senses that they share an affection that in some way excludes him” (Claridge 15). Victor’s over the top representation the goodness of his childhood, compared to the man he becomes, ring false, “while during every hour of my infant life I received a lesson of patience, of charity, and of self control, I was so guided by a silken cord that all seemed by one train of enjoyment to me” (Shelley, Chapt.
1). Viewing this in hindsight of Victor’s adult persona and rejection of parenting, it is difficult to accept this statement at face value. Where, after all, were these lessons in helping to guide Victor away from his creation of the monster and in maintaining strong bonds with his remaining family? His mother’s death from scarlet fever rather than halting his idyllic fantasies of perfection, only deepen them into a form of denial and repression that prevent closure and emotionally stunt him as a father to the creature.
Even in death, his mother retains her saintliness, accepting and “resigning” herself “cheerfully to death” (Shelley, Chapt. 3). This must have made death all the more unreal for young Victor. As Will Adams explains in his psychological evaluation of the tale, Victor is “a man who cannot bear the reality of death and suffers greatly because of this defensive denial” (65). For Victor the death of his mother is not merely tragic, but “evil” and it is this view, which propels him forward in his endeavor to recreate life. As Adams explains, “he daemonizes death, daemonizes a reality that is completely natural and unavoidable” (65).
Death becomes a foe to be overcome; if life can be ended so easily, than death should be no harder to reverse, is Victor’s basic reasoning. As a result of his experiment in turning death to life, Victor ignores the living family he still has in his father, brother and Elizabeth. Victor’s deficiencies in coping and accepting his creation are seen by come critics to stem from his own childhood. Victor appears to be incapable of loving his family, despite his many assertions to the contrary. He obviously feels that family relationships should be shaped around mutual love and communication but his own attempts are stinted and selfish.
After his mother dies, he leaves as scheduled and does not return for 6 years until tragedy requires he fulfill his family obligation. When his brother William is murdered by Victor’s creation, his guilt overcomes his grief making the tragedy more Victor’s than anyone else’s. Not only has he lost his little brother, but it was his creation which had broken yet another connection between Victor and his family. Propelled by ego, he placed himself into the role of creator and mother, without fully comprehending the responsibility.
Uncertain in his feelings of acceptance from his mother, Victor has little on which to base the parent-child bond and his feelings toward his father cause an even greater friction in the role he should have rightly played in the creation of the monster. Given revisions performed by Shelley to the original text, in which Victor’s adolescent relationship to his father is made to become even more remote. In the first version of the novel, Alphonse Frankenstein shares his son’s fascination with science but in the later 1831 edition Victor’s interest is singular only to him.
This estrangement in affection between father and son becomes no less stark with the death of Victor’s mother. Instead he pulls himself farther away from his father, who seems to be pushing Victor away as well. Without a strong paternal or maternal bond, it is no surprise that Victor does not make this connection between himself and the monster. As Will Adams notes, if Victor had “the courage, or we could say the ego strength, to consciously accept responsibility for his grand venture, everything may have turned out differently” (79).
The two years, which culminate with the creation of the monster, are defined by a single-minded energy that though engineered through scientific brilliance lack ethics. His purpose for these two years is creation; something of which he expects will be of benefit to mankind. Victor’s reaction to the monster at his “birth” throw light onto the lack of actual forethought and responsibility inherent in its creation, “Victor’s reactions suggest that eqoic, self-serving, death-denying motivations outweigh his genuine wish to serve humankind” (Adams 77).
It is therefore not surprising that in the end, deluded throughout his endeavor that Victor would shun the reality of his efforts. Pieced together from dead bodies parts, Victor is never able to reconcile these various parts into a semblance of humanity. In fact, by the end, he is unable to fully comprehend the steps, which had led to his ability to conceptualize his creation, “this discovery was so great and overwhelming that all the steps which I had been progressively led to it were obliterated, and I beheld only the result” (Shelley, Chapt. 4).
This can be read as Victor’s inability to discover and explore the root of his fascination with death and further avoiding the resolution of feelings which would have either stopped him in continuing or better prepared him to father his creation. To imagine the “birth” from the creature’s perspective is particular saddening. Though considered an abomination by established science and religion, the creature is unaware of his distinction from the rest of mankind. On opening his eyes the first time, he sought to gaze upon his creator and to be nurtured.
Instead, Victor turns away in fright and abandons the creature to his own devices. Like a newborn, the creature is helpless in understanding the mechanics of the world and is even further handicapped by society’s judgment of his appearance. His physical deformity did not directly lead to his monstrous and violent behavior but rather the world’s rejection of him, starting with the rejection of his parent. Before the creature has committed his first crime, he is deemed by Victor to be a “daemon.
” Will Adams notes that Shelley’s use of the image of daemon is intentional, “For the past few hundred years, some writers have deliberately chosen the forms daemon, in part to emphasize the psychological and spiritual character of these being who are midway between humans and gods” (Adams 60). Defying the logics of life and death, the creature is caught between humanity and a solitary existence. Intentionally large, further highlighting his abnormalities of the creature, he has the stature of a god but the emotional baggage of a human.
In his observance of the De Lacey family, the creature is able to learn the constructs of a family’s day-to-day lives. During his time in their woodshed, the creature learns not only language and history but also comes to understand the nature of love and family. He knows that his appearance causes fright in the average person and therefore keeps himself hidden from the De Lacey’s wishing to learn more from them before revealing himself. Through his daily watchfulness, the creature comes to love and feel kinship for the family even as they remain unaware of his presence.
He finds himself caught up in their stories and sympathizing with their plight. Even the creature’s own basic desires for food draw into a more universal focus as he realizes that each bit of food he takes unaware from the family, is one less bit of food they themselves will have to eat. If not for the creature’s very human inclination toward companionship, he may have succeeded in living peacefully aside the family for many years. However, as each day passes and he finds their lives entangling his own, the creature wishes for a human connection.
Though monstrous in appearance, each part of him was once human and in the De Lacey’s he sees the full potential of this humanity. “Even though he is rejected when the De Laceys become terrified by his horrible appearance, he accomplishes (for a while) what Victor is never really able to do. That is, the creature transcends his own egocentric perspective, sees through the eyes of another, feels love, and acts kindly” (Adams 81). Victor, on the other hand, reacts to emotional closeness by pushing his family away.
In fact, it is not surprising given Victor’s relationships with his family, and the distance he cultivates, that he would completely abandon a creature, which did not live up to his dream of reality. Victor’s obsession with natural science is a means by which to divert all of his attention away from these relationships and to realize something within himself. With the creation of the monster, Victor realizes his folly in believing he can reverse death but never addresses the root cause. Instead, he focuses his negative energy toward recognizing and rejecting the humanity of the creature.
It has been supposed that this rejection is in effect a rejection not only of the monster but of the deep seated issues which Victor refuses to address, “Even though the creature appears strangely alien – a singular, isolated, non-human being with no kin nor friend – he is also strangely familiar, universally understandable and intimately connected to Victor” (Adams 64). In the role of parent, Victor Frankenstein, is an utter failure. Poorly prepared by his own childhood to provide genuine affection and understanding to the creature, Victor actions perpetuate an endless cycle.
The creature’s rejection by his parent and the people from which he has learned affection and companionship, lead his unraveling into the very “daemon” his appearance implies him to be. His one request from Victor for a companion is denied to him on these grounds. While he briefly receives understanding from his creator through the narration of his tale of the De Lacey’s, the issues, which have plagued Victor’s familial relationships, create a strong barrier and lead to Victor destroying his companion.
Victor is unable to relate to the creature, as it is the living proof of his own parents’ failings in raising him and his subsequent failures at love. In the end, Victor dies as alone as the creature; their only communion to another being is through each other. Starting as creator and creation, they each die nurturing their own unhappiness and solitude through a fruitless hunt that leaves them both monstrous.
Adams, Will W. “Making Daemons of Death and Love: Frankenstein, Existentialism, Psychoanalysis. ” Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 41. 2001: 57-89. 31 March 2009 <http://jhp. sagepub. com/cgi/content/abstract/41/4/57. > Claridge, Laura P. “Parent-Child Tensions in Frankenstein: The Search of Communion. ” Studies in the Novel 17. 1 Spring 1985: 14. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. 31 Mar. 2009 <http://search. ebscohost. com/login. aspx? direct=true&db=f5h&AN=7115754&site=ehost-live>. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Literature. org. < http://www. literature. org/authors/shelley-mary/frankenstein/>.
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