‘Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay/ To mould thee man? Did I solicit thee/ From darkness to promote me? ‘ Adam’s words appear in 1818 edition of FR. What light do they cast on the Creature? Does Shelley present him as monster or victim? By using the above quote from ‘Paradise Lost’ (printed in the epigraph on the title page of ‘Frankenstein’) Shelley has shown that she does see some parallels with God’s creation of man and Frankenstein’s creation. However through the novel Shelley expresses many opinions and criticisms of society which were influenced by her own family circumstances and her vast reading.
She makes constant reference to family and the concept of alienation and by examining how the creature is treated we can form a better view on whether he is a monster or a victim. Shelley quickly gets the reader involved in the story by enabling us to read the letters Walton writes to his sister. This epistolary style gives a sense of realism to the whole story and thus prepares us to hear Frankenstein and the creature’s accounts later on through Walton’s journal, which forms a frame for their versions of the story.
Because we are hearing Frankenstein’s version through the eyes of Walton, a romantic character, who ‘bitterly feel(s) the want of a friend’ and quickly identifies Frankenstein as the sort of person who could satisfy this want, we may be hearing a biased version of the events. We also see the Creature’s version told to Frankenstein and then recorded in Walton’s journal. However, the eloquent rhetoric used by the creature give the impression that we are not reading an entirely prejudiced report of the creature’s account who may otherwise have appeared less articulate and more like a babbling monster.
However, first of all I will examine Frankenstein’s narrative where we can see that there is regular emphasis put on the benevolence of the characters. His father ‘passed his younger days perpetually occupied by the affairs of his country’ and his parents’ ‘benevolent dispositions often made them enter the cottages of the poor’. His mother is described as having a ‘soft and benevolent mind’ and his own early childhood memories are of his ‘mother’s soft caresses’ and his father’s ‘smile of benevolent pleasure’.
This emphasis on the importance of benevolence can be traced to Shelley’s father, William Godwin a radical thinker who believed that ‘universal benevolence’ would create a just and virtuous society and that a ‘true solitaire’ could not ‘be considered a moral being’. Shelley by dedicating her book to her father would seem to be showing that she believed and shared in some of his philosophy and this would appear to be the case here. Before we hear the creature’s story we see the use of both Romantic and Gothic imagery setting the scene.
Frankenstein is enjoying the beauty of nature when ‘a noble war in the sky’ takes place. This is a description of a storm which is taking place and Shelley frequently uses the weather and ‘sublime’ scenery before the entry of the creature or when something unpleasant is about to take place. If we then start to look at the creature’s narrative reported by Frankenstein to Walton (thus showing how Shelley has used a set of enclosing narratives – Walton’s narrative being the framing narrative with Frankenstein’s story enclosed in this and the creatures enclosed within that.
) we see that his story is totally the opposite to Frankenstein. When we do see the entry of the creature we see that his first memories are the opposite to Frankenstein’s, they are not of benevolence – he is rejected by his creator, followed by the repulsion and horror of the shepherd, followed by the villagers chasing him off and the DeLaceys and finally after saving the life of a young girl he is shot by a man. Accordingly, in his own words: ‘I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend’.
The idea of the unfallen state of innocence possessed before the creature’s corruption, brought about from his contact with society, is something Shelley had come into contact with from her reading of Rousseau’s books. The creature claims to have read ‘Paradise Lost’ (believing it to be factual) and other books such as Plutarch’s ‘Lives’ and through these and listening to the DeLacey’s he starts to build up a picture of the philosophy of society. He sees himself as the lowest of the low when he learns about the class system and when he sees his own reflection.
The latter he describes as ‘miserable deformity’. Consequently the ‘solitary and abhorred’ creature who believes himself to be ‘miserably alone’ compares himself to Adam. However he realises that Adam had not been alone and his creator had not turned from him in disgust and abandoned him. Because ‘no Eve soothed my sorrows nor shared my thoughts’ he sees that his only hope of happiness is to have a female version of himself created. Thus we see again parallels being drawn with the ‘Paradise Lost’ story.
Using ‘eloquent and persuasive’ language Frankenstein is persuaded to create a second creature. Of course, he later decides against this and we see the creature once again facing a life ‘alone, miserably alone’ and it is in this state we see him once again causing death and destruction. Some readers see that the book is a rejection of the excess of romanticism, perhaps Shelley saw this excess in her husband Percy and felt the need to voice an objection. If a person becomes obsessed with the pursuit of knowledge then things can go wrong and this could be seen to be the case with Frankenstein.
Others believe that Frankenstein represents a man who sees himself in the place of God who does not need a woman to have a child and if this is the case once again we can see that Shelley has shown how things can go wrong and instead of ‘No father should claim the gratitude of his child as completely as I should deserve theirs’ we see a creature ‘alone, miserably alone’ who sees the only way forwards is the ‘annihilation of one of (them)’ Consequently, it is my opinion the creature was a victim and that this is the way that Shelley intended us to judge him.
She wished the readers to see that society has a responsibility for everyone. We should not judge people by their appearance and we should take responsibility for the less fortunate people in our society. She was writing at the time of the industrial revolution and when many new scientific theories were being advanced and perhaps saw the danger of what could happen if people failed to take responsibility for their actions and perhaps even believed that it would one day be possible to create beings and wanted to ensure that scientists would see that they had a responsibility for anything that they did create.
The creature had no loving family or friends and no one to guide him and therefore it is inevitable that he would turn into a monster – but a monster because of the way he had been treated and therefore a victim. Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me?