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‘Frankenstein’ was written in an era when gothic horror was widely read and very popular, especially with women. Discussing gothic horror was a common past time amongst women and it was acceptable for more unorthodox views to be expressed. Writers knew that mystery and horror were important elements that made up gothic horror which would almost certainly have influenced Shelley’s writing. ‘Frankenstein’ contains many characters which could be seen as monsters, aliens and exiles and Shelley is very particular in the way in which they are portrayed and accepted by society.
It appears that in ‘Frankenstein’ society is itself what creates the monsters – after all, the monster only becomes monstrous after being exiled and mistreated by society. This begs the question – is Victor a metaphor for society and how twisted it has become?
Shelley ensures that the audience feels pity for the exiles as they are mistreated. The monster is perhaps the most obvious ‘exile’ and is mistreated in many instances.
Firstly by his creator – Frankenstein – which means, in his childlike state, he has no guidance in the world. The first time the monster encounters humans is a jarring way to be introduced to the world of men ‘some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country’. The monster, having spent months preparing for the moment, is then cast out by Felix which is perhaps the worst encounter the monster has as even a fellow exile refuses to help him.
The family that the monster had so clung to in desperation cannot bear him ‘my heart sunk within me as with bitter sickness’. He then attempts to save a drowning girl and ends up being shot by her companion. Finally as he tries to take William he is rejected once again. ‘If I could seize him, and educate him as my companion and friend, I should not be so desolate in this peopled earth’.
The monster feels throughout this experience incredibly human emotions which the audience would be able to relate to, especially as Shelley describes it so keenly. The monster is lonely and in pain – physical and emotional – and the readers build up feelings for him, despite his physical deformity, and therefore even when he commits all these heinous crimes the reader can understand why he does it. This is as though Shelley is saying ‘If you just look past a person’s exterior and into their heart you will feel what they feel and learn not to judge.’ It is obvious that Shelley is critical here because although we understand why society drives the monster away, we can see that it is unjust in doing so and would be appalled at the unfairness of the situation, although with reflection the audience would see that given the same situation they would have done exactly the same.
Shelley criticises the treatment of the other exiles in the novel very obviously. Safie’s father is a prime example of this as he is persecuted simply because of his wealth and religion. This is an excellent example of racism in that period and from Shelley’s point of view it is very wrong, although we know it happened on a large scale throughout history. It is interesting that he is never given a name in the text, being referred to as ‘The Turk’ or ‘Safie’s father’, perhaps this is to stop they audience from becoming emotionally attached because Shelley feels that he does not deserve pity after he breaks his promise to Felix. The De Laceys are treated awfully by society – exiled for helping an innocent man – they end up living in poverty and interestingly do not receive any visitors throughout the period that the monster is watching them. Could this suggest that they are so shunned they have no friends to aid them? This is critical because it shows that one ‘bad’ deed has ruined an entire family and left them destitute and friendless when truly they deserve better. The audience would become attached to the family and wish to help them as they have been wronged and do not deserve the punishment they have been given by society.
In Victor’s eyes it appears that physical beauty is equal to inner beauty. If the metaphor that Victor represents society is taken, this could reflect the mind of society. In this, Shelley disagrees, showing through the monster’s compassion and human feeling that there is good in everyone, society just chooses to reject that and projects its own beliefs onto others. Shelley ensures that the audience does not feel pity for the Victor – at least not on the scale that they feel pity for the other exiles. This is because Victor (and therefore society) is seen in its true form. He begins with the best of intentions – wanting to ensure that no one had to die or feel the pain of loss (stemming from the loss of his mother earlier in the novel).
However his mind becomes more and more warped through his experiments into the unknown and his motives become lost as he becomes increasingly selfish. Victor hardly ever considers the feelings of others – he barely think of Elizabeth, the woman he swears to love, and what she might be feeling during his absence. He allows himself to be overcome by fits and refuses to deal with what he has created. It is this cowardice that would annoy the reader and when Victor does finally decide to do something about the monster he has already allowed his entire family to die by the hands of the being he created. Even when he has the chance to save their lives by creating a companion for the monster he chooses to condemn the world rather than help the monster. Still society does not shun Victor, apart from when he is a murder suspect, and continues to accept him although it is clear to the reader that the ‘monster’ is actually Victor and not his creation.
‘Frankenstein’ is clearly a criticism of society’s attitude towards anything it considers ‘wrong’. Shelley is clever in writing this through a popular medium therefore it reaches many people and should make them, at least subconsciously, reconsider what they see as monsters as they have now had the chance to understand exactly how an exile would feel.
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