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Mary Shelley, the author of ‘Frankenstein’ portrays a resurrected creature as either a victim or a monster depending on the reader’s response. In the following essay I am going to explore whether Frankenstein’s creature is a victim or monster; how Mary Shelley put this across in the novel and how Mary has created complicated complex characters. A victim is considered to be someone or something that is: “harmed or killed by another”; “harmed by or made to suffer from an act or circumstance” or “A person who is tricked, swindled taken advantage of”.
The word originates from Latin, ‘Victima’, which is defined as “a person or animal sacrificed to a god”. These definitions link to Frankenstein’s creature because he is sacrificed to knowledge and science; injured emotionally and because of Victor’s obsessions is made to suffer. Also William, Justine, Elizabeth, Victor and the other characters who are harmed, killed and made to suffer would be considered a victim. A monster as defined in the dictionary is: “legendary animal combining features of animal and human form”; “any creature so ugly as to frighten people”; “a person who excites horror by wickedness, cruelty, etc”;
“Any animal or thing huge in size”; “an animal or plant of abnormal form or the absence of certain parts or organs”. The Story of Frankenstein is extremely famous and Frankenstein’s creature has become a legendary ‘monster’ because of the popular novel: he could be described as legendary and combining animal and human forms due to his mannerisms. Mary Shelley describes the creature as monstrous because he frightens people with his ugliness; becomes cruel and perform horrendous acts. Dr Frankenstein would describe the creature as a cruel and wicked person for killing his family so is therefore monstrous.
Theses monstrous actions are counteracted by Dr Frankenstein’s actions because he abandons his ‘son’. Mary Shelley makes links between her life and the novel. This could be to make the novel more original and personal to her and gives a more realistic setting and set of events to novel. Examples of this are: in August 1797 Mary was born and her parents had an ethical opposition to marriage but in March, 5 months earlier to her birth, they married to give their daughter ‘social respectability’. This relates to ‘Frankenstein’ because marriage is portrayed as negative when Elizabeth gets killed after her and Victor marries.
On the 10th of September, 1797 Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary’s mother dies 10 days after her birth. This links with Victor’s life because his mother dies of Scarlet fever after nursing Justine, being close to his mother this makes him think about reviving people from the dead. Having an interesting but ‘unusual’ childhood in the novel she describes Victor’s childhood as perfect in contrast to her own. We know this in the following ways: Victor’s parents had a happy marriage. Evidence of this is ‘there was a considerable difference between the ages of my parents, but this circumstance seemed to unite them, only closer in bond of devoted affection.
‘ This shows us that Victor has a strong parent relationship as his parent’s age difference seemed to unite them we also know that Victor’s parents loved him because Mary Shelley wrote ‘my mother’s tender caresses and my father’s smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me are my first recollections’. This emphasises the strong family bond the Frankenstein family have and shows his fist memories are positive and of his parents love for him. This links with Mary Shelley’s family relationships because in contrast to Victor’s parents, her mother and father were ’emotionally distant’ like Victor and the creature.
The Greek myth of Prometheus is said to be linked in to Frankenstein because Shelley wrote a second title to the novel, ‘the Modern Prometheus’. This is because in the story of Prometheus in order to help people Prometheus stole Zeus’s fire from the sun so people would have an advantage over animals since they were given the ability to make weapons and tools. As punishment, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock where eagles ate his liver when night fell. But when day broke the next day his liver grew back for the eagle to eat again. This torture was to last for an eternity.
Eventually, Hercules slew the eagles and released Prometheus. This was to counterbalance the gift of fire the Zeus sent Pandora to earth with her box of evils. Dr Frankenstein wanted to help people by giving them an advantage over animals by resurrecting the dead and stealing people’s peaceful resting. As a punishment, his creation destroyed: his mental well being by obsession to make it; his family by killing them and his life. Overall the myth of Prometheus and the modern Prometheus are about good intentions leading to negative things and life changing experience.
In 1817, Percy Shelley (Mary Shelley’s husband) and Byron discussed galvanism which is the idea of reanimating things using electricity. An Italian physicist, Lugi Galvani demonstrated what we now know to be the electrical basis of nerve impulses. Mary Shelley included these ideas in the novel and took scientific experiments to the extreme. Mary Shelley uses different narrators’ point of view in a ‘Russian doll’ narrative structure which changes the narrators as another character tells a different side of the story.
She uses different people to help the reader feel like they are going deeper into the story. The different characters have their own different opinions of Frankenstein’s creature just like the reader so our opinions change as we read/hear the story through a different pair of eyes. The three different narrators are: Walton, a sea captain who writes to his sister who tells her about Victor. Victor is the second narrator who tells Walton about his life which comes to the meeting of his creature who then becomes the third narrator.
The different perspectives and angles are each biased and as a result the reader sympathises with Victor when he’s telling the story and the ‘monster’ when he narrates. Mary Shelley originally wrote ‘Frankenstein’ beginning from the resurrecting the creature but later added Walton’s narrative. Captain Walton, a sea captain, venturing out to the Artic gives a similar plot to Victor Frankenstein’s. This added section seemed to be slightly random but links as the story unfolds when Victor is found. Walton gives the reader a first impression on Victor, whom he rescues from the harsh bitterly cold of the Artic.
Walton description of Victor makes the reader sympathise with his appearance. Walton describes him as ‘his limbs were nearly frozen, and his body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering’ Mary Shelley includes this because it provides a comparison when Walton describes his admiration to Victor. We know he admires Victor because he writes to his sister ‘he is so gentle, yet so wise; his mind is so cultivated, and when he speaks although his words are culled with choicest art, yet they flow with rapidity and unparallel eloquence.
‘ Walton’s admiration to Victor makes the reader also admire him so therefore is more likely to believe the positive recollection of Victor’s story because two opinions support it. Lost, Victor confides in his saviour as he tells Walton the story of how obsession led to death and this also is a warning to Walton’s obsession for fame and glory. Frankenstein begins with his childhood where Mary Shelley describes this as perfect we know this when she writes; ‘My mother’s tender caresses and my father’s smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me are my first recollections’.
This shows Shelley has made a contrast with Victor’s childhood and later on in his life. This also emphasises his parent’s love, his perfect life and his fond memories of his childhood. This also provides dissimilarity with that of the creature. Frankenstein’s creature never has a perfect life, fatherly love and fond memories. At the beginning the reader does not sympathise with Victor’s privileged background until his mother dies of Scarlet fever: Shelley included this effect to get Victor thinking about life and death and gives an emotionally felt reason to unearth and discover the secret of immorality.