Human condition and the passage from innocence to experience Essay
Human condition and the passage from innocence to experience
In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley reflects her views on the faults and weaknesses of human beings and the disasters these imperfections can cause through the personalities and actions of the characters in the novel. The results of the characters personalities and actions show how significant certain undesired traits can be. Through the journeys of the individual characters Mary Shelly shows how we, as human beings, develop in the path from innocence to experience. Surprisingly, the majority of Shelley’s obvious criticisms are divulged through the ‘hero’, Victor Frankenstein.
Frankenstein is used to fulfil this purpose in a multitude of ways: In her 1823 Introduction, Mary Shelley suggests that Victor’s main crime is his presumption in displacing God. The works of Milton could have inspired this; by way of her parents, he would have been a natural choice of inspiration for Shelley. Milton believed that power corrupts human beings and distrusted anyone who could claim power over anyone else. Therefore, Frankenstein does wrong in claiming power over the monster’s life by creating him.
We see a change in Victor’s views on this subject; at the beginning of the novel Frankenstein is fixated with the idea of creating a new being from the remains of dead people and bringing this new being to life by means of electricity. As the novel develops, through his experiences he begins to see the true repercussions of his actions and finally sees the magnitude of what he has done in his thoughtlessness (innocence. ) This can also be seen as an attack on human nature. As the creature opens his eyes for the first time, facets of Victor’s character become revealed.
Whereas the read expects Victor to reflect the joy of having finally received his goal, his reaction is on of horror: “now that I have finished, the beauty of the dream has vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. ” While one may assume that his repulsion is due to the physical appearance of the “wretch” (p56), Victor had created the monster and knew very well what the creature looked like before it awoke. Therefore, his terror seems to represent a sort of subconscious self-vision.
This could be Shelley’s way of criticising how we can become clouded by ambition and do not realise the consequences of our actions until it is too late. Towards the end of the novel Victor has learnt from his experiences and realises what the possible consequences could be of creating a companion for the monster. He knows the destruction of the female monster could result in his own death but for once he is selfless and takes responsibility. Unlike his first venture, he is thinking of the greater-good rather than his own happiness. In the beginning of the novel we see the development of Victor’s ambition from healthy to obsessive.
Fired by his enthusiasm during his first experiments, he imagines how “A new species would bless me as its creator and source… No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs”(p54). A possibly interpretation here would be to presume that this is a criticism of man’s belief that he is indestructible and he can thus take on the role of God and do whatever he likes. This could have sprung from the death of Mary’s mother; human beings believe themselves to be all-powerful and virtually invincible but they cannot avoid death.
On the other hand, perhaps the crime upon which Shelley focuses is not what he does, but what he fails to do: nurture his creation. Victor’s ambition and achievement may be heroic, problems only occur in his inability to bear responsibility for his creation. In Brannagh’s film interpretation, Frankenstein’s soul motivation for the creation of the monster is to ‘cheat’ death (possibly an honourable purpose which would not suggest that Shelley meant Victor to be disliked). However, in the novel, there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case. Frankenstein is also portrayed to wish to undermine the power and position of women.
By this we see him rebelling against the ‘normal family unit’ and the responsibilities that belonging to such a unit entails. This could be interpreted as a fear of the natural process of birth, possibly echoing Shelley’s own mixed feelings towards childbirth. First pregnant at sixteen, and almost constantly pregnant during the next five years, Shelley lost most of her children soon after they were born. Victor’s “workshop of filthy creation” (p55) may have ‘womb-like’ suggestions. Following this argument, Helen Moers likens the description of the newly created monster to that of a newborn baby in her book ‘Female Gothic.
‘ Shelley also uses Frankenstein, and his failure to comply with social expectations in his creation of his creature, to criticise society on many different levels. When Frankenstein gives life to the monster, he is so disgusted with its appearance and its deviation from a normal human being that he rejects and abandons it. This reflects how society shuns anyone or anything that does not conform to their idea of ‘normality. ‘ This particular criticism probably sprung from Shelley’s up bringing. With two revolutionary parents, Mary Shelley was certainly not born in to a conformist family.
A particular example of this is the fact that Mary Shelley’s parents were not married. At the time this would have been virtually unheard of in decent families. Mary was possible criticised by her peers as having radical parents, or being bullied because her parents were not ‘normal. ‘ She shows her anger at their ignorance by showing Victor be uncaring, and leading the reader to sympathise with the monster rather than his cruel creator. After the conviction of Justine we see a possibility that Victor will admit to being responsible for the death of Justine. However, he is cowardly.
He claims Justine to be innocent, and claims to know William’s murderer but does not confess. Again, it is his failure to act that results in disastrous consequences. However, by announcing his faith in Justine’s innocence we are endeared to him. Shelley used this to show us how he improves with the experience he gains. Towards the end of the novel the monster requests that Frankenstein grant him a companion to end his misery. We see a blinker of sympathy and consideration for the monster in Victor at this point. He has improved himself slightly by this point.
When the monster makes his proposition, Frankenstein actually considers with the monster. We can, therefore, see that by this point he becoming prepared to reason with the monster like an equal. We begin to think he is going to take responsibility for his actions by taking pity on the monster. After all it cannot be forgotten that the monster could have honoured his promise and disappeared with its mate, thus preventing the death of Clerval, Elizabeth and possibly Victor’s own father. But on the destruction of the female monster’s body Victor fails to take true responsibility and virtually caused the deaths of Clerval and Elizabeth.
Again, his experience has made improved him, almost to the point where he could redeem himself of the crime that is abandoning what is effectively his child. At the end of the novel, although Victor’s dying wish is that the deaths of his loved ones be avenged, we can see how his journey has changed him. His last expressed feelings are that of fatigue and exhaustion. This shows how Shelley hopes human beings will become tired of their flawed ways of thinking and learn from their experiences. In a direct contrast, the monster’s passage from innocence to experience only produces negative results.
In spite of his unnatural creation, the monster can be seen to symbolize a new start. However, as he proceeds with his education, as he moves from nature to culture, the monster learns more and more about the injustices of society. He learns about human emotions and comes to desire compassion and love but is rejected on account of his repulsive physical appearance. He masters language, but language fails him; rather than allowing his entry into human society as he had hoped, it only serves to make him more fully aware of his unique origin and alien nature.
His education is part of what makes him miserable. It is only when he is exposed to, and suffers from the viciousness of human society that he himself begins to demonstrate violent behaviour, to act as the monster his appearance suggests him to be. What I perceive to be the monster’s most vicious act is the murder of Elizabeth on Victor and Elizabeth’s wedding night. Without his primitive human emotions he would never have known what he was missing out in a female companion. With his experiences with the DeLacey’s he saw how strong the family unit could be and felt even more bitter when he was rejected.
Without such knowledge or experience he would never have had the determination to enact such a terrible crime. It is his human emotions that finally cause his misery to consume him at the end of the novel. When Victor dies, the monster if found by his body crying. This is a common human characteristic; in most cases, even if two people did not get along well in life or had not spoken in years, if one is to die, the other forgets the past and exonerates their dead friend, acquaintance or family member by mourning their loss.
They regret things that they may not have said or done, and wish they could turn back time to put things right before the other passed away. It is the monster’s sadness at the death of his creator and his regret for the events of the past that finally consume him and tear from him his desire to live. Without these human emotions, the monster may not have destined himself to such a tragic end. It could be argued that Shelley was criticising the power of human emotions and the negative results they can produce.
As I mentioned before, Shelley lost many of her children, this must have caused her great depression misery. These may have affected her ability to live her life; thus, she may have been suggesting that if she could have been less humane, her life may not have been as miserable. In conclusion both the monster and Frankenstein show Shelley’s feelings towards human behaviour, how we learn from our experiences, and how we deal with things in the future. However, it is arguable whether she is intending to show that knowledge or ignorance is bliss through he contrasting passages of Frankenstein and his creation.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 10 November 2017
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