The Frankenstein's By Mary Shelley: Understanding The Concept Of Shadow By Carl Jung

Throughout history, stories have been told in every culture that have displayed both the good and the bad in cultures and people. Carl Jung, a psychologist and a scholar of mythology, displayed many ideas in his life that have shed light on this good and bad, especially in people. His major idea that contributes to the understanding of people is the idea of “the shadow.” This idea of the shadow is that people tend to think of themselves and display themselves as good while ignoring and hiding the bad that is in them.

One story, “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, is a great example among many of the shadow in action, as seen throughout the life of Victor Frankenstein.

Before even beginning to understand the shadow, one has to be able to understand the opposite side, what Carl Jung would call “the persona.” The persona can be summed up in one statement, although there is certainly depth to it as well: “We strive to behave in ways that will earn for us a positive social image, emphasizing aspects of ourselves that are valued by others and trying to ignore or deny the rest” (Cloninger 49).

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Basically, the persona is what people want other people to see of them: the good that is in them. The persona is typically formed by a person’s conscious decision to portray this image and, therefore, they see themselves as such as well.

In “Frankenstein,” Victor Frankenstein’s puts off his persona for others to see him as sane, smart, handsome, and impressive, especially to the scientific community.

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Therefore, anything that comes about and tries to oppose these views of Frankenstein, within himself or in the minds of others, are pushed aside so that this persona can stand. One example of this in the book is after the monster kills William and frames Justine, Frankenstein is put in a position in which he could tell everyone the truth and potentially save Justine’s life. If Frankenstein were to tell the truth, the people would either hate him for creating a monster that killed William or find him insane for telling such a ridiculous story. In this situation, Frankenstein goes with the decision to keep his persona positive and withhold this information. This brings up one other important point of the persona: it is the part of the personality that adapts to the world. Throughout Frankenstein’s life, his personality adapts to his surroundings and situations, such as his mother’s death leading him to searching to understand death and decay, as well as seeing Henry Clerval later in life leading him to become his childhood, playful self.

Once one has an understanding of the persona, one can then go on to understand the shadow. “The term shadow refers to those aspects of the psyche that are rejected from consciousness by the ego because they are inconsistent with one’s self-concept” (Cloninger 49). The shadow is the unconscious, undesirable aspects of a person that the persona consciously chooses to reject and ignore. In Frankenstein, Victor’s consciousness would not allow an insane, hate-filled, angry, depressed persona to come across, so he pushed those aspects into his unconscious, either consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, whether contemplating whether or not to save Justine, choosing to ignore the issue of the monster, or withholding information about his illness from those closest to him, Frankenstein’s consciousness regularly pushed out these unpleasant thoughts, aspects, and situations into his unconscious.

The persona and the shadow can be explained as this: “We show our persona to the world and hide the shadow” (Cloninger 50). This can be seen clearly in that while Frankenstein was doing this questionable action of creating the monster, he isolated himself from everyone he cared about so as to hide it from them. Not only that, but Henry, upon seeing Frankenstein’s ill state after having created the monster, recognizes that showing Frankenstein in this state would be bad for Frankenstein and all those who are close to him. Cloninger goes on to explain that this has implications: “As we do so, the split between persona and shadow, which disrupts our wholeness, widens” (50). The more one allows this unconscious shadow to go on unnoticed, the more it is set apart as separate from the persona, and the more unhealthy one becomes. This is seen all throughout the book in that Frankenstein’s wellness is continually on a downward spiral as he deals with his shadow that is embodied within the monster that he had created.

One way in which the shadow can be seen in a person is by projecting their shadow onto another person. Thus, what a person consciously dislikes about someone or something else is really what that person unconsciously dislikes about themselves. Susan Cloninger, the Professor of Psychology at the Sage Colleges, explains: “The tendency to project shadow elements onto persons of other races in waking life, as well as in dreams, contributes to racial prejudice” (50). Therefore, when Frankenstein saw the monster he created as primitive, unintelligent, and ugly, this was really his frustration and fear of these things in himself that he hated and was projecting on the monster.

Another medium that the shadow tends to come out in is through dreams. Cloninger describes the shadow as being “symbolized in literature and in dreams by various images of evil, disturbed, and repulsive people” (50). In Frankenstein, Victor has a dream the night after creating the monster that he is with Elizabeth. In the dream, he embraces Elizabeth, at which point she begins to decay in his arms as a dead person, and her form changes into that of Victor’s dead mother. Cloninger goes on to more fully explain, “In dreams, the specific repulsive qualities of a shadow figure give clues to the material that the person has repressed” (50). With this in mind, Victor’s dream holds a lot of depth. His dream reveals his fear of death and his grief from losing his mother, which he tries to resolve by eliminating death rather than by working through that fear, his fear of being unable to control himself, others, and situations, as well as his fear of losing Elizabeth, which later causes a moral dilemma within him as he struggles through his decision of whether or not to create a second monster in order to save Elizabeth. These are all things that he finds to be weakness and shameful, so his conscious pushes them aside into his unconscious so that he can remain with his positive persona.

This reveals another important aspect of the shadow: “Our shadow is experienced as frightening or evil, and emergence of the shadow from the unconscious produces the experience of moral conflict” (Cloninger 50). When the shadow comes forth out of the unconscious, it is seen through a moral conflict. This is seen in Frankenstein’s struggle to tell the truth to the people about the monster killing William, as well as in this struggle as to whether or not to create a second monster. Saving Justine would mean threatening his persona but saving a life. Creating a second monster would be recreating that which he finds most repulsive, but it would also mean providing a companion for another creature, as well as saving Elizabeth.

However, the unconscious shadow is not doomed to always be an incredibly horrible part of every person. Cloninger explains, “If we deal more consciously with shadow issues, the shadow would not become so ugly” (50). Had Victor grieved his mother’s death rather than trying to fix death, he would not have created the monster that embodied his own shadow side and killed William, Justine, Henry, and Elizabeth. Not only that, but had he been honest and told the people that the monster killed William, that could have stopped the deaths of Justine, Henry, and Elizabeth as well. As further evidence, when Victor was ill and Henry was taking care of him, he shared openly with this friend that the source of his illness was his horror at the creation of the monster. He finally began to open up, be honest, and deal with this shadow side, bringing it to his conscious rather than leaving it in his unconscious. While Henry did not believe him because of his state of illness at first, he began to believe Victor as he became much healthier as a result of his simply having a friend whom he could work through his shadow side with.

Because Victor was able to become much healthier as a result of dealing with his shadow, the shadow cannot be entirely evil. Cloninger explains:

When a person comes to terms with the unconscious and recognizes that it has positive contributions to make to personality as a whole, experience changes. The shadow then is less repulsive and more playful, and it brings zest and liveliness to experience. When integrated with consciousness, the shadow is a source of creativity and pleasure. (Cloninger 50)

Therefore, when a person becomes aware of their shadow and begins to come to terms and deal with it, it is no longer an unconscious source of turmoil and fear, but something that can even become a more fulfilling part of a person’s personality. In the book, when Frankenstein was ignorant and even opposed to his shadow side, as symbolized and seen in the monster he created, his unconscious shadow and conscious persona were two separate entities that were constantly in conflict with one another within him and in his interactions with others. When the persona and the shadow are separated as two separate entities, there is no hope of them every being at any sort of peace or reaching any sort of settlement in which they will not cause a moral conflict. However, when Victor began to accept and process through his shadow side by sharing it with Henry Clerval, it began to become integrated into his persona, lessening the tension between the shadow and the persona. As he worked to join together the shadow and the persona, he was no longer left with two separate personalities, one conscious and one unconscious, that each appeared in different situations, but one personality that more smoothly flowed through the entirety of his life.

In conclusion, Carl Jung’s idea of the shadow, especially as it connects with the persona, is incredibly effective when working to understand how people function, as seen through the lens of Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” The negative, unconscious shadow side of every person can be seen through dreams, projections of anger toward traits seen in others, and what one most wants to hide from others. Therefore, there is often a separation between the positive persona that each person works to show off and the negative shadow that each person works to hide. However, when one seeks to deal consciously with the unconscious shadow issues, one can come to terms with their shadow side and integrate it into their persona, making themselves a more whole person, as seen in the character of Victor Frankenstein.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Frankenstein's By Mary Shelley: Understanding The Concept Of Shadow By Carl Jung. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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