For Whom Does the Reader Feel More Sympathy: Victor Frankenstein or The Creature? Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was written by Mary Shelley and was published in 1818. The creation of the book started when Mary Shelley and her controversial partner Percy Shelley were staying in Geneva with her step sister and Lord Byron. Mary was listening to a discussion about whether scientist could create human life. That night she had a nightmare about the creation of life, and this is what triggered her to write Frankenstein.
The book is about ethics and challenges the reader to think about what they believe is right and wrong, such as, whether Victor creating the creature was right or wrong. Inspiration for the novel came from a Greek mythology tale about Prometheus who is accused of stealing fire from the god Zeus, to give to the mortals he had created. This relates to Victor creating the creature. This is shown in the title Frankenstein; or, The modern Prometheus. Showing that Mary Shelley knew about the literacy heritage. Mary Shelley was born in 1797 into a world of scientific and artistic revolution.
She was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft a writer and one of the first feminist figures of the time wanting equality between the sexes and William Godwin a philosopher and novelist who had some revolutionary ideas such as ‘ everyone should act for the good of mankind; otherwise, selfishness would lead to a breakdown in society’. Mary Shelley herself was extremely controversial; at the age of 19 she outraged the public when she ran away with Percy Shelley a married man, which caused his wife to commit suicide.
During her life she endured a lot of tragedies; she suffered the horror of childbirth, her mother died after giving birth to her and Mary lost three children; her father disowned her after she ran away with Percy Shelley. There were also a series of suicides amongst Mary Shelley’ s loved ones. These heartrending events during Mary’s life contributed towards the themes of the novel, such as, in the novel Victor sees his mother, who he is close to, die in a horrific way after she gave birth to her son. This can relate to Mary Shelley losing three of her own children and her mother to the horror of childbirth.
During the 19th century Europe was undergoing a series of revolutionary ideas which were being promoted in politics and society. This freedom of thought related to the free-thinking of Romanticism and the behaviour of Romantic poets. The Romantics believed in natural things, they saw nature as being beautiful, powerful, and perfect, whereas in the past literature was based on strict conventions. This movement gave the writers more freedom to show their imagination and powerful emotions. Romanticism encouraged spontaneity, and acting on emotions.
Romanticism influenced the way Mary Shelley wrote, it encouraged the role of the creature in the story, his emotions drive his actions. Also in the 19th century there was an intellectual battle between religion and rationalism; the Religious people didn’t like the new way of thinking; they believed that God created everything whereas the rationalists believed that God didn’t create everything and that there was a rational reason for things. Mary Shelley’s book includes this battle between religion and rationalism when she released Frankenstein.
As well as this in the 19th century it was extremely hard for women to have there work published. Frankenstein is regarded as a gothic novel and this genre was popular in the 19th century, Mary Shelley was influenced by this literary style. The novel itself is classed as being a gothic horror and one of the first science fiction books of it’s time. The novel is classed as gothic because there are elements of typical horror conventions such as the use of pathetic fallacy. As Frankenstein beholds his creature we are informed that ‘it was on a dreary night of November’ and ‘rain pattered dismally against the panes’.
Gothic novels are designed to scare the reader and setting the scene the way Mary Shelley does with the raining dismally and ‘the half extinguished light’ shows that the novel uses gothic conventions. Throughout the novel Mary Shelley uses a lot of connotations of dramatic/horror words such as: ‘dull yellow eye’. This at first means that the creatures eyes were dull and yellow but it also means that there is something evil in the way he looks. Mary Shelley used these connotations to create and build dramatic tension in the novel.
The novel is unusual because the whole novel is written in first person narrative. Each narrator tells his own story, this effects the readers sympathy because it allows the narrator to exaggerate what has happened to them this helps to create more sympathy for each character. Before we hear about the creature we think it is a gruesome retched thing that is out to kill. By using this technique it allows Mary Shelley to create sympathy for each character. Mary Shelley opens the novel in the epistolary style, presenting the beginning section of the story with a series of letters.
This narrative technique allows Mary Shelley to give some background information on Captain Walton’s journey and separates his journey to Victor’s. It is a devise to emphasis Victor’s story at the expense to Walton’s. This technique adds pace to the story moving the plot along. It allows the reader to see similarities between the two characters, such as they both abandoned their domesticated lifestyle for adventure and the quest for knowledge this isolates them from their family and friends.
They are driven by obsession, pushing the boundaries and dreams. There are some differences between the two characters there are differences such as; Victor is an intellectual and motivated by an overwhelming ambition to create life for his dead mother, whereas Walton is a more physical explorer and motivated by the thought of fame and personal glory. The series of letters emphasises admiration and affection that Victor inspires in Walton show that he sees great dignity, compassion, and kindness.
Mary Shelley creates sympathy for Victor throughout the novel who’s role is mixed he is a villain and a victim but in his mind he feels like the victim. In chapter five Mary Shelley shows Victors disappointment with his creation: ‘how can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe’ Mary Shelley is showing the reader that the accomplishments of Victors ‘toils’ was not as perfect as he wanted them to be. Mary Shelley shows Victors emotions on a deeper and more intense level: ‘the beauty of the dream vanished’
This relates back to the death of his mother the ‘dream’ that Victor had was to cure death by creating life, which was ingrained in his mind and heart during the two years. When he looked into the ‘dull yellow eyes’ of the creature for the first time he realises the enormity of what he has done and his heart is filled with ‘breathless horror and disgust’. Victor ends up creating his own hell: ‘it became a thing such as even, Dante could not have conceived’ Mary Shelley allows the reader to explore a deeper and darker psychological side to Victor’s character.
She does this using a dream or nightmare that uses typical gothic characteristics. Dreams normally allow deeper feelings to surface these could be socially unacceptable desires such as the Oedipus complex which is wanting to sleep with your mother. This is reflected in the dream: ‘I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death;…. I thought I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms’ When Victor goes to kiss his fianci?? and adopted sister Elizabeth she turns into the corpse of his dead mother.
This hints that Victor associates sex with death, because he saw his mother die horrifically by childbirth, which is connected to sex. This could be linked with his and Elizabeth’s relationship. They grow up together having a pre-sexual relationship, Victor may feel that if he marries Elizabeth there relationship will stay pre-sexual whereas if he marries someone else outside of the family he might have to have sex. Victor may think that by finding an alternative to childbirth there is no need for women therefore there will be no sex and no more deaths due to the horror of childbirth.