Who Was More of a ‘Monster’, Frankenstein or His Creation? Essay
Who Was More of a ‘Monster’, Frankenstein or His Creation?
One approach to this question would be to say that the creature in ‘Frankentein’ was himself the only monster. However, as we soon realise, the creature is benevolent at heart and only becomes monstrous due to the unjust way in which society treats him. The bleak, miserable world which Shelley portrays, full of hypocrisy, oppression and prejudice gains exposure through the depiction of the monsters ‘fall from grace’. It is through the monsters suffering that he becomes truly monstrous. Shelley is suggesting that the creature’s misdeeds are caused by the enormity of his suffering; at heart, he is essentially good. And, more importantly, essentially human. If he is monstrous, no one but Frankenstein is to blame. When the outraged creature demands of his creator, ‘How dare you sport thus with life?’ the question succinctly represents the sentiments of the reader, and perhaps even of the author as well.
Frankenstein, in his hypocrisy, longs to murder a being who owes its life to him. If the creature is, paradoxically, both inherently good and capable of evil, then his creator is as well. The main cause of the monster’s suffering rests with none other than Victor Frankenstein himself, whose actions at the monster’s birth were surely monstrous also. To desert a newborn child is to defy one of the most fundamental elements of human nature. This shows Victor to be inhumane, and hence, monstrous. It is this inner monstrosity that is reflected in the creature’s hideous visage. This exposes one of the novels key themes; Frankenstein is the monster’s double. It becomes clear at this point that Shelley is making use both meanings of the word monster.
In modern usage, the term ‘monster’ has come to mean ‘something frighteningly unnatural of huge dimensions’. However at the time of ‘Frankenstein’s’ writing its meaning was quite different. In earlier usage a monster is ‘someone or something to be shown’ Shelley uses both definitions in order to blur the fine line between what is considered to be monstrous and what is considered humane. Shelley also uses multiple narrators to further this effect.
Mary Shelley creates many differences between Victor Frankenstein and his creation, but simultaneously creates parallels between the two. It is through the use of an embedded narrative that this becomes apparent. In his eyes, Victor’s siblings and parents are perfect and never deny him anything, whereas the creature is rejected by everyone who sees him from the moment he begins breathing. Despite these differences, both characters develop problems as adults based on these childhood experiences, which ultimately cause the deaths of others as well as their own. Although Victor’s seemingly idyllic upbringing sharply contrasts with the creature’s neglected ‘childhood,’ both of these scenarios lead to their mutual destruction. Whilst Victor forces the situation upon himself, the monster does not.
This makes it very difficult for us to decide with whom our sympathies should lie. On the one hand, the monster has murdered nearly all of those dear to Frankenstein, and has taken pleasure in his ability to extinguish life. But on the other, Frankenstein’s neglect of his ‘child’ has turned a benevolent being, into a hateful daemon. The creature, whose only need was to be loved, was denied that by his very father, who had no experience of this need himself, having been surrounded and protected by love all his life.
An imperative aspect within any gothic novel is setting. The setting can bring about these feelings of short-lived happiness, loneliness, isolation, and despair. Shelly’s writing shows how the varied and dramatic settings of Frankenstein can create the atmosphere of the novel and can also cause or hinder the actions of Frankenstein and his monster as they go on their seemingly endless chase. Darkly dramatic moments and the seemingly insignificant flashes of happiness stand out. The setting sets the atmosphere and creates the mood. The ‘dreary night of November’ where the monster is given life, remains in the memory. And that is what is felt throughout the novel. The dreariness of it all along with the bleak, desolate isolation. Yet there were still glimpses of happiness in Shelly’s ‘vivid pictures of the grand scenes among Frankenstein, the thunderstorm of the Alps, the valleys of Servox and Chamounix, the glacier and the precipitous sides of Montanvert, and the smoke of rushing avalanches, the tremendous dome of Mont Blanc’ and on that last journey with Elizabeth which were his last moments of happiness.
Shelly can sustain the mood and create a distinct picture and it is admirable the way she begins to foreshadow imminent danger. Shelly does this by starting a terrible storm, adding dreary thunder and lightning and by enhancing the gloom and dread of her gothic scenes, this becomes a motif, one which is accompanied by the arrival of the monster. Shelly writes so that the reader sees and feels these scenes taking permanent hold on the memory. Furthermore, the setting can greatly impact the actions in a novel such as this. The monster proclaims that: ‘the desert mountains and dreary glaciers are my refuge. I have wandered here many days; the caves of ice which I only do not fear, are a dwelling to me, and the only one which man does not grudge’. The pitiful creature lives in places where man cannot go for reason that the temperatures and dangers of these settings are too extreme. However near the end of the novel, Frankenstein’s rage takes him all over the world in an obsessed search to quench his insatiable thirst for vengeance. Frankenstein pursues his creation to the Arctic wastes, revenge being the only thing keeping him alive.
This ‘serves only to thicken the strange darkness that surrounds and engulfs them’. Here it seems as if Frankenstein may finally capture his adversary, but nature thinks otherwise. The monster tempts his enraged creator through a world of ice and the setting becomes a hindrance as the ‘wind arose; the sea roared; and, as with the mighty shock of an earthquake; it split and cracked with a tremendous and overwhelming sound. The work was soon finished; in a few minutes a tumulus sea rolled between me and my enemy’. Because of this gothic setting amid the Arctic ice floes, the despair hits both Frankenstein and the reader.
In my opinion, ‘Frankenstein’, Mary Shelly’s strange and disturbing tale personifies the gothic novel. Her masterful use of literary techniques, creates the setting that sets the gloomy mood and causes as well as hinders actions creating dramatic tension. Nearly the entire story is mysteriously set in the cold Arctic, which adds to the dark and foreboding atmosphere. Frankenstein pursues his monster there, fails to destroy him, and dies appropriately in the cold of the Artic that matches the cold of his heart. Likewise, Frankenstein’s monster dies on his own terms, springing to his ice raft, ‘borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance’
Chapter five is serves as a major turning point in the book, and is massively important. It shows a completely different side to Victor Frankenstein. The monster, created in this chapter, is made out to be horrible and wretched due to the way he looks. The reader later on feels guilty for jumping to the wrong conclusions about the monster, appearance is not everything. It is after this chapter that we start to turn against Frankenstein and empathise with the monster instead. Shelley cleverly sets this chapter on a ‘dreary night of November’, a month considered dark and cold. The reader is also told that the time is ‘one in the morning’ assuring them that it will be dark outside. These two aspects combined create an eerie atmosphere, but the tension is also fairly high as the reader has been informed in the previous chapter the ‘the creation’ is near completion.
The reader waits in anticipation as though along-side Frankenstein, to see if his operation was a success. This creates a very tense, anxious atmosphere. The tension continues to mount as the monster is described. Shelley uses exclamation marks ‘Beautiful! Great God!’ to create agitation amongst the reader and provide an assurity that the monster really is this hideous. The phrases in the sentences are short but are read continuously, increasing the pace at which the text is read which, in turn, increases the tension and the excitement that the reader feels.
The reader can tell that Frankenstein is disappointed and disgusted with the monster which he calls ‘wretch’ for not being the result he had intended. The reader feels pathos for Frankenstein at this point, as he is wrecked with disappointment. When the dream sequence begins light-heartedly with ‘I saw Elizabeth’, ‘delighted and surprised’ there is an enormous drop in tension and the anxious, horrified atmosphere is temporarily lifted. However, only moments later in the dream does Shelly shock the reader by returning to talk about ‘hue of death’ and ‘grave worms’ and immediately increasing the tension and bringing back the original atmosphere.
Whilst he kisses Elizabeth she transforms into the corpse of his mother. It is in this dream that one of Frankenstein’s inner monsters is revealed, his fear of sex. It is this fear that probably caused him to partake in his quest for creating life. The dream also serves another purpose; it symbolises the death of the female, or at least the female role in the creation of life. In creating the monster Frankenstein has bypassed the female role, rendering them obsolete.
This roller coaster of emotions leaves the reader bewildered as to what will happen next.
As Frankenstein ‘escaped and rushed downstairs’ the tension drops once more as he is no longer in the presence of the monster. However, the reader is anxious to know what the monster is doing whilst Frankenstein is away. We are very sympathetic towards Frankenstein, as he has isolated himself for so long, creating something he wishes he had not, that he now has no one to turn to. However we are also slightly uncomfortable with the ease at which he abandoned his child. We later come to regret our sympathies for Victor at this point and are quite disgusted by our own prejudices in regard to the monsters appearance. Once we realise this, all pathos shifts towards the creature, and Victor is regarded as the true monster.
The strong contrast between Victor and the monster that Shelley has established is important, as it reflects Victor’s inhumane attitudes and the senselessness of merely valuing someone or something based entirely on their physical appearance. Possibly as a result of each of the character’s childhood circumstances, Victor becomes a selfish adult who does not understand the consequences of his actions, and the creature’s natural kindness develops into vengeful misery. The creature ultimately resorts to this life of hatred and violence because of his early childhood of neglect and the resulting adult rejection he experiences later on. Although he is seen as nothing but a ‘wretch’, a ‘miserable monster’ and a ‘filthy daemon’, the monster actually wants to understand people, become a part of the human world, establish relationships and, at first, he reaches out and shows his kindness to others he meets, but gets harshly rejected. This contrasts greatly with Victor’s lack of humanity and kindness.
He is blinded by the grotesque physical appearance of his creation and fails to see past this black curtain, which hides the monster’s truly human qualities. Furthermore, the fact that the creation of the monster itself is a selfish act, simply because Victor is so engrossed and obsessed with this feeling of personal glory as a scientist, we are able to see even more clearly how Victor ultimately lacks in these human qualities, contrasting greatly with that of his creation. He is so absorbed in the fact that he may be the one to ‘unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation’, that not once does Victor stop to consider that there may be ramifications of some sort for the rest of society, or even himself. Ironically, it is these contrasting elements of their personas that eventually drive them to monstrousness. However the difference being that Victors is almost self-imposed where as the creature had it thrust upon him.
It is at this point that parallels between Prometheus and Frankenstein can be made, as Victor’s crime is now apparent. According to Greek mythology Prometheus, whose name means forethought, was very wise, wiser even than the gods. Prometheus, tasked with the creation of human kind devised a way to make man superior to all animals. He fashioned them in a nobler shape than the animals, upright like the gods; and then he went to heaven, to the sun, where he lit a torch and brought down fire. Frankenstein fashioned his creation from the assorted limbs of the deceased, the ‘dissecting room and the slaughter house’ and created by a man who ‘dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave’ and “tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay’. The allusion to ‘lifeless clay’ relates to Prometheus, who supposedly fashioned mankind out of clay. This reference to clay also emphasizes the lack of detail describing Victor Frankenstein’s life giving process.
Prometheus’ clay figures had life breathed into them by the goddess Athena and similarly, Frankenstein’s creation is roused by sketchy and almost supernatural means. Another similarity between the two figures is their intention or goal. Both characters had supposedly good intentions that were tainted through the fulfilment of their cause. Frankenstein believed that, ‘a new species will bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me’. Prometheus insists that his actions had a similar impact. In both cases, these ideas, deluded or realistic, were not the actual or only outcome of their ‘gifts’. The fire that he has given them is a distorted blessing; it can be used for good, but also for undeniable evil. What’s more, he is punished for giving fire to humans. Similarly, Frankenstein’s ability to bestow life on inanimate objects is arguably a blessing but only results in ‘evil’. His ability doubles as the root of his despair.
Ironically, Frankenstein’s deluded ideal of ‘a new species’ and ‘ many happy and excellent natures’ is perverted through his own processes and actions. The creation is capable of ‘happy and excellent natures’ but is instead led towards revenge and destruction by the reactions of people towards him, not excluding his own creator. More importantly, his ‘new species’ is merely a mixture of various others, both from the ‘dissecting room and the slaughterhouse’ Frankenstein believes himself capable of the godlike process of creating a new species, however, he resorts to human and inhumane methods in the process of creating his ‘species’. After his creation has been given life, his ideal is immediately shattered ‘the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart’.
Frankenstein’s ideal is certain to fail; he is attempting to play God but is unable to predict its consequences. This parallels Prometheus, who resorts to stealing fire from the gods in order to make mankind superior. Just as Prometheus received a somewhat grisly punishment for his deeds, Frankenstein was, unto his death, tormented by the fruition of his efforts. The monster unable to quench its thirst for love, receiving only hatred and disgust in its place turned upon society and its creator, killing nearly all of Frankenstein’s loved ones and through this Victor himself.
In chapter ten, Victors partakes in a sojourn in the valley of Chamounix, this reveals his desire to escape the guilt he bears for the recent tragedies. There, he seeks oblivion in sleep, and in the bleakness of the glacial landscape. The chaos of that landscape, in which avalanches and rockslides are a constant threat, suggests that Victor’s escape from his responsibility will be short-lived; it also foreshadows further tragedy. The imminent encounter between Victor and his creature is charged with Biblical allusions. Like Adam, the creature has been forsaken by his creator. For him, Frankenstein occupies the position of the Christian god. The creature is also subtly aligned with the figure of Satan, or the devil.
Like him, he is a self-proclaimed “fallen angel” twisted and grown vicious in the absence of his god. Frankenstein feels nothing for the monster except hate, whereas the monster loves Frankenstein as a father, although he was abandoned at birth. The monster manages to control situations, does not have a temper and can argue his point, eloquently and rationally. Frankenstein is completely irrational at every situation that arises; this leaves the reader much more inclined to sympathise with the monster.
It becomes apparent in chapter eleven that the monster has become a ‘Noble Savage’. This concept suggests that uncivilised man, not bound by society possesses a pure innate goodness. One who has not been corrupted by so called civilisation. This indicates once again that the monster is, inherently good, but through all of his encounters with humanity, the creature is met with horror and disgust. In the face of such cruelty, the reader cannot help but share the creature’s fury and resentment. Though he means no harm, his grotesque appearance is enough to make him a wretched outcast. He is, through no fault of his own, deprived of all hope of love and companionship, the reader thus slowly begins to sympathise with his desire to revenge himself on both his creator and on brutal humanity as a whole. As the novel progresses, we become more and more uncertain as to who is truly human, since the creature’s first person narration reveals both his own humanity and Frankenstein’s concealed monstrousness.
Mary Shelley once again toys with our sympathies in chapter sixteen as the monster, having been shunned by the De Lacey’s, begins to swell with hatred for both his creator and humankind. He is pushed over the edge by the reaction of the peasant, having saved his daughter’s life and is seized with a new, even greater hatred of humanity, and understandably so. At this point our sympathies still lie with the creature. However we are soon faced with the monsters murder of a seemingly innocent boy, William. And shortly thereafter, the implication and execution of Justine. The monster’s lust for revenge has driven him to violent murder. Not only is the deed in itself monstrous, it is the fact that he revels in their deaths. It is clear now that our sympathies begin to waver. However they do not necessarily fall on Frankenstein, we are now becoming more and more confused as to how we should feel.
The spiral of revenge which ensues draws the monster and Frankenstein ever closer to one another, The parallels between them become increasingly explicit. Both have their wives murdered, symbolising once again the impotence of the female. Also, both characters now become completely isolated, Victors is almost self-imposed however the monster yearns to escape from his isolation, having had it forced upon him through no fault of his own. As their quests for vengeance twist and turn, they close ever nearer to one another. Drawing out their most monstrous of qualities.
Frankenstein becomes a man controlled by his own creation. He dies in pursuit of that creation, and even though he retains a semblance of his former ambition in his speech to Walton’s crew, Victor Frankenstein is ruined through his own actions. In death, Frankenstein appears to have learned nothing at all from his sufferings. He still wants fame and glory, he yearns, still, for people to remember him. He demands of Walton’s men their continuation of their expedition, endangering their lives to pursue fame and glory. A pursuit that is still at the forefront of Victors mind. At one point he, too, once longed to ‘benefit the species’ through scientific enterprise. The monster, and all the havoc he has wrought was the result. Even at the moment of his death, Victor displays an unparalleled selfishness. He tasks Walton with the continuation of his own quest for vengeance, which has brought Victor himself to such ruin. Frankenstein then tells him that he should not forget his ambitions, despite what they have done to him. Frankenstein, though we feel pathos towards him for all he has lost, remains irredeemably arrogant, and seems to regard human life as being ultimately less valuable than pioneering endeavour.
Still having learnt nothing we find it impossible to allow our sympathies to lie with him fully. It is after Victor is dead that that the monster boards the ship and speaks with Walton. We discover that the creature did not relish his crimes; instead, they were abhorrent to him; he is wrought with guilt and self-hatred. His last description of himself is as an ‘abortion,’ a metaphor that is of the utmost significance: the creature does not feel that he has ever truly lived. Like an aborted child, he was unwanted by his parent, and was never permitted to fully develop: he is a monster, not quite human, but with the capacity for humanness. The monster fairs much better than Victor in his final speech, accepting his monstrousness and showing remorse for the actions which resulted from it. Now that Victor is dead, he has no reason to continue on, his thirst for revenge is satiated. The monster chooses to take his own life. However the event is never described and as the monster leaps from the ship we are gifted with the sublime image of his departure, ‘He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance’.
The monster, having shown remorse for his wicked deeds, has almost come full circle. He has accepted his crimes, and undeniably hates himself for them. He is evaluating himself through the deep-set benevolence that he still carries, and he is ultimately disgusted. So much cannot be said for Frankenstein, who, even in the face of death was unwilling to fully accept his part in the wretched tale. Not once does he contemplate the implications of his actions. I therefore conclude that, despite the monsters murderous rampage, he is in fact less monstrous than Victor Frankenstein is.