The Male Ego in Frankenstein

“And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose?”

The first volume of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein takes the viewpoint of Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein, two different men but eerily similar in their desire for glory. Robert seeks fame in geographical exploration while Victor dedicates himself to scientific discovery. Although they start their goals with enough ability, their journeys become fraught with hardship. By turning unbridled ambition into unexpected consequences, the author points out the problem of male hubris.

Coming from similar pasts, both of the male characters have tried to display their importance to the world. In his early years, Robert studied day and night, set his eyes on voyage, and dedicated [himself] to this “great enterprise.” Robert believes that he will bring “inestimable benefit” by discovering the passage near the North Pole and writes that “success shall crown my endeavors.” The constant use of “mine” and “I” in the letters reaffirm his extreme self-confidence. Similarly, Victor often refers to his own abilities as he states, “myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.” Like Robert, Victor also had studied for “days and nights of incredible fatigue.” From isolation to ego, Shelley shows how the characters’ desire for attention blinds them to the consequences of their own actions.

For Victor, his downfall was apparent. The story he tells to Robert is filled with instances of dedicating, achieving, and pursuing the impossible. Yet, tied up in the glory, his final creation had only caused woe to his family through “the work of [his] thrice-accursed hands.” In the letters, Robert states that his dangers were only minor. However, the reader has a limited perspective. It is possible that since he jokes about the “evil forebodings” said by his sister, Robert is diminishing the problems he encountered throughout his journey. Still, according to him, Robert had spent six years since his undertaking and “voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep,” which shows that he had suffered terribly for his pursuits.

While characters such as Justine could be called weak-willed, Shelley’s portrayal of Victor and Robert show that the the men, too, face problems of their own doing. In Frankenstein, Robert and Victor lead the story, but their egos make them fallible.

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