Sympathy for the Devil

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay

To mould me man? Did I solicit thee

From darkness to promote me? —

Paradise Lost

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, sympathy (or the lack there of) is a key component in much of the language and actions of the characters. The novel builds up the emotions and character composition of Victor Frankenstein, in an attempt to create sympathy for the shamed creator. In essence Shelley tries to generate concern for the titular character, however the true focus of sympathy lies in Victor’s creation. The shamed monster is a tragic figure, and the one deserving of the most sympathy in the text.

The part of the novel narrated by Victor gives insight into the man’s mind, and reasoning for his words and actions. These instances of vivid detail into the man’s psyche come at times where he is reflecting on his own life, and the actions he has done. The detail and discernment occur during times when tangible events are not necessarily taking place, they occur more often in Victor’s head as his reactionary thoughts. They serve to help us see the actions from Victor’s point of view, which should make us more sympathetic to the man.

However when the creature is given a voice, and takes over the book’s narration, we as the readers understand who is really to blame for all the misfortune in the novel. When both perspectives are presented to the reader, the accounts of Victor are slightly neglected as we see the consequences of his own actions.

It is quickly apparent why Shelley would choose to include the Milton quote on the title page. The emotion of the quote foreshadows the unwarranted sorrow that will overcome many of the book’s characters. But as the novel lends a voice to the creature parallels are formed between the monster and source of the quote. The tragedy of the monster is due to no fault on his part, at least not at first. After he is created by Victor and immediately he is met with disgust and scorn. This never goes away, as he is met with similar if not worse reactions from every human he encounters no matter what he is doing.

The Milton quote becomes increasingly appropriate as the creatures sheds more and more light on his experiences. The monster is suffering no doubt, but he did nothing to draw the attention of the suffering. His only fault is that he is ugly, and people are scared of him. The one at fault for the creatures suffering is Victor. Victor is the creature’s creator, and Frankenstein acknowledges that their relationship should have been better.

“I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel.” The monster at this point of his life is aware that he is a disappointment to Victor, he knows their relationship should have been better. It is only Victor’s horror and disappointment with his results that lead to the creature knowing only mistreatment. In an example of nature vs. nurture the monster eventually is fed up with the treatment he faces, and he is pushed to the limit (committing murder). But considering his brute strength and imposing stature, it is unclear as to why the creature endures it all for so long. The sad truth is that the monster is a tragic figure because did nothing harmful to anyone at first, it was only after his environment (people especially) affected him that he was corrupted and fell to revenge and havoc in response.

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