“Misery” in Frankenstein

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein and the creature are affected time after time by struggles, including the ghastly deaths of loved ones, persecution and rejection from society. Attributing each other as the cause of one another’s hardships, Frankenstein and his creation are bent on revenge. However, rather than dying at the hands of one another, the troubled characters sink to their demise in their individual pool of miseries. Shelley regularly employs the word “misery,” which according to the Oxford English Dictionary means “a condition of external unhappiness, discomfort, or distress,” to describe the depressed sentiments of Frankenstein and the creature. This highlights the selfishness both exhibit and how drowning in one’s own miseries can equate to self-inflicting physical and emotional pain.

The frequency of “misery” increases over the course of the novel as each successive death of Frankenstein’s family member transpires. Frankenstein may feel remorse for the losses, but he also does not do much other than complain. After the death of his younger brother, William, Frankenstein takes a couple days leave to dwell in the seclusion of nature in order to contemplate on William’s death and “the misery [he] imagined and dreaded” (Shelley 77) will ensue in the future. Despite this, Frankenstein refuses to alert anyone of the threat the creature imposes. After Justine’s unjust execution, Frankenstein again departs on a journey through magnificent valleys and mighty mountains while “indulging in the misery of reflection” (98). Frankenstein chooses to ignore how he had a chance to absolve Justine of all guilt by revealing the existence of his rampaging creation. His desire for his own continued survival outweighed his wish for Justine’s pardon.

Frankenstein also never considers himself the source of his own miseries. Instead, he blames Fate and, inadvertently, his parents. Frankenstein states his future was “in their hands to direct to happiness or misery” (35) and mentions that if his father had not dismissed the views of Cornelius Agrippa, then he would not have taken a stronger interest in “natural philosophy” and end up with a “tale of misery” (40). To top off the chain of blame is the creature, even though he suffers greatly from his own string of melancholies. The creatures drop the word “misery” down as much as Frankenstein does. He is constantly denied any opportunity of friendship or intimacy because of his grotesque appearance. On the other hand, the creature is not completely cleared of having selfish, condemning tendencies. He points his finger at Frankenstein as the reason for his “insupportable misery” (138). The creature laments about his birth—“Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live?” —but believes achieving revenge in the form of murder is the rightful purpose of the remainder of his life.

Frankenstein and the creature each consider themself as the most miserable being of all time. “No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to” (223) to the creature’s and “misery had her dwelling in [Frankenstein’s heart]” (190). As a result of these perspectives, both push aside sympathy for others that actually deserve it and fight each other out of greed for pity. Specifically, Frankenstein completely dismisses the character of a poor woman nursing him to health by negatively labeling her as someone who will not sympathize “in sights of misery” (182). He has no right to assume she lacked a strict dose of miseries throughout her lifetime. The more Frankenstein and the creature despair, the more insensitive they become to the difficulties of others’ lives.

By the end of the novel, misery appears to be a major cause of Frankenstein and the creature’s deaths. Frankenstein succumbs to a fever of vengeance, hatred and misery while the creature decides to escape from a world of vengeance, hatred and misery through suicide. The two, however, fail to ever obtain a desire to try for reconciliation or repentance. They instead act on adverse emotions, such as misery, and thus deteriorate into beings with immoral, hateful mindsets.

Misery can be compared to the fire which the creature was once warmed and later consumed by: it grows and grows, kindled by an excess of the same severe unhappiness. Frankenstein and the creature did not bother to extinguish the flame when it started. In consequence, selfishness and intolerance cultivated within them, and they burned.


“Misery, N.” : Oxford English Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2015.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Maurice Hindle. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.

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