In the first volume of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Chapter V unveils the pivotal creation scene. Rather than immediately depicting the moment Victor Frankenstein’s goals and aspirations finally come to fruition, Shelly strategically inserts a short introductory paragraph that precedes and delays the illustration of this much-anticipated event. Shelley’s utilization of haunting imagery through her incorporation of fervent diction and grim detail generates both an eerie ambiance and a disconcerting setting that not only exemplify characteristics of a Gothic novel, but also prove as tactics to foreshadow a sense of foreboding disaster as well as Victor’s adverse feelings towards his creation.
Through the employment of dark vocabulary to depict both the daunting influence of the weather and the haunting image of a candle, Shelley, conveying elements representative of Gothic fiction, establishes a ghostly tone and instills sensations of horror. The illustration of “a dreary night of November” with “rain patter[ing]” against the windows immediately emphasizes the somber mood and unsettling sounds that typically accompany a storm, generating a gloomy atmosphere (Shelley 58). The description of Victor working past “one in the morning” on a cold, wet, and dark night to the unsteady “glimmer” and decreasing illumination of a “nearly burnt out” candle further paints a haunting image. Late into the hours of darkness when most people are asleep, stores are closed, and towns are quiet, Victor is interrupted solely by the “disma[l]” cadence of rain drops and the sounds of his own labors. Shelley not only fosters feelings of unease through this chilling portrayal of a bleak night penetrated by a morbid silence, but also invokes sensations of dismay through the insinuation of a growing darkness that threatens to enclose Victor as he works in a perceived state of solitude. The image of a “half-extinguished” candle, exemplifying both the passing of time and the lengthy hours Victor has hitherto devoted to his project, discloses that the darkness from outside is slowly bleeding into Victor’s laboratory. This illustration of an incrementally decreasing candlelight, casting shadows and distorting perceptions, not only conveys panic through the possibility of a negatively twisted reality as objects shift in appearance and take on the mien of terrifying shapes, but also indicates that soon a hair-raising blackness will become all consuming.
In associating what should be a bright and happy moment with the downcast mood of a stormy night, the unnerving depiction of darkness, and Victor’s dehumanizing description of his creation through the integration of passionate diction and grotesque imagery, Shelley foreshadows Victor’s detachment and disgust towards his creation. After much hope, apprehension, research, and “toils,” Shelley reveals that Victor finally succeeds in his endeavor to create life. However, the melancholy and unappealing description of unfavorable weather conditions on a cold night instantly generates a feeling of cheerlessness. Additionally, the delineation of an intensifying and overwhelming growth of darkness that threatens to engulf Victor as he works induces a feeling of suffocation. This juxtaposition yields a sense of foreboding, an element of Gothic fiction, and relays an impression of impending doom, exemplifying a tactic to foreshadow not only Victor’s imminent unhappiness, but also future horror and dread that will follow his “accomplishment.” Furthermore, despite Victor’s aspirations to create a human being, in this passage he solely refers to his creation as a “thing” and a “creature.” Rather than referring to his creation as his child or a person, Victor instantly objectifies his creation as an unidentifiable entity as well as identifies the being to hold the inferior status of an animal. This reaction, lacking the feelings of warmth and excitement, indicates Victor’s disapproval. Through the alarming description of a “yellow eye” like that of a lizard, an unnatural and inhuman characteristic, Shelley exemplifies an act of dehumanization and foreshadows Victor’s displeasure with and condemnation of his creation.
With the institution of a morose and ominous setting as well as the unearthly and disturbing description of Victor’s creature, encapsulating qualities of a Gothic novel, it is no surprise that the following paragraph, the central creation scene, communicates the outcome of Victor’s experiment as an unpromising and negative feat. As Victor looks upon the being that “lay at [his] feet…convulsi[ing with] motion,” he describes the event as a “catastrophe.” As Victor gazes upon the hideous and uncanny appearance of his creation, he acknowledges how his creation’s semitransparent “yellow skin,” “watery eyes,” “shriveled complexion,” and “straight black lips” all conjoin in a disastrous, repulsive, and animalistic manner. With the creation’s grotesque deformations offsetting the only human elements of “flowing” hair and “pearly” white teeth, Victor conveys that the fulfillment of his desire to instill life in an inanimate being did not turn out as intended. Revealing the inhuman characteristics and horrifying physicality of the “wretch,” Victor ultimately conveys his unhappiness and distaste for the life he created. He is left to further endure the tormenting emotions of “anxiety,” apprehension, and terror that reside within his own mind.
Through intense diction, grave descriptions, and frightening imagery, Mary Shelley sets the scene for the dramatic phenomenon of Victor’s installment of life. Displaying qualities of Gothic fiction, Shelley invokes inauspicious sensations of imminent misfortune and calamity. In her depiction of a desolate atmosphere, a disturbing darkness, and Victor’s act of dehumanization, Shelley foreshadows both the devastating outcome of Victor’s experiment as well as his dissatisfaction with and fear of his creation that surface in the following paragraph.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus: Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Maurice Hindle; Revised Edition (Penguin Classics). Ed. Maurice Hindle. London: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.