Frankenstein & Fate

 

The thoughts, actions, and feelings of characters in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein beg the question of how fate impacts the blame that can be placed on people for their actions. Victor Frankenstein, for example, claims his creating the monster was forced by something beyond his control, and his creation claims that his own behavior couldn’t be helped. However, their interactions with other characters and their opinions of themselves suggests that the monster was more of a blank slate than Frankenstein, and therefore is less to blame since he was simply a product of his environment and a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

By the end of the story, Frankenstein has nearly chased the monster to the North Pole with the intent of destroying him, as the monster destroyed Frankenstein’s friends and family. Weakened by the cold and his long journey, Victor is spotted by a Captain Walton and his crew and is taken aboard, where he tells them of his tragic tale. This actually happens at the beginning of the novel, though it’s at the end of Frankenstein’s life and story. After he recounts his tragedy to Walton, he dies. As Walton is in another room writing to his sister, he hears something in the room where Frankenstein’s corpse is, and walks in to find the monster hovering over the body, lamenting his creator’s death. Walton is torn between feeling pity and contempt for the tragic, murderous half-man, and in response the creature begins a monologue that will serve as the end of the novel and the last impression left on both Walton and the novel’s readers. As such, it seems fitting that his words can be and should be taken to be of greater truth and weight than much of the dialogue throughout the novel, and thus we can accept the monster’s woes and feel satisfied in pitying him.Frankenstein argues that his creating the monster was compelled by some force beyond his control, but the way he responded to his creation for which he was responsible was inarguably his choice. He chose to immediately reject his creation and condemn him to life a loneliness and hatred, which in turn caused the monster to fulfill what he would begin to view as his “work” and the “series of [his] being” (Shelley 198). Frankenstein essentially told his creation that he was a monster, and so he became a monster, killing Frankenstein’s brother William, his best friend Henry, and his wife Elizabeth. Though the creature was responsible for these deaths, Victor seems ultimately to blame, as the “curious and unhallowed wretch” that chose to play god while not responsible or compassionate enough to handle that power (Shelley 198).

In the end, both Frankenstein and the monster choose isolation in the north, where they both die. The “northern extremity of the globe,” desolate and harsh, seems a proper place to end the lives of two miserably lonely individuals (Shelley 198). The north contrasts heavily to other experiences with nature that they have had, where the “cheering warmth of summer”,  “the rustling of the leaves,” and “the warbling of the birds” served to calm and comfort the monster upon his first exploration of the world (Shelley 199). Their lives and tragedies were quite different in that Victor chose his years of loneliness; he had family, friends, and love abound both at home in Geneva and at the University of Ingolstadt, but he rejected them in pursuit of that which defied nature. When his monster came to life, he rejected him too and cast him to a life of misery, which is ultimately the crux of the entire tragedy. After the death of the monster’s source of both his life and purpose, he admits that he feels “polluted by crimes and torn by the bitterest remorse” for his sins and seeks solace and redemption in death (Shelley 198). He hopes that his and Frankenstein’s deaths will allow the remembrance of them both to “speedily vanish,” so that no other will commit such atrocities; his suicide therefore makes him somewhat of a martyr, righting his unwilling wrongs before his death the best he can (Shelley 198). This contrasts to Victor’s death, who died reluctantly yet glad that he would no longer have to bear his responsibilities.

Near the end of his monologue, the creature recognizes Frankenstein’s suffering, but claims that “my agony was still superior to thine,” since he acted in such terrible ways because Frankenstein took away his only chance of acceptance and company, though he did not want to be a murderer (Shelley 199). “The bitter sting of remorse will not cease to rankle in [his] wounds” the creature claims, until “death shall close them forever” (Shelley 199). Through his death, the monster was satiating not only Frankenstein’s desire for his “extinction,” but also his own pains and “feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched” (Shelley 198). Readers can’t help pity this pathetic outcast that knew nothing other than rejection, hatred, loneliness, and misery; at least Victor knew love, happiness, and acceptance for a good part of his life. Mary Shelley’s ending characterization of the monster and his woes allows us to recognize that he truly was a product of fate in a way that Frankenstein was not, because the monster was hated by everyone, including himself, and thus was forced to act as he knew.

Both Victor Frankenstein and his creation exemplify negative aspects of humanity: selfishness, a desire for power, an unquenchable longing for love, a need for revenge. The so-called monster, however, at least also shows deep remorse through his self-hated and subsequent suicide, shows an understanding of his misdeeds, and attempts to right his wrongs, even though he was a mere blank slate that had never been taught to act in any positive way. Rather, he was taught to hate and be violent, since he himself was hated and the victim of violence. He was the real product of fate, not Frankenstein, who made choice after choice to act with negligence. Frankenstein reached his potential, and his potential was brilliant but dark and filled with selfish motives. The creature, on the other hand, was never given such an opportunity to fulfill his potential, but in the end tried to do so by protecting future would-be creators of monsters from their ability. Yes, the monster is responsible for the deaths of three innocents since he was the one who committed the crimes; but, Victor Frankenstein is the one who must accept all the blame, because all misdeeds in the novel come back to him.

Third and Fourth Last Paragraphs of Frankenstein:

“Fear not that I shall be the instrument of future mischief. My work is nearly complete. Neither yours nor any man’s death is needed to consummate the series of my being and accomplish that which must be done, but it requires my own. Do not think that I shall be slow to perform this sacrifice. I shall quit your vessel on the ice raft which brought me thither and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch who would create such another as I have been. I shall die. I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched. He is dead who called me into being; and when I shall be no more, the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish. I shall no longer see the sun or stars or feel the winds play on my cheeks. Light, feeling, and sense will pass away; and in this condition must I find my happiness. Some years ago, when the images which this world affords first opened upon me, when I felt the cheering warmth of summer and heard the rustling of the leaves and the warbling of the birds, and these were all to me, I should have wept to die; now it is my only consolation. Polluted by crimes and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death?

“Farewell! I leave you, and in you the last of humankind whom these eyes will ever behold. Farewell, Frankenstein! If thou wert yet alive and yet cherished a desire of revenge against me, it would be better satiated in my life than in my destruction. But it was not so; thou didst seek my extinction, that I might not cause greater wretchedness; and if yet, in some mode unknown to me, thou hadst not ceased to think and feel, thou wouldst not desire against me a vengeance greater than that which I feel. Blasted as thou wert, my agony was still superior to thine, for the bitter sting of remorse will not cease to rankle in my wounds until death shall close them for ever.”

Works Cited:

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Maurice Hindle. “Chapter 24.” Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. London: Penguin, 2003. 198-99. Print.

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