Son of Frankenstein

“Alas my father […] how little do you know me” (189).

These words are whined by Victor Frankenstein after his father tries to teach him about the futility of pride. Frankenstein refuses to hear it because he believes his father misunderstands his suffering. But perhaps he’s really just that transparent, and the reason he is suffering is because of his overabundance of pride.

He knows that the monster has emotions and the ability to reason, and is essentially a human being in that regard. But he keeps trying to justify keeping him from having someone to love. That’s because the monster’s only flaw is that he is ugly. He is superior to regular humans in every way, and if he also could find love then he could truly become the next evolution of man.

Victor has too much pride in himself to let his creation overtake him. In fact, the very reason he created the monster in the first place was to give himself greatness. Once the reality of the living creature manifested, however, he couldn’t face the horror. The first thing the monster wanted from him was love, reaching out his hand to touch Frankenstein. When Frankenstein ran away from him, he was denying the monster love because he had none to give because he was too self-absorbed.

The irony of course is that Frankenstein tells his father that he doesn’t understand his troubles and he goes on to neglect the troubles of his creation. In his arrogance he is blind to his creation’s needs. If he had also had the foresight to not make the monster so ugly, he might not have had such a violent reaction to its animation.

Frankenstein’s refusal to understand his own flaws eventually comes back around and leads to his own death. Just as Frankenstein stood at his father’s deathbed, the monster stands over his creator’s corpse and laments his death, showing that he doesn’t lack compassion for him. We see that if Frankenstein had not been so blindly proud of himself, the story would not have had such a tragic end.

Creator and Creation: One and the Same

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it is clear that Victor Frankenstein abhors his yellow-eyed creation. He frequently calls the creature a “devil,” “daemon” and “fiend,” along with many other spiteful names. (Shelley 102) The two are identified as rivals fueled by hatred. Frankenstein’s detestation of own his creation stems from how the creature is an enhanced being who embodies Frankenstein’s own flaws and virtues. Fire against fire merely produces a larger fire.

Frankenstein and the creature are similar in many aspects, just as a typical father and son are. Both are excited and energized by learning; Frankenstein by “the enticements of science” (51) and the creature by literature and “the art of language.” (118) Both are attracted to the beauty and divine quality of nature—the sublime. Victor often seeks solitude in the depths of magnificent landscapes. After being repeatedly deprived of sympathy from the human race, the creature can only be comforted by the “gentleness and pleasure” of nature and the light of the “blessed sun.” (142)

Not all their shared qualities, however, are as pleasant. Frankenstein is known to have selfish tendencies. If he sets his mind on a certain task, such as piecing together a superhuman, Frankenstein goes all in, and any ounce of good judgment disappears along with all caution. By the end of the novel, Frankenstein dedicates the rest of his life to a hunt in which he tries to destroy the creature once and for all. The creature derives the same conviction. Revenge. “Diabolical vengeance.” (222) That’s all they have on their minds.

Both feel they have the absolute right to end each other’s lives. No one has suffered as much as they have. Frankenstein despairs at the death of his loved ones while the creature suffers from neglect and being an outcast. “No creature had ever been so miserable as I was,” says Frankenstein. (201) “No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to mine,” says the creature. (223) In the end, both are silenced by death but not directly by the hands of the each other.

God created humans in the likeness of His own image.

Victor Frankenstein did the same.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. Ed. Maurice Hindle. London: Penguin,
2003. Print.

Galvanism Aids Horror Factor

Though Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, is regarded as a horror novel, it no longer carries the same scare factor due to contemporary horror film. Regardless her novel was considered to be downright terrifying during the time period of Frankenstein’s publication. Shelley spawned the idea for Frankenstein through a nightmare of hers, which closely resembled Frankenstein’s creation. At the time of Frankenstein’s publication galvanism was considered a new science, and to most people of society a horrifying and blasphemous idea. Mary Shelley aids the frightening idea of the book through her elusive and vague use of galvanism. Shelley never fully states in Frankenstein, the creature was brought to life through the uses of galvanism, but leaves many subtle hints throughout the book. This allows readers to assume galvanism was the reason behind the creatures newly given life.  Shelley leaves this key piece of information out of the book, because the idea of galvanism was only about thirty years old at the time of Frankenstein’s publication, and many people of that time period were not informed on the specifics of galvanism. The idea of using electricity to reanimate parts of a dead human body, instilled blood curdling fear and disgust among the public, which Shelley capitalizes on in her book. During the creature’s reanimation scene in the novel, Frankenstein states that he will, “infuses a spark of being into the lifeless thing” (Shelley 58). Shelley does not forwardly tell the reader the creature is being brought to life through the use of galvanism, because most of the public during the early nineteenth century are unaware of galvanism, which gives the scene a distinctive mysterious effect. The mysterious effect allowed readers of that time period to think of the most horrifying way to spark a being alive. Although the current generation is accustom to the idea of the spark being a bolt of lightning, as it is depicted in many Hollywood versions of Frankenstein, the public during the time of the publication did not have major motion pictures to persuade their imagination into thinking of a lightning bolt. To nudge the readers in the right direction Shelley leaves hint at the beginning of Frankenstein’s travels, when he encounters “a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak” (42). After the stream of fire leaves the tree, Frankenstein is baffled when he sees a stump in place of the tree. After inquiring about electricity laws, his acquaintance “formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism, which were new and astonishing to [him]” (43). This allows the reader to make the direct connection that the spark associated to the creatures new life is a by-produce of the new science, galvanism, which intrigued Frankenstein. Mary Shelley does not go into detail on the subject of galvanism in the beginning to the book, this leaves galvanism open to the readers interpretation. When she does this, the idea of galvanism can go from small electrical impulses to trigger key muscle reactions, to the more imaginative idea that the lightning bolt can cause a hideous very much dead jigsaw-puzzled like creature can be brought to life. The open ended idea of galvanism can elevate the fear factor for readers depending on their imagination level, since Mary Shelley left no defined ideas. For example Mary Shelley’s nightmare, which envisioned Frankenstein’s experiment, was quite imaginative for her time period and even for those scientist who experimented on galvanism. Before the publication of Frankenstein, only small experiments on galvanism had been done to excite muscles, no one though it could be used to reanimate a deceased human. It was not until the year of Frankenstein’s publication, a full body was experimented on. Even then the scientist, Andrew Ure, still did not reanimate the body, although he was hopeful at the end of the experiment that reanimation could happen. The experiments were said to be so frightening to the public that many who were present during the public experiments had to leave the ghastly sight. With such strong reactions to simple muscle stimulation, one can only imagine how frightening the idea bring someone back to life would be. Nevertheless, the fact that Shelley left the idea of galvanism as an instrument of life open to interpretation, would be an effective way for her to instill terror into her readers. Since the public reacted so harshly towards the experiments, the scientist were considered to be deranged in the head. Mary Shelley also uses how the public reacted to the experiments, in a similar way throughout the book. Frankenstein states constantly in the book, that if he would come clean about his creation, his testimony “would have been considered the ravings of a madman” (82). This allows the author to one up the fear factor of the novel, by persuading the readers to consider Frankenstein as a madman. Though Mary Shelley’s vague and elusive idea of galvanism, the reader is allowed to overly imagine an already frightening topic of the time period. Thus causing Frankenstein to be a truly terrifying novel of that time period.

Storms in Frankenstein

The language of nature is particularly prevalent throughout Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Though these descriptions of nature are often just the passing thoughts of Victor, sometimes certain natural themes are used for a specific purpose. Throughout Frankenstein, storms are used to foreshadow the terrible events that are soon to come in the life of Victor Frankenstein.

The first two storms described in the book foreshadow terrible events in that they transform Victor’s life in ways that eventually come back to haunt him. The initial storm is when Victor witnesses the oak tree being electrocuted by a strike of lightning. This storm leads to Victor pouring himself into the study of science and looking into galvanism. These studies lead to Victor’s scientific pursuits at Ingolstadt, and therefore to his creation of the creature which is eventually horrific for Victor. The next storm immediately precedes the scene in which the creature is given life. Though Victor is looking forward to the successful animation of his creation, the life he gives to the creature turns what he thought was a masterpiece into his worst nightmare.

After Victor finds out that his brother William was murdered, he hurriedly travels back to Switzerland. On his way home, when he is nearing Geneva, a storm passes through the mountains and thunders around Victor as he mourns for his late brother. As the storm is reaching its peak, it sends down a strike of lightning that illuminates the creature for Victor to see. This leads Victor to make the connection of the creature’s coincidental presence to the recent murder of his brother, and drive him to hate the creature (and himself for giving the creature life) even more ardently. When Victor wanders to Chamounix and Montavert in an attempt to get over the contempt he feels toward himself after the deaths of William and Justine, he encounters yet another storm as he is ascending the  mountain. When he reaches the summit, he encounters the creature who then tells Victor his life story and asks him to make him a female companion which leads Victor into a state of depression and disgust for himself until he destroys this new creation.

The next couple storms foreshadow the deaths of Victor’s closest companions. The first of these hits when Victor leaves Scotland to attempt to reunite with Henry Clerval. This storm takes him all the way to Ireland where yet another misfortune befalls him. He survives the terrible storm only to find Henry murdered by his creation.The next storm brought tragedy in the death of Victor’s bride and lifelong friend, Elizabeth. The storm starts right before Victor tells Elizabeth to go to sleep in the very room she is murdered in minutes later.

The last storm in the book occurs when Victor is chasing the creature through the arctic. Just as Victor is closing in on him, a storm hits and breaks up the ice and Victor loses his last chance for revenge. This storm leads to his debilitation and sickness which eventually leads to his death upon Walton’s ship. Though these storms could have all been coincidental, the continual placement of their descriptions show an undeniable connection to the terrible events in the life of Victor Frankenstein.

Henry’s Bones

Here lies Henry Clerval – or so we believe, as his grave remains unmarked.

He certainly lies somewhere under this earth, still as foreign to it as his death was to this town.

Such insufficient markings cannot reflect the spectacle of it all, but as one stands on the spot where the man now lies, the feelings and memories of the past reanimate.

His lifeless form discarded on the beach is under our feet.

Our wavering certainty in the guilt of his friend still clouds our minds.

The solemnity of his burial wets our eyes and makes us reach for the hands of our companions. 

How can it be that we know so little of him – save for his name and his death – and still are so affected by what became of him?

Perhaps it is the anger that calls us back here, towards his companion who may have murdered him, and then became mad with grief and left him to wither among our dead.

More likely, the memory of this fallen man stirs in us some appreciation for the order of things. In our struggle to determine the details of his death, we examined closely the nature of humanity, what could drive one to so malign another, and decided that we were glad that this event marked an extreme that we will probably never witness again.

And so, at this conclusion, we depart from him, the only Swiss bones in a cemetery filled with Irish skeletons, and return to life.

Social Commentary through Ignorance

The rapid socialization of Frankenstein’s monster allows Shelley to critique her modern society through the lens of a tabula rasa. The description of the monster’s first forays into the world, including such scenes as the gradual differentiation of his senses (105-106) and his accidental burning of himself (106) firmly establish the monster as having a complete lack of any experience or inherent nature. With no meaningful cultural context to color his perceptions of the world, all of his emotions and reactions are brutally honest and fervent. Having experienced fear and brutalism in his encounter with the villagers (109) as well as tenderness and love in the interactions between Agatha and her father (110), the creature has been exposed to both sides of human nature.

This dichotomy in human behavior further troubles and confuses the creature upon the arrival of Safie, and the more formal education he then receives in history. The “stupendous genius and mental activity of the Grecians” is told in parallel with the “hapless fate of [America’s] original inhabitants.” These seemingly mutually exclusive realities inspire a sort of cognitive dissonance within the creature: “[Man] appeared at one time a mere scion of the evil principle, and at another as all that can be conceived as noble and godlike (122).”

The creature’s profound sensitivity gives a weight and sense of urgent abhorrence to the darker aspects of society that the average person views as simple realities of life. Concepts such as murder and violence are so repulsive to the creature that “for a long time [he] could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow, or even why there were laws and governments…(122)” Because of the fact that he has no experience to dull his senses, he is able to approach the harsh realities of society such as murder, violence, and social inequality with a unique sense of suffering.

By giving the “wretched” creature these haunting insights, Shelley challenges the reader to truly empathize, and to recognize the true horror and wretchedness of those aspects of society we accept as immutable. Shelley gives the most profoundly human insights into the failures of mankind to the one character inherently lacking in humanity.

The Ridiculousness of Romanticism

Victor Frankenstein of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein focuses highly on nature, and how his view of nature is affected by his mood or vice versa. His constant jump from being inspired by nature to not being capable of appreciating it makes it difficult for the reader to take Frankenstein seriously, and thus leads the reader to question his character. The unreliability and distrust in Frankenstein that is created can be seen as Shelley’s personal commentary on the exaggerated literature of Romantic writers of the time period and their resulting egocentrism.

Frankenstein often dramatizes his current mental state through lofty descriptions of the natural world around him; it appears to the reader that Frankenstein is either full of joy or despondent beyond recovery. After the death of his younger brother, he escapes into the mountains where he vacationed as a child and claims his surroundings fill him with a “sublime ecstasy, that [gives] wings to the soul, and [allows] it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy”. The use of the words “soar”, “light” and “joy” when discussing the soul alludes to heaven and angels, giving Frankenstein’s trip up the mountain a transcendent and biblical quality. This is similar to Romantic writers such as Wordsworth and Shelley, in that they compare nature and their overwhelmingly inspirational experiences in nature to God and the idea of the “sublime”. However, only a paragraph later Frankenstein’s entire outlook on nature shifts with his fresh bad mood. The scenery that Frankenstein had before compared to heaven transforms into a “sombre” place with “thick wreaths” of mist and a “dark sky”, or in other words a different and more ominous “sublime”. With this word being tossed around so frequently by Frankenstein to mean both amazing and awful, the reader is given the impression that he is not to be trusted. His changeable attitude largely reflects the writings of Romantic writers such as Shelley’s husband, and helps to highlight the egocentrism involved with Romanticism. The highly dramatized use of such strong polar opposite emotions exudes a sense of egotism within the character and, as Shelley’s novel implies, the author as well. Victor is certainly a self centered character, made obvious through his constant concern that the monster is going to kill him despite the large amount of evidence that it is the people he is close to that are in trouble. Ultimately Victor Frankenstein embodies an almost laughable amount of egotism and changeability that the reader can connect to Romantic writers.

In conclusion, Frankenstein’s inability to figure out what he truly feels, as represented through his view of nature, highlights the ridiculousness of self centeredness and the sensationalization nature and everything that is both beautiful and terrifying that is the center of Romantic writing.

Textual Analysis: A Shift in Power

Chapter II of Volume II in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein features a dramatic encounter between Victor Frankenstein and his creation. While the creature’s desperate plea for an opportunity to articulate his story suggests his lack of power and subordinate status, the creature’s utilization of persuasive and complex language through the integration of a rhetorical question and Biblical allusions not only reveals an underlying accusatory and commanding tone, but also exemplifies a shift in power roles.

As the creature implores and “[e]ntreat[s]” Victor “to hear” him so that he might be understood rather than unfairly misjudged and undeservingly subjected to rejection, it appears that the creature assumes a position of inferiority through this act of begging. However, the creature’s command for Victor to “be calm,” quiet, and open-minded “before…giv[ing] vent to [his] hatred” not only discloses how the creature immediately takes control of the conversation by giving orders, implying that any and all requests should be understood as demands, but also reveals the creature’s accusing tone. In presuming that Victor will respond with antipathy, the creature insinuates that a hostile nature is typical of Victor. As a result, Victor is cast in an unfavorable and negative light. While the creature is willing to return to his innate “mild” and “virtuous” self despite all that he has endured, the expectation that his creator will react solely with resentment distinguishes Victor as ranking below himself by quality of character.

In addition to the creature’s physical dominance of “superior” height, strength, power, and skill that he instructs Victor to “remember” and recognize, belittling Victor as if he is a child that needs to be told the obvious, the creature also gains the upper hand intellectually. Unlike Victor who converses with short and curt statements, the creature, displaying an eloquence and mastery of the human language, confronts Victor with an elaborate speech and a rhetorical question. Analogous to a leading question in court, a query proposed to suggest a particular answer, a verbal response is not required to disclose and confirm Victor’s desire to both “increase” the “suffer[ing]” of and inflict further “misery” upon his creation. Through this rhetoric, the creature not only maintains command of the encounter, but also shapes his speech to both accuse Victor of cruelty as well as highlight him as an evildoer.

Furthermore, by comparing himself to both the “fallen angel” and Adam, the creature continues to rise to a position of superiority. The creature elevates himself to a divine status greater than that of man like Victor as well as discloses that he was spurned without reason. Unlike the angel that was cast out of heaven for a “misdeed,” the creature, despite his “benevolent” nature, was “irrevocably excluded” from society without engaging in any wrongdoing. The creature, placing blame, reveals that he was “trample[d] upon” and despised not only by the human race, but also by the one individual that “owest” him most, his creator. While God made Adam in the likeness of Himself, instilling life and love into a being considered to be perfect, Victor proves unable to love a thing so frightening and ugly. Impulsively abandoning his creation and child, his Adam, out of disgust, Victor denies the creature of “clemency[,] affection[,]” and endearment; exemplifying that he is not only lesser than God, but also lesser than a mortal parent. As a result of continual neglect and failure to fulfill his duty as the creator, Victor has lost control of all outcomes regarding his creation and child. The creature clearly indicates that he is no longer the inferior party.

Victor Frankenstein and the Art of Subterfuge

There was a passage at the tail end of the third chapter of volume three that shed a particular light on the storytelling methods of Victor Frankenstein. On page 175, right after he’s destroyed the female half-creature, Victor gives his audience (Walton) an assessment of his situation: “I had resolved in my own mind, that to create another like the fiend I had first made would be an act of the basest and most atrocious selfishness.” This statement serves to complicate interpretations of Frankenstein’s moral leanings throughout Shelley’s novel. Throughout the course of his wanderings, Victor has made it evident that his family is not necessarily a top priority. He abandons his house for years at a time, returning to Geneva in times of grief to indulge in his reclusiveness in the company of his family, then fleeing again. When he does exhibit concern for them, it is directly related to their proximity to creature-induced danger. Victor and his creature are at the epicenter of his focus; everything else falls away in importance by orders of magnitude. He emotes this very clearly and lengthily on page 90 of the novel.

The fact that the story is told by Frankenstein automatically puts the reader at a disadvantage in respect to authenticity. What this particular line does is demonstrate Victor’s attempts to undermine some of his accountability for the creation of the monster and cast himself in a more noble light. Returning to his selfishness outlined previously, the interpretation of egotism comes from the same chapter as the quotation. In the first two pages of chapter three, Frankenstein ruminates on all the possible ways that the two creations could/would wreak havoc on the world, and in doing so strips the monster(s) of all of their autonomy and places himself in knowing superiority over them. His ego feeds into his hatred and solidifies his abandonment of his task, and when he comes to rationalizing away his decision, he flips the logic of his dilemma in a way that seems reasonable at face value. Going back to the quote, we see that Victor treats the fulfillment of his promise to his creation as the ultimate selfishness; how can this be so, when we’ve seen so much of the pain of the creature and the danger he poses to Victor and his own family? It would make sense to the reader that creating two of these “monsters” in order to secure safety would be selfish, but Victor’s denial of his creation’s capacity for compassion/reason/civility as part of his justification for this idea continues to strengthen the guiding hand Victor has on the reader’s interpretation of his own virtuosity.

The Master and the Slave

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In Chapter 1 of Volume III, on pages 157 and 158, Victor refers to his predicament as his “slavery”. I already thought that was an interesting concept until, not accidentally, the creation later (when lamenting over Frankenstein’s body) refers to itself as a “slave, not the master” (p.222).

I realized Shelley was perhaps trying to say something here. So, I started thinking about how she framed the distinct parallels between the creator and the creation:

Victor

VFKB

A scientist haunted by a creature of his own design. He doesn’t understand what he has made, or the power he wields, and it is his downfall. A seemingly complex character, he is really quite shallow and one-dimensional; with all his good intentions, he does not think of the consequences of his actions (like just abandoning the creation OR like sending Elizabeth upstairs alone on their wedding night… HELLO?!). He expunges his energy into making the creature only to abandon it the moment the spark of life appears – realizing too late what he had done. The only attempt at civility with or understanding the creature is when it regales its side of the story – in a brief moment of clarity, even Victor realizes that what the creation asks for is not unreasonable. But certainly, after what had taken place at this point, it was normal for him to be suspicious. However, not taking responsibility for his actions ultimately leads to his entire bloodline being wiped out.

The creation

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Abandoned at birth for reasons it didn’t understand, it was forced to learn the ways of the world alone only to be shunned by humans. Upon hearing its side of the story in Volume II, the reader cannot help but to feel sympathetic for the creation (especially with the loss of the French family he had hoped to call friends). He is lonely, and there is not much else in the world that can make one more miserable. Its gruesome looks make it impossible for him to be near humanity and its superficiality. It realizes inner beauty is useless and that’s all it has. A mate, created equal, is its only hope. Think of the creation like a child; in the simplest terms, he threw a tantrum when Victor destroys the second creation and exacts un-ending revenge until Frankenstein’s demise.

 The Second Creation (Hypothetically)

bride

It was never brought up verbally whether or not the second creation would even have reacted favorably to the union. Frankenstein surmises briefly at what her reaction might be at the beginning of Chapter 3, Volume 3. I think it could have been a real argument for Victor not to make it; the creature, unless angry, seems reasonable. If the second creation had come into existence, a whole other dynamic of master and slave could arguably be drawn. The second creation would be a slave to the first – existing only to satiate his needs. The possibility of ever separating from him seems low.  If it were to be created the same as the first, would it not have consciousness and the ability to think for itself? What if it did not want that? What if, being equally miserable, it asked Victor for the same thing, being unhappy with the first creation? The creature would have most certainly reacted unfavorably to this outcome and then where would Victor be? To me, this was a realistic cyclical possibility that was only briefly addressed.

VFC

Once the master creator, Frankenstein now sees the creation as his master, forcing him into making a mate; Interestingly, the creature always sees Victor as his master, the only one capable of making him happy. They depend on each other but are fueled by too many emotions and too much misery to see it.