Blurring the Lines Between Human and Monster Essay
In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, explores the concept of humanity through distinguishing it from that of a demonic nature. This is done through a constant doubling between her two superficially opposing characters throughout the novel. Through the thematic use of nature, knowledge, wretchedness, and vengeance, sometimes as direct comparisons other times as striking contrasts, Shelley blurs the lines between human and demon within her own characters. Holding true to the romantic style, Shelley’s characters display strong emotions when experiencing or confronting the sublimity of an untamed nature and its picturesque qualities.
This theme is complexly utilized in blurring the differences between human and monster. The demonstrated emotional sensibility from the daemon ties him as a foil to Victor and to humanity in general. “The pleasant sunshine, and the pure air of day restored me to some degree of tranquility;” (139). Previously characterized solely by frightful appearance and allegations of monstrous violence, the daemon’s own narrative, replete with the restorative quality of nature to his own miseries, are synonymous to Victor’s experiences: “These sublime and magnificent scenes…. lthough they did not remove my grief, they subdued and tranquillized it” (99). However, the natural wonders that inspire these emotions in the daemon and Victor suggest a role reversal. Victor’s obsession with scenes of magnificent desolation and destructive power directly contrast the socially oriented humanity that celebrated characters, such as Clerval and Elizabeth, share. “The immense mountains and precipices that overhung me on every side – the sound of the river raging…. spoke of a power mighty as Omnipotence….
Ruined castles hanging on the precipices of piny mountains…” (97) The image here that reinvigorates Victor’s melancholy sensitivities is not one of celebration of life and happiness but rather of destructive power. Victor is lifted by the perceived omnipotence of the scene; Shelley capitalizes the word as a reference to god, however, Victor is not a pronouncedly religious character and ironically it is the daemon who believes in religion with his dogmatic study of Paradise Lost.
The passage has a destructive tone: the mention of a raging as opposed to serene river and the image of the castles, surely once shining beacons of civilization and humanity, are homages to the destructive power. Later on within this same scene Victor emphasizes this appreciation with a contradictory diction: “It is a scene terrifically desolate…. the trees lie broken strewed to the ground…. in awful majesty” (100-101). On the other hand the daemon is consoled by conventional natural beauties: “The pleasant sunshine, and the pure air of day, restored me to some degree of tranquility. In clear contrast, the scene that alleviates the daemon, undeservedly wretched and miserable, is one of serenity and thus reverses which character is suggested to be more monstrous in this aspect. Human sensitivities are not the only area where the daemon and Victor are doubled; on their shared and deeply intertwined paths to personal destruction, the human faculty of knowledge is a marked factor. It is this human faculty that becomes a shared source of misery and can be characterized as such by the characters’ laments: “Alas!
Why does man boast of sensibilities superior to those apparent in the brute; it only renders them more necessary beings. If our impulses were confined to hunger, thirst, and desire, we might be nearly free;” (100). Victor alludes to the daemon as a brute compelled only by hunger, thirst, and simple desire. This allusion is utilized to further paint the daemon as inhumane now not only in monstrous form but in character. This allusion is important as it serves to directly contrast the daemon’s surprising rational and sympathetic nature.
Furthermore, Victor alludes to Godwin’s Doctrine of Necessity by describing humans as necessary beings and not nearly free. The doctrine is used to represent knowledge’s role in limiting free will (Godwin earlier in the same political work demonstrates that since the mind can be a cause; once a truth is discovered it must be acted upon) and by extension its power over Victor. Victor not only laments the knowledge that caused him to create, but the nature of knowledge in causing action.
Victor repeatedly assumes and renounces responsibility for his actions and this instance is one of renouncement as knowledge itself is to blame in this misery. In doubling the daemon too curses knowledge: “Oh, that I had forever remained in my native wood, nor known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger thirst and heat!… Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock. I wished I sometimes to shake off all thought and feeling” (123).
The passage utilizes repetition alluding to Victor’s laments mentioning hunger and thirst to create an imminent doubling between the characters and their view of knowledge as less preferable to base desires such as hunger and thirst. Furthermore, the image of lichen, making knowledge an adhesive to the mind impossible to remove, is similar to Victor’s allusion to Godwin’s doctrine: both the image and the allusion describe knowledge as its own force on the lives of its discoverer’s.
This knowledge that torments both characters engenders a marked misery and wretchedness in their countenances. However, not only is there a superficial doubling with this shared misery in creator and creation but also a slightly subtle role reversal suggesting opposition. This role reversal occurs in the theme of responsibility causing the daemon to be a more sympathetic character than Victor. “All was the work of my thrice-accursed hands! Ye weep, unhappy ones; but these are not your last tears! Again you shall raise the funeral wail….. e who would spend each vital drop of blood for your sakes – who has no thought nor sense of joy, except as it is mirrored also in your dear countenances… and spend his life serving you…. and if the destruction pause before the peace of the grave have succeeded to your sad torments. Thus spoke my prophetic soul…the first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts” (90). As stated earlier Victor switches from taking responsibility for the tragedies and renouncing them, in this passage Victor first truly laments the effects of his unhallowed arts.
The theme of Victor’s guilt as the cause of his misery and wretchedness is repeated, in the passage with the image of the thrice accursed hands, and throughout the novel. Furthermore, the passage utilizes foreshadowing with the image of more tears to come and funeral wails. The foreshadowing though a powerful technique in creating suspense for the first time reader has a subtler meaning; Victor in his own narration recounting the tale incorrectly foreshadows his own end, the assumption that causes the deaths of more of his loved one.
This false foreshadowing suggests guilt by the narration itself. To further this intimated guilt, Victor speaks of his only happiness coming from the happiness of his loved ones yet he shunned them to reclusively perform his unhallowed art. In opposition to this the Daemon is not responsible for his own misery, “All men hate the wretched; how then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us” (102).
The Daemon recognizes that Victor has neglected his responsibilities towards him and thus left him most wretched using biblical diction such as classical English and annihilation to emphasize a responsibility that transcends solely human affairs. This shirked immense responsibility serves to make the Daemon a sympathetic character, and this role is thoroughly emphasized by Shelley’s repeated usage of the Daemon’s image, made by his creator, as his sole source of despair. “Begone! Relieve me from the sight of your detested form’ Thus I relieve thee, my creator; thus I take from thee a sight which you abhor. (104) This interchange between Victor and the Daemon is a powerful scene; up until this point the Daemon has been described as grotesque and inhuman, the fact that the Daemon acquiesces to his creator’s request in a literal sense demonstrates his own sense of wretchedness stemming from his appearance alone. This gesture engenders sympathy with the Daemon. “I have good dispositions; my life has been hitherto harmless and in some degree beneficial; but a fatal prejudice clouds their eyes, and where they ought to see a feeling and kind friend, they behold only a detestable monster. (136) Again the Daemon engenders sympathy, not only from the reader, but the old man De Lacey as well. His diction using fatal to describe prejudice captures the essence of the morbidity and severity of the Daemon’s situation; a feeling of utter wretchedness so encapsulating it causes him to contemplate suicide. Wretchedness and misery though caused by opposing factors in the characters drive them to the same ultimate end: a passion for vengeance that dehumanizes them. This dark passion unifies the characters in monstrosity. “My abhorrence of this fiend cannot be conceived.
When I thought of him I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed and I ardently wished to extinguish that life which I had so thoughtlessly bestowed…. my hatred and revenge burst all bounds of moderation. I would have made a pilgrimage to the highest peak of the Andes, could I, when there, have precipitated him to their base. I wished to see him again, that I might wreak the utmost extent of abhorrence on his head.. ” (95) Victor’s description of his own thirst for vengeance is notable in its imagery that corresponds very closely to the likeness of the Daemon.
The eyes are an important feature in distinguishing the daemon as inhuman, and in this passage, the image of inflamed red eyes signals a demonic characteristic to this extreme rage. The diction used in the last sentence, abhorrence, is very vulgar in its deep seeded hatred and signals the loss of any human sympathies as the act would be abhorred. Finally this passage contains foreshadowing with the final encounter being described as occurring in a desolate ice tomb.
This foreshadowing validates the transformation Victor has made when he is actually on the tundra in pursuit of the Daemon with hatred and vengeance as his only life force. In doubling the Daemon too is pushed towards this monstrous end, “You can blast my other passions, but revenge remains – revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery…I will watch with the wiliness of a snake that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict. (173) The Daemon’s final promise, is one of violence and evil, he describes his only life force too as that of revenge. The imagery of the snake has a Biblical context to it, as the snake caused the fall of man into unheavenly misery so too will the Daemon be the devil in inflicting misery on Victor. This directly relates to the Daemon’s previous allusions to Paradise Lost and more specifically his role as both Adam and unjustly the fallen angel Satan, now embracing his previously lamented role as corruptor.
Repentance furthers this religious imagery. In conclusion, although, the distinction between daemon and human is maintained as expressed by Elizabeth, “Dear Victor, banish these dark passions. Remember the friends around you who centre all their hopes in you….. Ah! While we love…in this land of peace and beauty your native country, we may reap every tranquil blessing. ” (96) Victor and the Daemon are not so easily separated. Elizabeth here creates the criteria for what Shelley deems as human: friendship, love, and nature.
However, Victor and the Daemon exhibit characteristics that identify them as mixed. Victor forgoes the friendship and love society has to offer for his blind ambition where as the daemon wants nothing but this celebrated feature. Both characters show an appreciation for nature in its effect on their emotions. And finally both characters exhibit the dark passion that dehumanizes them. Something is to be said of the timeline of these exhibited characteristics. The characteristics that they share are ones of doubling, so too is the order in which they develop them.
At the introduction of the characters they are more human than demon, showing a love for nature and friendship, however, misery corrupts both as they are the cause of each others, and forces both of them to a passion for vengeance so strong that it leads to their destructions. Shelley, utilizes this constant foil to explore the differences between human and demon and portray that it is not so easily defined by appearance; and that human beings are capable of being much more demonic than those we perceive as devils.