The identity of a man is the sole reason why he does what he does. The beginning identity of a man is naturally good. That is not to say that every man is good at the end of his life. It is what a man’s experiences are in life that affects his ending identity. If a man should never encounter sorrow or grief in his life, then that man’s ending identity will always be that of a good person, however, if a man endures great sorrow and pain throughout his life, then that man’s ending identity cannot be prejudged.
It is then up to that man’s morals and values, as well as his limits unto which he can withstand said pain. This idea is well expressed in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as Victor Frankenstein, the main character of the novel, undergoes changes in identity due to his experiences in life. To understand Victor’s ending identity, we must first look at Victor’s childhood and his early identity that was created by his psychological profile as well as his relationships with those who surrounded him. Frankenstein states that, “No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself” (Shelley23).
Victor Frankenstein grew up as a young man who had a thirst for knowledge. However, his thirst for knowledge was not of a normal young man. For Victor, “it was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn” (Shelley23). His intentions were to learn the mysteries of the physical world. His aim was to find out how the world was created. Victor Frankenstein as a young man has the desire to learn the secrets of his Creator. Victor’s early identity is one that has not been tampered by sorrow or pain. Because of this Victor is a naturally good man who believes in education and the betterment of all mankind.
Victor’s early access to knowledge however was limited. All he could seem to get his hands on were ancient works of early alchemists. While these intrigued him, they could not help him find the secrets of the universe. Then at age 17 he was sent to the University of Ingolstadt. It was here he learned of modern chemistry and natural philosophy, the studies from which he vowed to, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation”(Shelley33). Victor has vowed to find how to create life, and after many years of study at the University, he believes that he has found the secret.
With his newly discovered talent, Victor decides to create a perfect human being of beauty and intelligence. He gets to work with his idea that this project of his will benefit the human race and further the field of science and technology with limitless bounds. He works for months, hidden away in his apartment creating this new life form, and then as he completes the body of the human being, he brings it to life. As Victor lays his eyes upon his creation, he realizes that what he created is not a perfect human being at all, it is a “catastrophe” (Shelley43).
This is the first sorrow that Victor endures and therefore his identity immediately changes. He transforms from an innocent young man with the desire to achieve great things in the field of science, to a man with unbelievable guilt and shame for meddling in the territories of his Creator. After a long sickness he endures, Victor decides that it would be best for him to travel back to his home in Geneva where he knows he is loved. However, as he returns home he finds that his youngest brother has been murdered, and soon after realizes that the culprit of this crime is none other than the monster that he has created.
With yet another painful event in his life, Victor’s shame and guilt is raised to a new level. He does not know what to do with himself until he is approached by the monster itself that has a request for a female companion. The monster states that if Frankenstein complies with this request, than he will leave him and the rest of humanity alone for all eternity. Because of Frankenstein’s love for his family, he reluctantly accepts this task, however as he starts his new creation, he finds it impossible for him to continue. Frankenstein cannot find the power to play God another time.
When the monster realizes that Frankenstein will not hold up his end of the deal, he vows to destroy Frankenstein’s life. During the rest of the novel, Frankenstein’s closest friends and his family are taken away from him by the monster of whom he has given life. Frankenstein’s monster, due to his failed search for happiness, has decided to take out his grief on the one person of whom he has a relationship with. As the monster is finally satisfied, ending with the murder of Frankenstein’s brand new wife, the monster flees north on a search for a secluded home unto which he will remain for the rest of his days.
Frankenstein, however, then realizes with the death of his wife, that it is his burden to follow the monster to carry out his revenge against it and destroy it. Frankenstein states, “I had formed in my own heart a resolution to pursue my destroyer to death, and this purpose quieted my agony and for an interval reconciled me to life” (Shelley176). With all of these terrible experiences, Victor’s identity has taken yet another change from a shameful, guilty man, to a vengeful and angry person.
His creation has finally shaped who he is. Victor dedicates the rest of his life to this mission of destroying the monster. The monster itself is yet another example that man’s identity is initially good. Upon creation, the monster is like a newborn, his “soul glowed with love and humanity”(Shelley82). Yet as he realizes that he is a deformed monster that no one will accept, he “vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind” (Shelley121). The monster tries to help people and tries to fit in, but it is impossible for him.
Therefore, his identity takes a dramatic change from a kind and gentle creature to a monster with only vengeance on his mind. As shown in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the identity of a man at his creation is naturally good, however, with unfortunate events in one’s life, one’s identity can change from good to something entirely different. Based on a man’s identity comes his decisions that he makes in life. When it comes to Victor Frankenstein, his identity led to the creation of a monster which ultimately consumed his life.
- Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: New American Library, 1818.