The Man and the Monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is one of the most distinguished novels in world literature. This literary piece is famous the world over as the story about Victor Frankenstein, a man who played god and brought to life a hideous creature. Because of the creature’s loathsome appearance, Victor shunned him. This eventually resulted in violence and death. From the onset, the line that differentiates Victor and the monster has been clear: the former is man, while the latter is beast.
However, upon thorough analysis, one would find that the creator and the created have more similarities and differences than one would expect. This essay seeks to analyze the characters of Victor Frankenstein and the monster by comparing and contrasting their qualities.
There are some differences between Victor Frankenstein and the monster that are obvious to the reader, and have been prominent from the beginning. It is the similarities between the two that could only be determined through closer inspection.
One of the similarities between Victor and the monster is the fact that both are “emotionally disordered” (Brown 148). However, the way their emotions are disordered sets them apart.
Victor has had a blessed life. He came from a wealthy family, which opened up many opportunities for him. He previously studied in Geneva, but upon his father’s insistence he attended a university in Ingolstadt (Shelley 45). At a young age, his education in Geneva had exposed him to the wonders of science, something he did not learn from his father. Victor wrote, “Under the guidance of my new preceptors I entered with the greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life; but the latter soon obtained my undivided attention” (Shelley 41). It was his preoccupation with the elixir of life which resulted in his creation of the monster. With science as his tool, Victor set out on his endeavor. Prior to his act of creation, he was already aware of the possible consequences. Science can be perceived in two ways. While it may prove beneficial, it can also be extremely dangerous (Storment). Victor knew this, but he still decided to cross that line. He states, “When I found so astonishing a power placed within my hands, I hesitated a long time concerning the manner in which I should employ it” (Shelley 62). This hesitation meant that he understood the consequences that may arise. Despite this, he still decided to proceed with the endeavor. Victor’s awareness of the outcome of his actions and his contrary decisions are proof of his emotionally disorder.
The same condition holds true for the monster. In the beginning, the monster held humanity in high esteem (Davidson). He has no intention of harming or frightening people with his presence. He did not have ill feelings towards humans until Victor rejected him. The monster inquires, “Shall I respect man when he condemns me?” (Shelley 217). This is the time when his hatred toward mankind began. The monster said to Victor, “Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth” (Shelley 217). The transition between respect and hatred towards mankind illustrates the emotional disorder of the monster.
Another similarity shared by Victor and the monster is the sense of helplessness (Brown 164). However, it is the cause of their helplessness that makes them different. Victor’s problem began when the monster started haunting him and making his life miserable. He wanted to escape the problem he himself created, but he could not do so. Victor writes, “I traversed the streets without any clear conception of where I was or what I was doing. My heart palpitated in the sickness of fear, and I hurried on with irregular steps…” (Shelley 72).
Meanwhile, the monster is helpless due to Victor’s rejection. A monster is defined as “being without a place in the cosmic order” (Brown 156). The monster was not supposed to exist, but Victor brought him to life. The only relation he had was with his creator. When Victor rejected him, the monster was displaced. He was left on his own, forced to live under circumstances alien to him. This was the cause of his helplessness, the same reason why he desired a female companion (Shelley 217).
The two characters are also similar in terms of enumeration (Brown). The novel is filled with numbered references, which seems to indicate a desire to quantify everything. Of course, this is not possible. The words “hundred” and “thousand” are woven into the thoughts of both Victor and the monster. For example, in describing his scientific passion, Victor writes, “In a thousand ways he smoothed for me the path of knowledge…” (Shelley 57). The monster also uses the numerical reference: “If any being felt emotions of benevolence towards me, I shall return them a hundred and a hundredfold…” (Shelley 218). The use of numbers seems to indicate the need to convey feelings in quantities. This is realistically unlikely, but it seems to represent Victor’s intention of reducing life into the works of science, just like he did with the monster.
Victor and the monster also share a reversal of their respective natures. At first, the line between good and evil would be defined as such that Victor is the former while the monster is the latter. This is justifiable. Victor is a victim. He lost both his wife Elizabeth and his brother Henry when the monster killed them. Victor narrates of losing Elizabeth, “As I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death” (Shelley 70). In this case, the monster is obviously evil.
However, if one considers how the whole problem started, the reader will discover that the real evil in this story is Victor. Not only are the roles of good and evil exchanged, so are the very natures of the characters involved. It is true that Victor is the man while the monster is the beast. On the other hand, their actions reveal otherwise. Victor is human, but he lost his sense of humanity when played god upon his creation of the monster. He exerted great effort, devoting his time and energy in the process just to achieve his goal (Scott). Victor explains, “After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter” (Shelley 61).
Unfortunately, the sense of pride Victor felt in his creation did not last long. He wrote, “I beheld the wretch – the miserable monster whom I had created…the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life” (Shelley 71). His disgust and regret over his creation translated into indifference and rejection. The supposed nurturing relationship between creator and created was therefore never established. This is because Victor was incapable of nurture (Renfroe). Nurturing is a human quality, one which Victor failed to do. As a result, in the story Victor is not only bad, he is also the beast. He was without human compassion; he treated the monster like animals treat each other.
On the contrary, the monster had exhibited human-like qualities. While it is referred throughout the story as creature or thing, it is the monster which exemplifies what being human is about. It has the capacity to think and feel like people. The monster is described in the story as an epitome of brute strength and features. Victor narrates, “To make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionally large” (Shelley 63). Despite such description, Brown notes that “the monster isn’t pure physicality…but pure volition” (152).
Also, one outstanding quality about the monster that affirms his human likeness is his need for a mate. The monster asks Victor, “What I ask of you is reasonable and moderate; I demand a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself; the gratification is small, but it is all that I can receive, and it shall content me” (Shelley 218). Companionship is necessary for humans; people need other people to survive. This need was felt by the monster, so he requested Victor to create one. The request was not granted. The monster is not evil per se; his acts of violence were simply driven by a need that Victor was not able to address. In general, the good in the story is the monster and not Victor.
Victor and the monster are also different in terms of their relations between light and darkness. Ironically, Victor is comfortable in the darkness while the monster finds solace in the light (Brown 157; Renfroe). Upon his creation, the monster had already expressed his fascination with the light. The monster says, “until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke upon me—a light so brilliant and wondrous” (Shelley 60). Later in the story, the monster’s preference for the light is again made evident. According to the monster, “Soon a gentle light stole over the heavens and gave me a sensation of pleasure” (Shelley 146). The monster was also mesmerized by the “bright moon,” another source of pleasure for him (Shelley 147).
In contrast, Victor spends most of his time in the dark. Early on in the story, he describes himself as “aided only by one glimmering and seemingly ineffectual light” (Shelley 61). He also speaks of a “dark gloom” when he was narrating his story (Shelley 22). In addition, it was the night sky which caused his soul to be elevated (Shelley 23). Even the way he described his reflection was characterized with the lack of light; he called it “gloomy and narrow” (Shelley 38). When the monster expressed his desire for revenge against Victor, he stated that he would make the latter “curse the sun” (Shelley 255). This statement affirms Victor’s disposition against the light.
The novel was said to be a feminist text, a story which was meant to illustrate the difference between the status of men and women during Shelley’s time. Even in that context, the characters of Victor and the monster differ in symbolism. Victor represents male dominance in society. His character is guilty of the objectification of women, as evident in his treatment of his wife Elizabeth. He encourages her silence and does not really value her existence. Some sources even point out that his creation of a monster is “a male parody of begetting and birthing” (Cervo 15). This would presume that if the experiment would indeed be successful, women would no longer be necessary for reproduction. The female would be discarded because the male can create without her (Yousef 198).
On the other hand, the monster symbolizes the plight of women in society. Dickerson notes that the monster is “passive, childish and helpless as the female figure in the novel” (Dickerson 88). The creature is passive because it cannot act for himself, as he was left with no instruction at all. It is childish because “it remains emotionally stunted, neither growing up… or finding a home” (Brown). This is because Victor is supposed to serve as the parent for he created the monster, but he wanted nothing to do with his “child.” This rendered the monster insignificant, devoid of his creator’s recognition.
The novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley may initially seem as a simple story, which easily distinguishes the difference between man and monster, creator and created. However, analysis will show that despite the obvious dissimilarities, both may share alike qualities. Both characters are emotionally disordered, have the tendency to quantify their feelings and are both helpless in their respective situations. Consequently, there are also differences between the characters which the reader may not expect. Man and monster exhibited the other’s nature: Victor lost his sense of humanity while the monster became human-like. In addition, Victor found comfort in the darkness while the monster found comfort in the light. The characters also differ in symbolism. Truly, the novel is one remarkable story that deserves its place in the world of literature.
Brown, Marshall. “Frankenstein: A Child’s Tale.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 36.2 (2003): 145-175.
Cervo, Nathan. “Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Explicator 46.2 (1988): 14-17.
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Dickerson, Vanessa. “The Ghost of a Self: Female Identity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Journal of Popular Culture 27.3 (1993): 79-91.
Renfroe, Alicia. “Defining Romanticism: The Implications of Nature Personified as Female in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.” Emory University. 23 July 2008 <http://prometheus.cc.emory.edu/panels/2D/A.Renfroe.html>.
Scott, Walter. “Review of Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. 1 April 1818. University of Maryland. 23 July 2008 <http://www.rc.umd.edu/reference/chronologies/mschronology/reviews/bemrev.html>.
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Storment, Suzanna. “Frankenstein: The Man and the Monster.” Washington State University. October 2002. 23 July 2008 <http://www.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/frank.comment3.html>.
Yousef, Nancy. “The Monster in a Dark Room: Frankenstein, Feminism, and Philosophy.” Modern Language Quarterly 63.2 (2002): 197-226.
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The Man and the Monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (2017, Jan 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-man-and-the-monster-in-mary-shelleys-frankenstein/