Frankenstein: The Greater of Two Evils

Essay by zhaoyang8325147 December 2008

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Since its publication in 1818, Mary Shelleyˇs Frankenstein has provoked much debate. The most common difference of opinion surrounds Shelleyˇs intention as to the true identity of the ¨monster. According to Websterˇs dictionary, a monster is defined as ¨Any animal or human grotesquely deviating from the normal shape, behavior, or character. Most readers assume that the real ¨monster is Shelleyˇs Creature. But another, perhaps deeper and more thoughtful analysis, uncovers contextual clues given by Shelley that proves the true monster was Victor Frankenstein--the creator, not the Creature. Although the Creature outwardly appears to be the monster, it is Victorˇs actions and wild emotions that show he too is a candidate for that designation.

Shelley portrays Victor Frankensteinˇs childhood in relatively normal terms. He is depicted as having spent his youth surrounded by a close domestic circle, consisting of his friends, Elizabeth Lavenza and Henry Clerval, as well as his parents.

However, this picture-perfect childhood begins to fade as Victor becomes interested in the natural sciences, and his monstrous inner-side begins to emerge. He soon dedicates his entire life to studying ¨forbidden knowledge, of matters of life, death, animation, and the inanimate. Ultimately, he resolves to create his own being from dead tissues and organs. The religious issues this raises are profound, but he presses on without wasting time pondering the realm he is entering. Thus his desire to delve into these ¨black arts puts him on the path to monster hood. This project utilizes all of his time, and he shuts out all else. Victor forces himself into a life of solitude. ¨I determined to visit some remote spot of Scotland and finish my work in solitude (152). Victorˇs self-imposed alienation becomes the second step in his descent and transformation into ¨otherness from the rest of mankind. Being apart from humans begins the process of Victor turning himself into a monster. Already, Victorˇs actions show that he is becoming the true ¨monster, saying ¨An insurmountable barrier has been placed between me and my fellow men (147). Behind this ¨barrier, insanity befalls Victor. His new mental state is reflected in his dreams, such as when Elizabeth turns into his mother. Oedipus, another monster, is here referenced by Shelley. Wikipedia tells the story as follows: ¨Laius, Oedipus' father, kidnapped and raped the young boy Chrysippus and was then cursed by Chrysippus' father, Pelops. The weight of this curse bore down onto Oedipus himself. At his birth, it was prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Also, he begins to have thoughts of suicide, ¨Often I say, I was tempted to plunge into the silent lake, that the waters might close over me and my calamities forever (78). It is in solitude that Victor begins to lose his mind, and becomes obsessed with his own twisted vision.

Egocentricity, which morphs into megalomania, is the next basis for Victorˇs portrayal by Shelley as the real ¨monster. He has caring family, friends, and even his future wife, Elizabeth, all of whom he neglects so he can work, single-mindedly on his horrible goal. Indeed, as soon as he successfully creates his ¨child, he just as quickly abandons it. Victor the creator and parent, is disgusted with the Creature and immediately abandons him, without even considering how the Creature might perceive this rejection. Victorˇs cruel treatment of the Creature is in strong contrast to the selflessness of his own parents and Clerval. If Victor had only guided and nurtured his creation, then the Creature would never have wanted revenge on Victor and his family. Victor, always in isolation and an egomaniac, selfishly refuses to share his scientific breakthrough with anyone else; ¨The summit of my desires was the most gratifying consummation of my toils [] this discovery was so great and overwhelming [] the study and desire of the wisest men since the creation of the world was now within my grasp. (38)Victor has determined that he has grasped what the ¨wisest men before him could not-- a prize only he had won. He is obviously consumed by self-glory and excessive pride. He also, without any evidence to prove his contention, has somehow determined that his goal to create life from the inanimate has always been shared by the ¨wisest men. It is logic circular: if he has determined his goal is worthy, then it must be a goal shared by the ¨wisest men, which he has now ¨bested. Victor believes he is above everyone and on an equal plain with the true Creator himself, God. However, when one tries to imitate Godˇs powers, they suffer. Here Shelley references to Icarus, from Greek mythology, who suffered the same fate as Victor. Wikipedia states: ¨Icarus continues to be cited as a moral lesson about the danger of hubris, suggesting that someone who dares to fly too close to the realm of the gods will suffer for it. Icarus may be regarded as a metaphor for a social fall [] Icarus created wings from feathers and wax, and when he flew to close the sun (a symbol of the gods), his wings melted and he fell to his death. Victor makes the same mistake when he creates life from the inanimate; he tries to imitate God, and just like Icarus, he crashes and burns.

Since it would hurt his self-image, Victor never accepts the blame for his creationˇs actions. In fact, at first he does not even confess to creating the Creature. William, Henry, and Elizabeth were all killed by Victorˇs ¨child, and yet still, he does not want to admit his fault in any of this. But Frankensteinˇs relation to his creation is the same as a parent to his child; the creator/parent is responsible for his childˇs actions. Victor knew that his creature was the one that killed William and Henry, but he did not say anything; ¨It instantly darted into my mind that the murderer had come to mock at my misery [] as a new incitement for me to comply with his hellish desires (170). Wanting to distance himself from his childˇs wrongdoings, Victor does not pursue his lost creature, and instead goes about life at the university. Victorˇs refusal to accept responsibility, only leads to more and more suffering by others. Unless directly confronted by his mistakes, Victor refuses to acknowledge that he has made them at all. He eventually ends up reflecting on his deathbed on Waltonˇs ship as follows: ¨During these last days I have been occupied in examining my past conduct; nor do I find it blamable (207). Even then, he will not acknowledge or take responsibility for his monstrous actions.

Sources outside of the text provide evidence as well, showing Shelleyˇs candidate for the real ¨monster. According to an essay written by Anne Mellor, abandonment was a sensitive subject for Shelley, seeing how she was a ¨Motherless child with a distant father in a world with few role models for a literate young woman, Shelley would have empathized deeply with the Monster left to fend for himself (Mellor 1). Therefore, she would have empathized with the Creature, whom Victor ¨brought to life and then rejected. This evidence further amplifies the argument that Shelley intended for Victor to be the real ¨monster, since she was able to relate to the Creatureˇs abandonment by a parent who should have provided love and nurture; Shelley thus puts the blame for all that occurs directly on Victor. Shelley asks: ¨Can we expect to live humanly when raised in a harsh and unloving environment?It becomes evident that Victor Frankenstein is the true ¨creature. It is not only for that he chooses to isolate himself, but rather because he is an egomaniac who places himself above all mankind and on the plain of the Creator himself. Unlike our Creator however, he is selfish, he abandons his creation, and refuses to accept the blame for his creationˇs misconduct. Victorˇs action and megalomania make him the monster. Victorˇs desertion of the Creature caused him to do the terrible things he did, making Victor the greater of the two evils. All of this textual evidence from Frankenstein, proves that the Creature, contrary to a surface reading, was not the real ¨monster, but it was actually the creator himselfDr. Victor Frankenstein. Victor has been destroyed to the core and has only one purpose left in living, to set precedence for generations of what not to do; ¨But I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul; and I felt then that I should survive to exhibit what I shall soon cease to be- a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity. (149)Works Cited on Frankensteinpublished by Greenhaven Press¨Abandonment and Lack of Proper Nurture Shape the Monsterˇs Natureby Anne K. MellorBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine Review of Frankenstein, 1818 Romanticism: The Implications of Nature Personified as Female in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre Literary Panorama review of Frankenstein, 1 June 1818