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Look closer at the main characters in the novel and their motivations by reading our in depth analysis.
Victor Frankenstein’s creation has no name, but it is called lots of names, among which are: filthy demon, abhorred monster, vampire, depraved wretch, and fiend! All of these names come from Victor himself, since no-one else in the novel really sees the creature - or at least no-one who survives. Despite the name calling, the creature tells its creator that “I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity.” He claims that “misery made me a fiend...[because] Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded.”
Through such sentiments Mary Shelley expresses her central theme: no-one is born evil, but neglect and rejection can turn anyone in that direction. A better society, one more tolerant, just and inclusive, will produce better people.
The early phases of the creature’s life are a kind of creation myth, with a being awakening to the wonders of the world. Unlike Adam and Eve, however, who remain static, the creature looks to see how and why things work. There is a process of education, natural curiosity from an artificial “man” of natural sympathies. Of course the creature also discovers the malevolent aspects of human behaviour, which is why the story of Safie is introduced into the novel. When he discovers how his creator has abandoned him; when he finds how abhorrent his appearance is; when he saves a young girl from drowning and is shot, it is not surprising that he “vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind.”
What is monstrous is the creature’s origin? Victor collected bones from charnel houses, and he admits that “the dissecting room and the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials.” It is hardly surprising that when he sees his creation again, he refers to “the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity.” He’s also eight feet tall and possessed of superhuman strength and speed! Of course it’s these characteristics which have fascinated film-makers and entertained audiences ever since. Nevertheless it is clear that the creature is human, has human qualities and desires affection and love, which is why it asks Victor “to create a female.”
The subtitle of the novel – The Modern Prometheus – alerts us to the fact that Frankenstein is a creation myth, with Victor as God! In other words, Victor refuses to accept the limitations of science, or of nature. He seeks to defy the immutable laws of life and death and since this is (science) fiction, he does so, by creating a living creature from dead matter. Lured by “the enticements of science” he asks himself “Whence...did the principle of life proceed?” The dark paths that he then follows, from anatomy to “the natural decay and corruption of the human body”, comprise the Gothic element of the novel, something that is popular with film-makers.
His choices also prepare us for the horror Victor experiences when he has completed his task. When Victor “beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life,” he determined to reverse the process. “Days and nights do not affect him, he tells us, until, at the moment of creation, when, perceiving what he has made, with “bones from charnel houses...with profane fingers”, his heart is filled with horror and disgust. His first reaction is to rush out of the room! He then falls asleep, wakes up to see the monster and exclaims: “No mortal could support the horror of that countenance.”
Victor abandons his creation as soon as he has made it, and, from that supreme act of thoughtlessness, stems all the destruction caused by “the demoniacal corpse” let loose by Victor’s relentless search for knowledge and power. Victor’s main characteristic might be said to be supreme egotism, fitting for someone who seeks to play God.
More essays on Victor Frakenstein
His letters to his sister frame the main narrative, can be seen as a version of Victor. He too has a passion for knowledge, has rejected “ease and luxury.” Victor sees him as a kindred spirit and warns him against “the intoxicating draught” of scientific curiosity.” That is why Victor tells Walton his own story – as a warning. Walton also sees and speaks with the creature, and, uniquely, survives the experience. Walton is less isolated than Victor. He yearns for a companion on his voyage, and he listens to the crew. These more sociable qualities may be seen as a protection against the dangerous, single-minded obsession that destroys Victor.
Henry is a milder, more Romantic counterpoint to Victor, who loved nature, and mountains in particular, “with ardour”, but does not, unlike Victor, aspire to the secrets of heaven and earth. His fate is to be murdered by the creature - the antithesis of nature.
Essays about Henry Clerval
[The] juxtaposition of the ghastly and the everyday suggests one of the defining characteristics of the gothic genre, that of the uncanny double, the shadowy world that is the complex underbelly of familiar experience
Elizabeth, who very briefly becomes Victor’s wife, only to be killed by the creature, seems entirely conventional in thought and deed. She has a natural sympathy for Justine, but fails to exist as an individual in the plot. There is also a disturbing incestuous element in their relationship, since she was adopted as a child and was for Victor ''my more than sister.''
Essays about the female characters in Frankenstein
Safie and the De Lacey family
These characters exist as a means whereby the creature learns about the world, and about the follies and cruelties, as well as the capacity for love, of human beings. They enable Mary Shelley to criticise religious and racial intolerance, and the inequalities of society.