Discuss the sources of discontentment and/or despair in 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley

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 'Then the discontented wanderer is thrown back on himself – if his life is to become bearable, only he can make it so.  And, on that spring evening, walking up the long, dark, murmuring street toward the boulevard, Eric was in despair.  He knew that he had to make a life, but he did not seem to have the tools' (Another Country, pp.213/4).

         Discuss the sources of discontentment AND/OR despair in Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'

The depiction of despair, in varying forms, is perhaps predominantly engendered in its purest form within the individual character's guilt as a fundamental essence of their characterisation.  In relation to Frankenstein, this inclination is explicit in Victor's tormenting guilt surrounding the murder of William, Justine and Clerval: 'But I, the true murderer, felt the never-dying worm alive in my bosom, which allowed no hope or consolation...Anguish and despair had penetrated into the core of my heart' (Shelley, p. 68).  This 'never-dying worm' takes on symbolic significance in the creature, who acts as a physical representation of Victor's guilt synonymous with these murders, and is therefore a constant reminder of remorse, instigating the escalation of his profound despair.

Furthermore, Victor's guilt, thus his despair, is subject to Freudian interpretation, particularly in his dream immediately following the creation of the monster: on envisaging Elizabeth, Victor embraces her and her lips 'became livid with the hue of death' (Shelley, p. 39).  In addition to foreshadowing the death of Elizabeth, alluding to Victor's guilt, a psychoanalytical interpretation suggests Victor's repressed sexual desires or, as an extension, as Kate Ellis argues, his fear of female sexuality inherent within the bourgeois society, as the subconscious source of despair.  This notion of repressed desire as a source of discontentment is supported throughout the text through the allusion to the doppelgänger; the monster can be interpreted as a externalisation of Victor's subconscious.  It is therefore significant that when Victor leaves Elizabeth alone on their wedding night – when sexuality must be confronted – the embodiment of his repressed desires murders her.  In addition to this, Elizabeth metamorphoses into the 'corpse of [his] dead mother' (Shelley, p. 39), suggesting, under psychoanalysis, Oedipal conflict subconsciously at the heart of Victor's despair.  

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Social isolation as a major contributor to the despair inherent in the central characters is presented in Frankenstein through the confinement synonymous with social isolation.  Victor Frankenstein self-imposes his detachment from society, as a result of his parochial quest for knowledge: 'I, who had ever been surrounded by amiable companions...I was now alone...I ardently desired the acquisition of knowledge' (Shelley, p. 28).  Essentially, it is this obsession in which the creature is derived from, and Victor later addresses this as the initial cause of his despair: 'how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is ...

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