In this essay, I am going to answer the question “Who or what, is the real monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?” I will explain how most people perceive the creature from films and dramas, and how most people remember the name Frankenstein. I will talk about how the narrative of the book is structured and how this builds up our expectation of the creature. I will talk about how the creature begins his story, the impression we get of his early days and how these contracts with our expectations of the murderer. I will explain the methods Shelley uses to ensure we sympathise with the monster, and talk about how the monster starts to hate himself and his creator. I will also talk about how Shelley swings the sympathy away from the monster when he talks about killing William. I will conclude by answering the above question with my opinion.
When most people hear the name Frankenstein, they automatically think of the creature. However, the name actually belongs to Victor Frankenstein, who is the creator. ‘Frankenstein’ has become a legend, as the creature is featured in many films and dramas. However, the creature is now known as Frankenstein, and in many of the films and dramas is made to be perceived as a cruel and heartless being. In these films and dramas, the story of why the creature is driven to kill people is not always explained, and so many people just assume that he is a naturally bad being. However, in this book, we are shown that the creature is driven to do these terrible things by his life of rejection, loneliness and hatred.
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In this novel Victor Frankenstein creates a creature. He does this because of his two ambitions, one arrogant and one noble. The arrogant ambition is to be remembered and respected for the creation of a whole new species. He shows us this ambition and arrogance in chapter 4, page 43, when he says “A new species would bless me as its creator and source”. However on the next page we are shown his noble ambition to be able to bring the dead back to life. “I thought that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption”. This shows us that Frankenstein was, at first, hoping to bring life to a new creation, and in the long term bring the dead back to life. The arrogant ambition is selfish and so this shows us that Victor has a monstrous side, however the noble ambition shows us that victor also has a compassionate and caring side.
The book is structured so that there are three narrators, Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and the creature. As Walton and Victor are the first to narrate, Shelley builds up our expectations of the creature. Victor is very negative towards the creature, during his narration. This is probably because the creature has done many bad things and Victor does not want to have to blame himself for this. Victor is particularly negative about the creature because he has killed so many people close to him, William (Victor’s brother), Clerval (Victor’s best friend) and Elizabeth (Victor’s wife). The creature also frames Justine (a family friend), for Williams murder. As Victor tells the readers of the horrific things the creature has done, we start to expect that the creature is a cruel, heartless monster. However, when the creature beings his story, we start to think that we may have been mistaken.
When the monster begins his story, the impression Shelley gives us of his early days is that he was like a helpless, newborn child, new, innocent and neutral, neither good nor bad. We learn that through rejection, loneliness and people’s hatred of him, he is driven to do bad things. This is a big contrast to what we have been led to believe, as we were expecting a heartless being, with no reasons for his terrible actions. Instead we get a sensitive and caring being, which has been driven to do terrible things.
At this point, the readers can sympathise easily with the creature, and here Shelley uses a variety of methods to ensure that we do sympathise with him. One of these methods is through his kindness to the De Lacey family, which goes unacknowledged, and when the family sees him they immediately attack him, and cast him out. Making him feel even more alone and rejected.
In chapter 15 the creature begins to hate himself, for being so different, and also begins to hate his creator for making him so different, and for rejecting him and not caring for him. When reading a book he has found, called Paradise Lost, he relates himself to Satan, as he realises that he sometimes “viewed the bliss of my protectors” and “the bitter gall of envy rose within me”. He starts to ask himself such as ‘why was I created?’
Further in chapter 15, the creature finds some documents in the coat he had earlier taken from his creator as clothing. Upon reading these documents he discovers that they are his creator’s diary in the months leading up to his ‘birth’. He discovers his creator’s feelings upon seeing him and exclaims “Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?” The creature feels deserted, as we find out in chapter 15, page 101, where the creature says ‘I remembered Adam’s supplication to his Creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me: and, in the bitterness of my heart, I cursed him’. This makes the readers feel angry towards Frankenstein for turning his back on his creation, and makes us sympathise more with the creature.
At the end of Chapter 15, the creature leaves the De Lacey’s house. Shelley presents the monster as very upset at this point. The readers feel sorry for him as he has yet again been rejected. The creature starts to show more of his monstrous side at this point, as in his anger he burns down the De Lacey’s cottage, and swears his revenge on his creator.
In Chapter 16, the creature saves a woman from drowning, this makes us feel that the creature is not yet ‘a monster’, as it shows his natural instinct is to save others lives and to be kind, but at the same time this allows us to feel his potential rage, as he reverts quickly back to being angry and showing his monstrous side. This happens after he has saved the woman and is shot by a peasant.
The creature tries to befriend a young boy, and is rejected yet again. The creature discovers that his name is William Frankenstein, and in revenge, the creature strangles William. This makes the reader feel, that the creature is a monster because he has killed a child, and that is seen as a monstrous thing to do. The creature then frames Justine for William’s murder, and shows no sorrow for his actions. This also makes the reader feel that he is monstrous and heartless. However because we know of his story, we can still sympathise with him.
Shelley presents an argument of nature versus nurture in this story. The argument is that everyone is born innocent, yet circumstance can occur to change a person’s perspective on the world. This shows us that it is not entirely the monsters fault that he has become a murderer, as he too must have been born innocent.
I feel that at the end of this novel, no one is innocent and every character can be named a monster because of their actions. The creature, Frankenstein, circumstance and society are all monsters in this novel. The creature for his actions, Frankenstein for not looking after his creation and teaching him right from wrong, society for rejecting the creature and not helping Frankenstein to see the consequences of his actions, and for not showing him how he could help. I believe that there is no real monster in Frankenstein. The circumstances made the characters do these terrible and monstrous things.