Which character does the reader have the most sympathy for: Victor Frankenstein or his Creature?
In this essay I aim to explore how the writer Mary Shelley uses literary techniques, language and tone to make the reader feel sympathy for both Victor Frankenstein and his creature.
Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelley in 1818 during an early phase of the , at a time of dramatic advances in science and technology. The idea that creation rebels against its creator can be seen as a warning that the application of science can lead to unintended consequences.
The novel Frankenstein explores the ability to be able to bring a lifeless being back to life. Victor Frankenstein discovers how this can be done and creates a creature, completely unaware of the consequences that follow.
The story has a huge impact on modern society, and has opened up a huge debate on modern day cloning. Some scientists have said that unlocking the key to cloning will represent the greatest human achievement since the discovery of fire. Other people may disagree and think that cloning is bad purely because it does not involve the "sacred" union of a man and a woman, and because it leaves God out of the creation process. The text’s subtitle is ‘The Modern Prometheus’. Prometheus is the Greek titan honored for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to mortals for their use. This subtitle could act as a warning that people who disrupt or play god could cause serious effects on mankind.
There are three characters in the story which each act as narrator and tell their own story in first person narrative. The variation in narrators has a huge impact on the sympathy felt for Victor Frankenstein and the creature. As each character tells their own story, the reader’s feelings towards them both are completely swayed.
Before we hear of the creature’s story the reader does not associate him with a normal person with feelings, Victor Frankenstein portrays him to be a hideous monster incapable of feeling anything. It is only when the Creature starts telling its own story do we realize that the creature does have very human and sensitive feelings. The Creature refers to humans as “lovely humans” and uses words such as “benevolent” “gentle” and “companion” when describing the humans which creates an image of a Creature with a warm, kind heart.
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Frankenstein contains elements of two major genres of literature, gothic and science fiction. Gothic novels were written mainly to evoke terror in their readers, however they also served to show the dark side of human nature. The science fiction aspect of the novel explores "the marvels of discovery and achievement that may result from future developments in science and technology". used some of the most recent technological finding of her time to create the novel .
Mary Shelley was born on 30th August 1797. Her father, William Godwin, was a philosopher, atheist and anarchist. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft was the writer of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1790), and is considered one of the first active feminists.
Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein when she was 19-years-old. Some people think that the novel may have been a representation of her own sense of alienation and isolation. The story came out of a holiday that Mary and her husband Percy took in Switzerland with Lord Byron. The writers were all talking about the supernatural one night when Byron proposed that they each should write a ghost story. That night, Mary had a waking nightmare, which eventually developed into the story of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley spent under a year writing the book and it was published in 1818. Frankenstein is still considered her greatest work.
Frankenstein’s role in the novel constantly changes from victim to villain. Frankenstein seems to the reader to be the villain. Although he doesn’t actually commit murder, Victor Frankenstein indirectly causes the problems. If he had considered the implications of creating another being, many of the tragedies in the text would have been avoided. Frankenstein thinks he is the victim of the monster but he is really the victim of knowledge and curiosity.
The sympathy for Frankenstein begins when Frankenstein had created his creation and realised the consequences of ‘playing God’. He genuinely believed that bringing life into an inanimate object would benefit humanity, and was disgusted and shocked when he realised what he had created, “the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart”.
The reader beforehand had been informed at how hard he had worked on this project, and how it was his lifelong dream to be able to bring something back to life, and the reader cannot help but feel sympathy for Frankenstein when the creature does not turn out as he had hoped. Frankenstein says “I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me”. At the end of the day Frankenstein’s creation was a scientific experiment, it was not brought into the world to be loved or sympathised with.
After he created the creature and realised that it was a big mistake. He demonstrates a sense of remorse for his actions and feels guilty about creating the monster. Even as the Creature gained life it was obvious to see that Frankenstein was drained from it, “I was lifeless, and did not recover my senses for a long time.”
Frankenstein could not have been responsible for the Creature’s actions, as the Creature was ‘born’ with free will just like every other human being. Frankenstein suffered many losses from the actions of the Creature, one of which was the life of William, Frankenstein’s younger brother. The Creature also framed Justine for the death of William, who was later hanged. These losses of friends and family and other losses of health and piece of mind add to the sympathy the reader feels towards Frankenstein.
On the other hand the reader also feels a great amount of sympathy for the Creature, Victor Frankenstein’s creation. Although Frankenstein is a victim of the Creature, the Creature is clearly a victim of society and Frankenstein’s abandonment.
The Creature was brought into the world by Victor Frankenstein, on his terms, and therefore was completely Frankenstein’s responsibility. The Creature was neglected by Frankenstein since its ‘birth’ and had no-one to teach or love him. The Creature says “No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses”. He had a childlike understanding of the world in which he was created; we can see this in the Creature’s narration when he calls birds “little winger animals”. Although it is wrong for him to enter the old man’s cottage and steal his food, he is unaware of this and means no harm. As the reader learns about how the Creature was treated by Frankenstein they start to feel sympathy for the Creature. This is only when the Creature starts telling its story, when we start to realise that he is actually a creature of beautiful feelings and natural sympathies. The Creature refers to humans as “lovely humans” and uses words such as “benevolent” “gentle” when speaking which creates an image of a Creature who feels sympathy and compassion.
As well as receiving no formal teaching he suffered prejudice and rejection by society due to the repulsive appearance and grotesque image that his creator, Victor Frankenstein, had given him. The Creature was full of friendliness and sensitivity yet this was destroyed by the unfairness and irrational behaviour of both Frankenstein and every other person he came across. The Creature then becomes alienated from society and the rest of the world. The murders he committed could be justified by the lack of understanding of society.
The Creature says “Cursed, cursed creator, why did I live?” This shows the reader that he blames the only family he has for bringing him into the world and then rejecting him and making him isolated and cut off from everyone. This creates sympathy because it shows how the Creature questions the reason for his creation.
The monster cannot accept himself because of his differences in appearance and character and when he learns why he is alienated; it “filled [him] with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” The first time he sees his reflection, he is disgusted with himself. The emotive language of the quotation prompts the reader to sympathise with the Creature because he says that he is mortified and humiliated by his own appearance. The monster shows he is depressed with himself and his life.
The fact that the Creature is not given a name by Frankenstein alienates the Creature further. Instead it is referred to by words such as 'monster', 'creature', 'daemon', 'fiend', and 'wretch'. When Frankenstein speaks with the Creature in chapter 10, he addresses him as 'devil', 'vile insect', 'abhorred monster', 'fiend', 'wretched devil' and 'abhorred devil'. Such language focuses the reader on how society as a whole knew him. These words have a greater impact as the speaker is the one person who should have found it possible to love the creature despite his failings.
In conclusion I think the reader has the most sympathy for the Creature, Victor Frankenstein’s creation. The creature is neglected by Frankenstein since its birth and has no-one to teach or love him. Mary Shelley also makes the reader feel sympathy for Victor Frankenstein with the action of the Creature causing the deaths of Frankenstein’s loved ones and blackmailing Frankenstein into creating a female companion for the Creature. However the most amount of sympathy is felt for the Creature, I believe that bringing life into the world and then acting if it was never born is completely unforgivable. All throughout the novel the Creature is paying for Frankenstein’s mistakes in playing ‘God’ and creating something completely unaware of the consequences.