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Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein in the early part of the nineteenth century, at a time when she and her husband, Percy, were staying at the home of Lord Byron on the shores of Lake Geneva. Shelley was born in 1797, her mother died shortly after her birth. As a child, her father implanted the idea of republicanism into her and her mother had been an early women's rights campaigner writing several books on the subject. Shelley's father was also very interested in alchemy and Galvanism (the idea of running electric currents through a body to restore it to life). In Frankenstein we are told of a man who creates life by using similar methods to that of Galvani. Victor and society naturally perceive the Creature to be the monster, but Frankenstein explores a wide variety of themes, this as well as contextual issues will be analysed below.
The word 'monster' immediately arouses images of large, deformed creatures that are not human, however because of this; our natural instinct assumes that the creature Victor creates is the monster. However, the term 'monster' can also be described as "behaviour crossing the boundaries of acceptability or seeking knowledge that should remain a mystery" (this quest for knowledge being one of Shelley's key themes in Frankenstein), the use of the term 'monster' is used by normal human beings who aren't deformed or made with body parts of other dead humans. The contrasts created in society lead to negative morals that entice people to be prejudice and shallow (good and bad, rich and poor).
There are multiple aspects of Victor's personality and decisions that cause us to come to the conclusion that he is the real monster, one of which is the fact that he has a passion for knowledge "It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn"; from this we can interpret that he has always wanted to know the unknown from a young age. The monstrosity in this is that people have gone for so long without learning the secrets of the universe, and now Victor simply wants to delve science and figure out all these amazing things, this belief in himself is reflected in the novel several times where about he believes that he is the key to all his work and life long ambitions coming together. It is from this that we can see Victor's true intentions and personality as he simply wants people to know his name, he wants to be the person that created life without sexual reproduction. Contrary to his claims that he is doing this for the good of mankind, it is quite obvious that he is thinking more about himself than others. This becomes apparent in chapter 23 when he fails to tell Elizabeth the truth about the Creature killing her on their wedding night if they marry, and as a result she dies, "I could feel the blood trickling in my veins and tingling in the extremities of my limbs". Victor's childhood experiences led him to develop a feeling of his own invincibility, as he becomes a selfish adult who does not understand the consequences that there could be for himself or the rest of humanity. Only after the Creature has been created does Frankenstein realise what he has done, "infuse a spark of being into the lifeless creature that lay at my feet", he showed signs of excitement, however directly afterwards he is horrified that he has done such a thing "I beheld the wretch the miserable monster" This feeling of regret grows on him throughout the novel, as the creature goes on to kill many people including his close friends and family. Victor shows his naivety and desire to prove life wrong (playing God), as he simply performs actions without much, if any, thought about the eventual outcome. The novel's subtitle is 'The Modern Prometheus', which is very relevant to the story and very significant to the outcome. Victor very ambitiously created a being using parts from dead bodies, just like Prometheus created life from clay figures. Both Victor and Prometheus were punished for their actions, although in very different ways. Frankenstein lost almost every member of his family because of his selfishness and ignorance towards other beings. Prometheus was punished by being tied onto a rock and having his liver eaten by an eagle every day. Prometheus was physically punished, while Frankenstein was mentally punished for his actions; however he was also punished by his creation the Creature.
Great emphasis must be given to the first appearance of the creature in the novel. It has to be made clear that the narrator in this chapter is Victor Frankenstein himself. The event of the creature's birth is, therefore, explored from Frankenstein's perspective and does not allow the reader to empathise with the creature. This technique significantly affects the reader's opinion towards the creature, as its monstrous characteristics are highlighted to a greater extent. In addition, Frankenstein himself believes that he has created "a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived". Therefore, the reader's impression of the creature is biased at this point. Even before the creature is introduced to the reader, the choice of diction in the chapter prepares its entrance. Firstly, the fact that the corpse was brought to life on a "dreary night of November" underlines its importance in Frankenstein's life. It also implies that Frankenstein was only concerned about his creation at this stage and had ignored every other responsibility concerning him or his family. Secondly, there are numerous gothic features, such as rain pattering (pathetic fallacy) "dismally against the frames" and darkness, which set up an almost paranormal atmosphere. Frankenstein states that his "candle was nearly burnt out"; it is possible that this only reinforces the already tense scene, but it is more likely that the candle is counting down to the creation of the Creature. In Frankenstein this technique is used to indicate the start of a new era, in which creature and creator bring fear and devastation to mankind.
"I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished". Victor fails to recognise the possible problems that controlling nature past the extent that has already been reached can bring. Victor's influence for pursuing these desires all lead back to his mothers' death. His original reasons for creating life are noble and his driving force is the desire to help mankind conquer death and diseases, however by playing God he tries to be a creator rather then the created. The fact that two years pass without Victor visiting his family speaks poorly for his character. Though he knows his father and Elizabeth long to see him, he remains completely absorbed in his work. Frankenstein becomes progressively less human and more monstrous, as he attempts to create a human being. He tortures living creatures, neglects his family, and haunts cemeteries and charnel houses. The two settings in the latter half of the novel are part of the gothic theme that Shelley uses throughout the novel. Chapter five however, sees Shelley venture deeper into this theme of Gothicism. She opens with an overriding sense of desolation, including pathetic fallacy which is a key literary technique both used to set the mood and the atmosphere. The first line "It was on a dreary night of November" gives a bleak, hopeless tone. Shelley links the depressing weather to Victor's own "despondent" frame of mind, also in this paragraph; we are presented with a lot of imagery "The rain pattered dismally against the panes. I did not dare return to the apartment which I had inhabited, but felt impelled to hurry on, although drenched by the rain which poured from a black sky." These techniques create suspense; Shelly again uses weather to set the mood ("black"), which gives a sense of tension.
In death, Frankenstein appears to have learned nothing at all from his sufferings. He commands Walton's men to continue their expedition, thereby endangering their own lives and the lives of their fellow men; it is clear that the pursuit of fame and glory is still foremost in his mind.
The central part of the novel is the Creature's narrative; from this we are able to view the different perspectives of several characters, now that we can hear the Creature's side of the story. For example, the Creature appears to be an almost perfect creation apart from his horrible appearance, yet he often seems a lot more humane than the humans themselves. There is evidence that he is not only kind, as he helps the DeLacey family by collecting firewood, but also intelligent, as he learns to read and talk in a whole new language in a remarkably short time, "When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?" From learning about humanity and reading he noted his separation from them as well as the fact the more he learned the worse he felt, this is a comparison to Victor who has learnt so much and caused catastrophic damage. The only reason people do not like to talk to him is his repulsive appearance. Looking at these points draws sympathy to the Creature (a technique that Shelley uses many times the whole way through the novel) and consequently results in the opinion that the so-called 'monster' of the novel is completely the opposite: a kind, loving person. In spite of this near angelic perspective of the Creature, many people continue to believe that he is still the monster of the novel, and their reasons for this opinion are perfectly reasonable. As after having been rejected and repeatedly attacked by everyone he encounters only because of his horrible image, the Creature, alone and left on his own, develops a burning hatred against his creator and all of mankind; he kills many people close to Frankenstein, including a young boy named William. Therefore, some may say that only society is to blame for the dangerous threat to mankind that the Creature has become. If people had adopted the Creature into their society, instead of being biased against his abnormal appearance, he would have become a valuable member of the human society, due to his outstanding physical and intellectual skills. Chapter 13 highlights his extremely elaborate language, as he gives the landscape a romantic, unreal quality, skies are described as "cloudless", and "A thousand scents of delight and a thousand sights of beauty", this sort of description and vocabulary enhances ordinary events to appear amazing. It reveals the extent to which the Creature idealizes the cottagers and all that is associated with them. He worships them, and longs for their love and acceptance, displaying his simple desire to be loved. The Creature's essential humanity now becomes clear to the reader. He feels sympathy, affection, and desire, he has mastered language, and he is capable of self-analysis and reflection. Shelley uses Safie as a way of getting the Creature to learn the language, and takes the opportunity of criticising society while she does it. The Creature tells the story of how he learned about society by eavesdropping on Safie's English lessons, taught to her with the help of a book. In referring to the 'Ruins of Empires' (a history book), Shelley subtly reminds the reader of the ways in which society itself is monstrous, people commit unspeakable violence against one another, and exploit those who do not possess the trivial virtues of money and noble birth. The Creature's horror at these revelations reveals his essential goodness.
The most important feature of this chapter, however, is the way in which the Creature convinces Frankenstein to comply with his request. Throughout the better part of their exchange, the Creature's tone is reasonable, in fact, his desire for a companion seems almost noble. In this way, he will divest himself of his longing for violence and revenge, and lead a blameless life. In the last chapter we discover that the Creature did not relish his crimes, instead they were abhorrent to him. He is filled with guilt and self-hatred. The Creature, who has been said to carry hell within him, chooses to die by fire; in this way he can completely destroy the body that was hated by so many.
The Creature made Frankenstein feel guilty, as he had been "pitiless towards (it)". It ensured Victor that it does not "destroy the lamb and the kid to glut (its) appetite". After listening to the Creature's argument Frankenstein felt compassion for it and thought that its words "proved (it) to be a creature of fine sensations". The creature promised that "(it) shall become a thing of whose existence everyone will be ignorant" and it felt sure that "the love of another would destroy the cause of (its) crimes". It uses nature to present its feelings and believes that "the fire of love burns in (its) heart".
When the Creature had finished talking Frankenstein felt "as if (he) had no right to claim (his family's) sympathies and as if never more might he enjoy companionship with them". Frankenstein feels in the exact same way the Creature had felt after his fist terrible experiences with man. The fact that Victor sympathises with the Creature in this novel, can be used as very powerful evidence of the Creature's humanity. Wider society also plays an important role in the formation and building up of the monstrous behaviour of the Creature. Initially, their prejudice towards the Creature led it to inappropriate behaviour towards various members of wider society, such as the young child and eventually Elizabeth.
The true monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is Victor Frankenstein. Firstly, pretending to be God, Frankenstein has caused the chaos presented in this novel. The novel's subtitle is The Modern Prometheus, which is very relevant to the story and very significant to the outcome. Frankenstein very ambitiously created a being using parts from dead bodies, just like Prometheus created life from clay figures. They were also both punished for their actions, however Victor mentally and physically as opposed to Prometheus being eaten alive. Shelley's monster is a metaphor for nature as evidence of God's work. A monster is not recognised and defined solely by its physical appearance; therefore Frankenstein's creation is not the true monster in this novel, although it expresses numerous signs of monstrosity at different stages throughout the story. The Creature's humane characteristics not only outnumber its acts of monstrosity, but should also be greatly recognised by every reader. It is very significant that within so much hatred and despair humane characteristics can be witnessed. Frankenstein in attempting to disown the Creature and his responsibilities to him as his creator cause the Creature to punish Victor by murdering his family members and causing chaos in his life. The consequences of man's attempt to master life and death are obvious. The Creature represents the unpredictable element to controlling human life with Frankenstein's actions throughout the novel being unjustified and unforgivable. Frankenstein was consumed by his blind ambition and need for glory. He was selfish, irresponsible and ignorant. Therefore Victor is the real monster in Mary Shelly's novel Frankenstein.