Shelley’s True Monster
Morally ambiguous characters, who are neither purely good nor evil, often lie at the heart of many novels allowing for the misinterpretation of those characters’ true intentions. In the story Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, a monster interpreted to be the main villain is introduced, allowing for the social and ethical misconduct of other characters to be overlooked. In the novel, readers are introduced to Victor Frankenstein, who is often viewed as the main protagonist. Throughout the story, his creation is seen as being treated as someone who is less than human, where characters even go as far as to referring to is as a “monster,” often leading readers to also characterize this creation as a monster. However, evidence from the text can be pointed to Frankenstein being the actual “monster” or the true antagonist rather than the creature he created.
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One of the first instances of Victor Frankenstein being the monster is when he reveals his true intentions for creating life, these intentions can be seen as someone who is putting himself above God and believing that he is more powerful than he truly is. Frankenstein’s obsession with being like God can be seen through his intentions of creating the monster when he says, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.” (Shelley 88). In this quote Frankenstein uses the word “bless” which is a reference to religion giving off the idea that he has a God like complex. This complex can also be seen through the way he discusses the creature owing it’s being to him. Frankenstein creating life parallels society in the way of people having children and creating life that way. Instead of the social normality of life being a gift from a higher being, Frankenstein believes he is the one doing the gifting and he is the highest being. Here Frankenstein also sees the creature he is creating as “happy and excellent of natures” which contradicts how he feels immediately after he completes his task. Frankenstein here is saying that the creature he is creating will be far more impressive than anything created before, which gives the impression that he believes he is the smartest to ever create.
Consequently, the God like complex that Victor Frankenstein possesses leads him to believe he is above all moral laws, including digging up previously buried bodies. “Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?” (Shelley 82). Frankenstein describes his way of finding parts for his creation as “the horrors of my secret toil” this quote gives off the impression that Frankenstein knows that what he is doing is wrong and not approved of by society, but he still does it anyway. To Frankenstein, scientific discovery is more important than anything else, a common theme in the time period due to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, which occurred in the time period Shelley wrote this novel. This is a look into the ways Shelley criticizes the progress of the revolution and the overbearing want for knowledge that most people possess in this time. When Frankenstein mentions digging through unhallowed graves, he is discussing the removal of bodies that have been freshly buried. Funerals are sacred and most of the time officiated by a religious member of some kind, this quote also adds the God like complex Frankenstein has because he believes he has the power to undo something that it so sacred to the church. The final section of the quote it becomes evident that Frankenstein is asking a rhetorical question; he knows what he is doing is not right but again, scientific discovery is above anything else even the torturing of innocent animals. Shelley writes about the torturing of animals here because it adds to his inhumane actions, since animals are helpless and innocent.
The most outstanding reason for Victor Frankenstein being the true monster is the way he treated his creature that he brought to life. Frankenstein created this creature using dismembered parts from other beings, yet he still immediately decided that the creature was too hideous to love leading to the creature being abandoned by his own creator. Moments after the creature is created Frankenstein runs and the aftermath is described in the story through his point of view when it says “walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life” (Shelley 90). When Frankenstein first gives life to his creature he is immediately stricken with guilt and fear giving the creature the tittle of “monster”. The creature had not even opened its eyes for the first time before Frankenstein judged the creature on its appearance leading to his instant hatred for the creature causing Frankenstein to abandon the creature. In the quote Frankenstein instantly dehumanizes the monster by using the terms “demoniacal corpse”, which not only dehumanize the monster but also compares it to something inherently evil.
Throughout the remainder of the story, it is seen that Victor Frankenstein’s actions and his hatred for the monster ultimately lead to his untimely death and a life filled with misery and revenge. These actions, when analyzed, also build the impression that he is the true antagonist of the story as opposed to the characters in the story treating his creation as one. Through analysis of how the monster was created, Frankenstein’s God like complex, and his immediate hatred for the monster, he can easily be seen as the true monster of the novel.
- “2002 AP Literature Prompts.” 2002 AP English Literature and Composition Free-Response Questions, The College Board, 2002, https://secure-media.collegeboard.org/.
- “Frankenstein 1818 Edition : Mary Shelley : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming.” Internet Archive, 1 Jan. 1970, https://archive.org/details/Frankenstein1818Edition/page/n89.
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