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Essay: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – reversing the role of monster and human

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  • Published: 24 January 2022*
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  • Tags: Frankenstein essays

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The term monster is often used to describe someone who has no compassion or genuine desire for love. Mary Shelley presents this idea through her novel Frankenstein. Mary Shelley shows how alienation can create a monster and the use of dangerous knowledge can be a result of this idea. In Mary Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein, the role of monster and human are subtly reversed: the Creature shows human qualities of compassion and a genuine desire for love, while Victor reveals himself to be an unfeeling monster.
Victor Frankenstein has always been fascinated and intrigued by the idea of nature. The way nature and science collide, and ultimately the secret of life. He described the world as, “a secret, which I desired to discover” (Shelley. 21). This secret of the world and the secret of life is something he held close to his heart. As a child he described his youth passing more happily than most. This idea of happiness is something that makes his character interesting. Victor has the ability to feel to emotions in his early stages of life and has compassion and the genuine desire for love. We see this first when he explains his love for Elizabeth. Victor says, “I loved to tend on her, as I should on a favorite animal; and I never saw so much grace both of a person and mind united to so little pretension” (Shelley. 21). This analogy, of relating Elizabeth to a favorite animal, shows his love and obsession for nature and his ability to create attachments to people. He knew everyone adored Elizabeth and he did as well. These are all human qualities that are expected to be found in someone. It isn’t until Victor dives into his passion of science that this obsession of nature takes over these human qualities.
Through Victors obsession with nature and science, he learns that “science sought immortality and power”, and was interested in everything that did not exist (Shelley. 29). Victor decided to isolate himself from everyone he loved in life. This isolation is what brought upon the great character changes we see in Victor. In isolation Victor started to lose his innocence, he started to obsess over the idea of mimicking nature. Through this he created his own Monster, and thought to himself, “I was surprised that among so many men of genius, who had directed their inquires towards the same science, that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret” (Shelley. 34). Victor is slowing starting to reveal his monstrous qualities, and the idea that he believes it is incredible to create such a creature as he did is just the beginning of his loss of compassion. He describes the Monster as, “the miserable monster whom I had created” (Shelley 39). This once love for nature now seems like burden to him. He also goes on to describe his creation of this Monster as “hell for me” (Shelley. 40). Not only did he create this creature but abandoned he it. He is unable to take responsibly for the Monster in which he has created. This alone shows the human quality of compassion slipping through Victors fingertips.
After Victors creation has been completed, and after he has abandoned this Monster, the Monster goes on to kill not only Victor’s youngest brother, but his best friend, and wife. The Monster also is the cause of two other indirect deaths, including Victors father. Victor explains, “Unless I had been animated by an almost supernatural enthusiasm, my application to this study would have been irksome and almost intolerable” (Shelley, 32). Victor feels no remorse and feels as though he is not to blame for the Monster’s crimes. Victor continues to show monstrous traits when he confronts his creature in the Alps. Victor has the urge and want to destroy the Monster in which he created, although Victor does not truly know this Monster. Victor is basing his opinions of the Monster on what he can see and not who the Monster truly is becoming. Victor was reckless and selfish in his creation and refuses to accept the consequences, even when they effect the people he supposedly “loves”. Victor is self-absorbed and has ability to sympathize with others. He is unable to see that the true monster is himself, and that through his use of knowledge and power, he isolated himself from mankind and became less then human.
The Monster in which Victor created shows more human qualities then Victor himself does. The Monster is described as by Victor, “I gazed on him while unfinished; he was ungly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became such a thing such as even Dante could not convince” (Shelley. 40). Victor also says that he had “miserably given life” to the Monster (Shelley. 40). Although the Monster was abandoned, and had been rejected by his creator, who in this was godly to the Monster, the Monster was able to learn and develop human qualities. It was not at first, but the Monster reacted as any person would if they were to be rejected. Although his actions may not have been humanly, his anger was. He lashed out as he was unable to control his emotions, he was not thought how to do so. This was a result of Victor’s inability to accept responsibility for his experiment and creation. The Monster goes through more rejection, as he is rejected from society, based on his looks and ability to act in the natural world. Through this rejection, the monster is able to show compassion.
This compassion is first introduced when the monster meets the De Lacey family. The Monster was quite observant and describes his days as, “spent in close attention” (Shelley. 95). Through his observations of the De Lacey family, the Monster was able to improve his speech, learn about the science of letters, and this all opened a “wide field” of “wonder and delight” to him (Shelley. 95). When watching the De Lacey family, the Monster is able to learn about the qualities that make up a human and all the wonderful things about life. He is able to learn the language and obtain a cursory for knowledge. In learning the langague the Monster is able to read, and Paradise Lost teaches him the greatest lesson of all. The Monster says, “Like Adam, I was created apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but this was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous guarded by the especial care of His Creator; he was allowed to converse with and acquire knowledge from being of a superior nature; but I was wretched, helpless and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the sitter emblem of my condition; for often like him when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me” (Shelly 105). Through Paradise Lost the creature is able to understand and sympathize with himself that he was ripped of an upbringing and was ripped of acceptance. Despite this, he is still able to feel compassion for the kind that rejected him. Although the De Lacey family had never seen the Monster, when he speaks to De Lacey he describes them as his friends. The Monster says, “I was educated by a French family, and understand that language only. I am now going to claim the protection of some friends, whom I sincerely love, and of whose favour I have some hopes” (Shelley. 108). This alone shows the Monsters human qualities and his ability to be compassionate. The Monster goes on to the De Lucey that he looks around and sees no relation or friend upon earth. The Monster feels that the De Lucey family is only hope at being accepted in this world. De Lucey tells the Monster, “to be friendless is indeed to be unfortunate; but the hearts of men, when unprejudiced by any obvious self-interest, are full of brotherly love and charity” (Shelley. 109). This is something that Monster takes to heart. Here he learns that, it is unfortunately to have no one, but what matters is what is inside of you and what you have to give to others. This quality that the Monster has is what makes him human.
These qualities the Monster has are not present within Victor. Even after Victor has spoken of what he has done, he is still unable to accept and take responsibility for his actions. He says, “Miserable himself, that he may render no other wrenched, he ought to die. The task of his destruction was mine, but I have failed, When actuated by selfish and vicious motives, I asked you to undertake my unfinished work; and I renew the request now, when I am only induced by reason and virtue: (Shelley. 185). Here Victor is speaking about his failure to destroy the Monster he created. He is putting this duty of destruction onto someone else so that he does not have to do it, and so that he does not have to face and suffer the consequence. This is cowardly and hostile. Through all of these actions Victor has shown that in creating his Monster, he himself became one. His creature was not of a Monster, but of a human that was deserving of acceptance and life. The Monster in which Victor created learned to show compassion and a genuine desire for love and learning.

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