“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.”
Through fluid and beautiful prose Shelley tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist that has to deal with the ramifications of creating a living creature, and the creature itself, who is continually shunned and subsequently seeks revenge upon his maker. This is a novel that explores themes of guilt, revenge and repentance as we follow the two central characters who are simultaneously repulsed by and drawn to one another. An interesting dynamic is therefore created between creator and creation which allows for issues such as humanity and morality to be explored.
The exploration of humanity is executed brilliantly by Shelley in a number of ways. She creates characters that are both morally grey, but are also parallels to one another. The lines between humanity (initially personified by Victor) and inhumanity (initially personified by the monster) become increasingly blurred as the novel progresses. Victor changes from a man of relative morality to one that takes no responsibility for the creature he has created, instead spending much of his time speaking of his despair and showing no regard for the despair of the creation he has left behind. He shows complete negligence to his responsibilities, and it is this that ultimately pushes the monster to act in truly monstrous ways. The actions of this character become a means of Shelley reflecting how monstrous humanity itself can be, especially with regards to our criticism and hatred for things that we deem abnormal.
This is explored further in the character of the monster himself. A sense of sadness and empathy is created in the use of the monster’s perspective when telling Victor of everything that has come to pass since they were last together. This is a character that merely wishes for companionship and to be loved, which is a wish that is tragically not afforded to him. Instead we see his intellect and compassion dismissed and ignored time and time again due to perceptions made as a result of his outward appearance. His continuous attempts to thrive in a world that consistently shuns him are admirable, and serve to further explore a key twist to the story; the monster (at least initially), has the most humanity of them all. In her choice to present the monster in this way, Shelley allows the audience to understand the motivations of this character, and emphasizes the idea that if it weren’t for the monstrous nature of humanity, the monster needn’t have been a monster at all.
The religious perspective was also key to this novel, and was implemented brilliantly to support Shelley’s key messages regarding humanity and morality. Victor’s creation of life establishes him as a God- like figure, while he sees the monster as his mistake and therefore a figure much like Lucifer or Adam. This religious perspective is also used as a means of further showing how Victor’s abandonment has negatively impacted the monster, as seen in the monster’s claim that “The fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.” This is all vital to much of the philosophical discussion regarding this novel, and aids the impact of Shelley’s ultimate message regarding humanity.
Overall, this book explores humanity, guilt, revenge and morality through the use of a unique plot and brilliant character exploration and development. Important decisions by Shelley, such as the act of giving the monster no real name to reflect the dehumanization he faces, make this novel a truly interesting one to read and analyse. I therefore thoroughly enjoyed this read, and loved contemplating the philosophical topics that the novel explored.
“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”