In Mary Shelley’s Romanticism-era novel Frankenstein, the title character and the monster he creates are linked in a complex, multidimensional relationship. On one hand the Frankenstein monster is subservient to his creator, who is the only man with enough knowledge to create another of his kind. On the other hand, however, Frankenstein is subservient to his creation, because it is physically stronger than he and able to murder his whole circle of family and friends without putting forth much effort. In addition, their relationship is not marked by a simple “hero-villain” pattern. Neither of these men are exactly heroes, but neither of them are anti-heroes. The author sympathizes with both while condemning them both simultaneously.
After relating his tragic story of being rejected by Felix’s family, the Frankenstein creature beckons his creator to have mercy on him and to do him a favor: “He continued, ‘You must create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you alone can do’” (130). In this instance, Frankenstein’s creature is putting himself in a submissive position. By saying “This you alone can do,” the creature is admitting Victor’s singular intelligence and ability. Victor is the only man who can create him a female companion, which he believes is absolutely necessary to his being, and so the monster must assume a role of submission and reliance upon Victor’s graciousness.
Yet readers can also see how, at the same time the Frankenstein creature is submissive to his creator, the creator’s fate is in the hands of his creature. Thus, the creature forewarns him moments later what could happen if Victor does not comply with his demands: “Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth” (131). The creature knows that he is in a powerful position as the stronger of the two, and can threaten Victor Frankenstein because of it, so much so that Victor will wish he had never been born.
The creature’s method of desolating Victor’s heart is not to kill him directly, but to kill those Victor loves. The monster’s “domination-via-threats” approach is emphasized later in the novel, when Victor decides not to create another monster. The monster confronts him, saying “remember, I shall be with you on your wedding-night” (153). This implies that on Frankenstein’s first night of being married to his adopted sister, the creature plans to be there to kill her. The monster also restates his dominance over Victor in this scene: “You are my creator; but I am your master; obey!” (152). Here the Frankenstein monster reasserts this belief that, although Victor created him, he is under no obligation to obey him. He believes that his physical prowess makes him Victor’s master, despite the fact that no matter who he kills to spite his creator, he can never be happy, for he will never find companionship.
Furthermore, both Victor Frankenstein and his creation are worthy of readers’ sympathy and contempt. Frankenstein deserves ridicule for assembling a living being that he instantly neglects for the simple fact that it looks unsightly. His neglect causes Frankenstein to roam Europe in search of guidance and friendship, neither of which does he ever receive. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to feel sorry for Frankenstein when all of his loved ones die at the hands of his creature. His reason for not creating another monster is valid: he does not want to risk the two creatures mating and creating a race of beasts to terrorize the world forever. He does not want to be responsible for the death of humanity, so his refusal to create a female monster makes sense.
Frankenstein’s creature also deserves ridicule. His response to receiving mistreatment is to murder innocent people, and this is also unacceptable. If everyone in the world who was ever mistreated and misunderstood went on killing sprees, Homo sapiens would cease to exist. And yet, much his like creator, it is hard not to have sympathy for the poor creature, who has no friend in the world, and never will. Like anyone else, the Frankenstein monster craves companionship from another, if not from his creator, then from another being created with his same proportions. Victor’s refusal, although logical, is saddening.
As such, neither character can be classified into black-and-white categories of hero or anti-hero. They both have perpetrated many evils against each other, and they both have suffered so much that readers cannot help but offer their sympathies to both. The real enemy, as Victor Frankenstein declares at the end, is ambition: “Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent, one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries” (200). Ambition drives Frankenstein to create the monster in the first place, and without it the tragic ending of the story could have been avoided completely. Had he contented himself with ordinary scientific pursuits like the rest of his colleagues, none of his family would have been murdered. As Frankenstein has learned by the time he lies on his death bed, even a purely innocent intention can blossom into a full-blown disaster.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818. New York: Bantam Books, 1991.
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