Frankenstein's Monster: Villain or Victim?
"Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me?" (Shelly 165)
- Frankenstein's Monster
Upon reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it is all too easy to come to the conclusion that the creature Dr. Victor Frankenstein creates is a "vile insect" (68) that should be "overwhelm [ed] with... furious detestation and contempt" (68). But is this really accurate? Is this "monster" truly the "wretched devil" (68) Victor believes him to be? Or is he actually a "fallen angel whom [Victor] drove from joy for no misdeed... [and that] misery made a fiend" (69)?
The case for the creature being a "hideous monster" (102) is quite strong. He murders young William Frankenstein with his bare hands; afterwards, he frames Justine Moritz for the crime because he "is forever robbed of all that she could give [him, therefore] she shall atone" (103). Victor's best friend, Henry Clerval, is murdered by the creature as well. Finally, the monster fulfills his promise of being "'with [Victor] on [his] wedding night'" (139) by killing Elizabeth, Victor's cousin and new bride. It would seem that this beast truly is, in Victor's opinion, unequaled in "deformity and wickedness" (122).
However, after closer examination, one finds that the creature, though he has committed heinous acts of violence, is not entirely at fault. In fact, it would seem that the individual responsible for the monster's actions is Dr. Victor Frankenstein himself. When Victor first creates the creature, he is struck with "breathless horror and disgust" (35) at its very appearance. Because of this, he abandons it, not caring about its welfare or safety. This could be seen as somewhat analogous to giving birth to a baby, then leaving it in the woods to fend for itself.
After being deserted by his creator, the creature becomes nothing more than a "poor, helpless, miserable wretch" (71), living on a diet of berries and acorns, and feeling
"frightenedÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ [and] desolate" (71). He learns the language and ways of man by observing a small family for a couple of years, and yearns for their company so that they can be "sympathizing with [his] feelings and cheering [his] gloom" (93). However, all his encounters with humans end with the humans experiencing feelings of "horror and consternation" (96) (due to his disfigured appearance) while his heart sinks "with bitter sickness" (97) from these rejections. When he approaches an old man eating breakfast, the old man flees in terror. When he attempts to befriend the blind De Lacy, Felix darts forward and tears him "with supernatural forceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ from his father" (97). And when he rescues a young girl from drowning in a swiftly flowing river, he is not thanked with kind words, but instead with bullets. Thus, the "reward of [his] benevolenceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ [is] the miserable pain of a wound which shattered the flesh and bone" (101).
It comes as no surprise, then, when the creature comes to the conclusion that "there was none among the myriads of men that existed who would pity or assist [him]" (97), he declares "ever-lasting war against the species, and, more than all, against him [Victor] who had formed [him, the monster], and sent him forth to this insupportable misery" (97). He murders William Frankenstein because he is a relative of Victor, and frames Justine because he knows she will never be sympathetic towards him, since she is a member of the human race (talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time).
When the monster finally gets a chance to speak with his creator, he has but one request: "a creature of another sex, but as hideous as [him] self" (105). If Victor complies with this request, the creature will, for once in his existence, "excite the sympathy of some living thing" (105) and promises that no "other human being shall ever see [them] again" (105). Victor agrees to this at first, but later decides that it will be too risky to create another being which might be "ten thousand times more malignant than her mate" (120). Upon coming to this conclusion, Victor destroys the second creature, leaving the first, once again, alone to "grovel in the intensity of [his] wretchedness" (123). At this point, out of rage and desperation, the monster kills Henry Clerval, and later, Elizabeth.
Can the creature really be blamed for his behavior and actions? His heart "was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy" (164); however, in all his years of
existence, he has seen nothing but violence and hatred towards himself. It is no wonder, then, that "evil thenceforth became [his] good" (164) and he had "no choice but to adapt [his] nature to an element which [he] had willingly chosen" (164).
Despite all this, though, he still retains some shred of humanity. He comes clean at the end, saying that
"It is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept, and grasped to death his throat who never injured me or any other living thing. I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery; I have pursued him even to that irremediable ruin." (165)
Frankenstein's monster is in no way perfect. However, it cannot be said that he is in any way responsible for being the "vile insect" Victor calls him. The creature fights to retain his humanity and gain understanding from humans, but without any proper guidance or sympathy from his creator, he has no chance to learn anything about the ways of the world except the ways of violence and hatred. Is it any wonder, then, that he lashes out at a world that cares nothing for him? How can someone be expected to be kind when all his or her life has been filled with negativity and brutality? In this writer's humble opinion, I honestly cannot say I would have reacted any other way. And I doubt that anyone else could have, either.