Literary Analysis on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: "What of Man and Demons"
Frankenstein’s story is one of the most popular horror narratives and many artists have made various iterations based on Mary Shelley’s novel. The narrative is about Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist, and the events that resulted from his failed experiment. The novel described Victor’s tragedy as his creation slowly killed members of the Frankenstein family. However, the values and messages that Shelley wanted to portray do not only come from Victor’s persona. Despite being a nameless disfigured monstrosity, the creature illustrated human characteristics that made him synonymous with his creator. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein demonstrated romanticism, humanity’s rejection of accountability, and the concept of failure.
Romanticism vs. Reason
Shelley wrote Frankenstein in the early nineteenth century when romanticism was at its peak. Many artists utilized and embodied the ideology through their works, including Mary Shelley. According to Kern, the author attacked rationality by showing that man can be an uncontrollable and irrational creature. A reader can observe this attack either through Victor Frankenstein or the creature. Victor showed irrational and uncontrollable behavior when he decided to create life through unnatural means. He did not weigh the repercussions of his actions, which had legal, moral, and ethical aspects. As for the creature, a reader who acknowledges that it belongs to the category of man can argue that it developed irrationality and uncontrollability after its experiences with humans.
Furthermore, Victor’s creation of a terrifying creature warns about the dangers of scientific and technological innovations. Victor Frankenstein’s family, including himself, died at the end of the novel, as a result of his horrifying experiment. The creature killed Victor’s family members one by one, leaving Victor alone. Victor suffered illnesses during these times due to the stress, giving him more burden. He then hunted the creature but eventually failed to do so until he succumbed to death. Victor’s scientific pursuit of creating life turned into a conflict that caused multiple deaths.
Humanity and Accountability
Aside from the warning about scientific innovations, Frankenstein also showcased the dangers of humanity. The novel raises a question regarding humanity’s reaction to scientific innovations and discoveries that may oppose established ideas. According to Sampson, Frankenstein showed that the human experience is not prepared for technological advancements. This is especially true in cases where science and technology produce horrifying and enigmatic creations that man cannot understand. In the novel, Victor wanted to create a person that resembles a beautiful human being. However, the creature ended up becoming a disfigured monstrosity, driving Victor to abandon it out of horror.
Victor, being the creator of the creature, had a moral responsibility to take care of it and prevent it from causing harm. He was accountable for its life, as well as the actions that it would eventually make. When Victor abandoned the creature, he also abandoned his responsibilities toward it. Victor was even relieved when he returned with Henry and the creature had disappeared from the laboratory. He took it as a release from his responsibilities and began to focus on his studies and work. However, abandoning and forgetting about the creature’s existence was a mistake that would affect Victor immensely.
When Victor and the creature met again after William’s and Justine’s deaths, Victor referred to the creature as a “fiend”, “demon”, and other derogatory names. Aside from Victor’s anguish and grief, the name-calling may have been his attempt to pass his guilt to the creature. Victor knew that he was guilty, in some way, of the deaths since he created the creature. However, demonizing the creature implies that Victor may not have control over the matter since otherworldly forces may have influenced the events. Still, Victor sought a resolution that required him to create a companion for the creature. After failing the task, the creature murdered Henry which caused Victor to fall ill due to depression and guilt. Victor’s ailments after each murder are indications of his guilt. The illnesses may be the manifestation of his suppressed guilt and rejection of accountability as the creature continues to kill.
Similarly, the creature rejects accountability for his actions and blames Victor and humanity. After the creature left Frankenstein’s laboratory, he attempted to assimilate with humans. Despite the absence of a guide, the creature learned the human language and sought to befriend people. However, his monstrous appearance scared humans to the extent that they became hostile toward him. The creature even revealed to Walton that he declared war against humanity for the misery that he experienced through them (Shelley, 105). While the creature’s arguments have merits, especially regarding man’s treatment of him, he was more than aware of the consequences and morality of his actions. The creature understood that murder is a crime and knew the concept of innocence. Still, he murdered innocents to provoke his creator and express his anger. The creature acknowledged the crimes he committed yet he refused to take accountability, similar to how Victor abandoned his responsibility to his creation.
Failure in Frankenstein
Failure is a concept that the novel explored continuously. Both Victor and the creature experienced failures that became significant parts of their life. Victor failed to create a human being and instead manufactured a disfigured creature that would later become a killer. According to Sampson, Frankenstein portrayed failure as a dangerous and destructive concept that comes from hubris and overreaching. Victor was confident in playing god and in creating a human being in a laboratory. His experiment was in scope beyond morality and humanity, something that can have unpredictable results. Victor disregarded the negative implication of his action and potential failure, which led to the novel's plot. Victor’s failure killed his family and himself.
For the creature, failure was a tool to rationalize heinous actions and remove accountability from himself. With the creature’s attempt to assimilate with humanity, he overreaches in his capabilities. He knew that his appearance was horrifying to humans, which was the reason why he attempted to befriend a blind man. However, his assimilation attempt failed when the blind man’s family saw his horrifying figure. Additionally, the creature stated that he saw the beauty of life during the first few days outside. Unfortunately, witnessing and experiencing humanity’s cruelty forced him to isolation and fail in being good. This, along with another failure regarding the creation of a female companion, turned the creature into a killer.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein explored the ideas of romanticism, accountability, and failure through Victor and the creature. Shelley warned about the dangers of scientific and technological progress since they can lead to morally ambiguous and dangerous innovations. This warning came with the implication that humanity often rejects accountability. Thus, if scientific and technological progress can produce questionable innovations, humanity may then reject accountability for their failures. However, the novel also showed that failure is a catalyst for change as Victor’s and the creature’s failures marked a transitive period in their lives. Frankenstein is not just about the feud between a creator and his creation, it is a critique of humanity’s approach to failure.
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Cohan, Minori. “Shelley’s Warnings in Frankenstein.” web.colby.edu. 26 September 2018, https://web.colby.edu/st112a-fall18/2018/09/26/shelleys-warnings-in-frankenstein/.
“Frankenstein.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 9 May 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Frankenstein.
Kern, Stephen. “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Osu.edu. 2018, https://origins.osu.edu/milestones/march-2018-mary-shelleys-frankenstein?language_content_entity=en.
Sampson, Fiona. “Frankenstein at 200–Why Hasn’t Mary Shelley Been Given the Respect She Deserves?” The Guardian. 13 January 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/13/frankenstein-at-200-why-hasnt-mary-shelley-been-given-the-respect-she-deserves-.
Shelley, Mary. “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. Wordsworth Classics. 1993.