Mary Shelley’s gothic science fiction novel Frankenstein narrates Victor Frankenstein’s and the creature’s narrative who both experience isolation. In this essay, I shall discuss the isolation explored in the novel through Victor Frankenstein and the creature. Each character experiences a different type of isolation—Victor is isolated because of his decision to conduct a morally questionable experiment, while the creature experiences isolation because of its uniqueness, and practically how it was made. Mary Shelley contrasts Frankenstein’s and the creature’s isolation with the isolation of Captain Walton. Thus, this literature review contrasts the three types of isolation tackled in Frankenstein—isolation borne out of choice, isolation forced upon someone, and isolation that is temporary.
Isolation as a Theme in Frankenstein
Victor Frankenstein’s Isolation
Victor Frankenstein’s isolation starts with the death of his mother. In his grief, he chose to focus on his studies instead of reaching out to others for comfort. He isolated himself from his family who could have understood his pain and helped him process it. In this respect, Victor Frankenstein chose to be alone. However, what truly isolated him from the rest of society is his creation. As a result of his grief, he tried to play god—he develops a way to make non-living matter alive. Frankenstein himself is aware of the immoral nature of his studies, which is why he further pushed himself into isolation, taking the otherwise innocent creature with him.
Despite knowing that such experiments would not be accepted in any society, he pushed through with it. And then, afraid of his own creation, he left the creature alone. However, his actions continued to haunt him even as he left the creature. He became paranoid as he feared that the creature would take revenge on him. In the end, it is his own malice and paranoia toward the creature that brought him total isolation. For refusing to grant the creature a companion, Frankenstein earns its wrath. The creature forces Frankenstein into the same fate the former forced him into—it kills everyone in Frankenstein’s family including Elizabeth.
Frankenstein’s isolation, from beginning to end, is ultimately his own doing. At first, isolation was his choice. Even before the creature killed his family and Elizabeth, he had already isolated himself from them. Their deaths merely made the isolation undeniable and permanent.
The Creature’s Isolation
The creature’s isolation is a stark contrast to Victor Frankenstein’s isolation. Its isolation is not a result of his own doing. Rather, it is something he could not avoid because of the circumstances in which he was created. The creature was not naturally created, in fact, he was poorly made by Frankenstein. It was too large and hideous that it resembled a monster rather than a human. Thus, its creator was afraid of it and decided it was evil and needed to be isolated. Throughout the novel, the creature demonstrated its capacity for goodwill, yet because of the initial impression of its physical attributes, Frankenstein sentenced it to a life of isolation.
From the beginning of its existence, Frankenstein made sure the creature lives in isolation. The creature could not communicate for Frankenstein did not teach it language, nor did he explain anything to the creature. Frankenstein abandoned the creature immediately so it was left alone, confused, and lonely. At one point, the creature states “I had never yet seen a being resembling me, or who claimed any intercourse with me. What was I? (Shelley, n.p.)” The creature knew it was not considered human, so it only sought to know what is its culture and identity. Not being part of a group, or being alone, may be more bearable for the creature if it knew its identity. An identity is a reminder that one is not the only being made a certain way, that there are or were others who know what it is like to be you. However, the creature was not given this one comfort from isolation. So, it was forced to endure a life of nothing but isolation.
When the creature asked Frankenstein for a companion, Frankenstein refused for fear that the couple would reproduce and cause havoc. Thus, the creature was denied both possible forms of family—a parental figure in the form of Victor Frankenstein and a companion to share life with. The creature has nobody to share his life with, identify with, or even talk with. But perhaps what makes his isolation worse is the knowledge that it is not merely alone but is detested and feared. Although the creature was not malevolent, it was not given a choice or a chance to not be alone.
The creature recognizes that its fate is intertwined with Victor Frankenstein’s. So, when it finds Frankenstein dead, he mourns. Once again, although it was not its choice or doing, the creature is forced into isolation. With Frankenstein’s death, the creature no longer has a parental figure to consider (or follow) and it no longer has a chance to be given a companion that resembles it.
Captain Walton’s Isolation
There is a third instance of isolation tackled in Frankenstein. Captain Walton also expresses feelings of isolation as he retells Victor Frankenstein’s story. He is the captain of a ship that explores the North Pole. The captain spends his days with his crew but, in his letters to his sister Margaret Walton Saville, he states that he feels isolated because he feels he cannot have deep, intellectual conversations with his crew. However, Captain Walton’s isolation is quite different from Victor Frankenstein’s and the creature’s. Captain Walton’s isolation from his family and friends is temporary. He was still able to correspond with his sister and attain, to some degree, the type of conversation he feels is lacking in his ship. Furthermore, he will be back in the companion of his friends and family after his voyage. Even as Captain Walton feels isolated, he is not actually alone. Although insufficient for the captain, he has the companion of his crew who not only accept him as part of their group but also look up to him—something that neither Frankenstein nor the creature can attain.
Frankenstein offers a profound reflection on what it means to be human. In real life, humans need other people to keep one’s mental health healthy. The same truth is expounded in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein through its characters Victor Frankenstein, the creature, and Captain Walton. Frankenstein’s and Captain Walton’s isolation are the products of their own life decisions. However, Frankenstein’s becomes absolute and permanent, while Captain Walton’s is temporary. In contrast, the creature’s isolation is not its own doing. Despite its numerous attempts to escape isolation, its circumstances and Frankenstein made it impossible for it to escape. Regardless of the causes of isolation, it is a condition that is unbearable and dangerous for any individual.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Project Gutenberg, 2018. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/84/84-h/84-h.htm