11.01.2010

A Response to Frankenstein

Call me silly – and possibly "unwell"-read – but I thought that Frankenstein was the name of the monster, not the monster’s creator. I was pleased to discover one other person in my book club who thought the same thing, and she’s very intelligent, so I felt slightly better. Interestingly, though, I suspect that my ignorance of this important fact radically changed the way I met the book. Because I was primed for the monster to be a villain, I was surprised to discover that though he becomes diabolical in action by the end of the novel, he is not diabolical in essence.

The monster – who remains unnamed – is something of a beautiful creature, though he is scorned for his ugly appearance. He begins life as a gentle giant, fascinated by man, in love with language, enamored with Goethe, Plutarch, and Milton. In short, he is the epitome of Rousseau’s noble savage, a being that – because he has been uncorrupted by society - is in his most natural state, a perfect example of human kind. (Think Adam and Eve before the fall.) The monster yearns to be a part of society, wants to be recognized by his creator, and desires to have a wife so that he can know kindness and love first hand. These things are denied him, mostly because Victor is unwilling to acquiesce to his demands and create a mate for him, and he becomes vengeful and villainous as a result. He vows to take Victor’s loved ones away, as Victor should not be allowed happiness, when he, the monster, can have none. Thus begins a series of murders, by which the monster attempts to vanquish his creator and make him suffer. He does both, though he doesn’t seem to be particularly happy by it at the end.

The inclination is to side with Victor because the monster is ugly and a murderer, but this doesn’t sit well with me. Victor creates a being with no forethought of what this creature might want or do. He pays no mind to his needs. Victor creates his monster only to see if such a venture is possible. Once he realizes that it is, he becomes so frightened he immediately flees. (One wonders at his poor timing.) The notion that a creator/parent has some responsibility to its offspring is lost on Victor, who desires only the notch in his belt, rather than acknowledging his explicit duties as caretaker of his creation..

Victor’s response raises a variety of interesting questions, ones that range from religion to science, Mary Shelley’s own rearing to the general responsibilities of parenting. In short, this aspect of Frankenstein is one of the reasons that the novel has continued to fascinate readers. Shelley’s masterful novel is a horror tale, but the ultimate, brain-teasing question remains: who is the real monster?

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1 comment:

Ryan said...

Love the connection you made to Rousseau... I read Frankenstein this year too. I relate all to well with the embarrassment in finding out that Frankenstein is not the "monster's" name. Read to learn, right? Anyways - enjoyed your post! Ryan ... www.LiteraryLamp.com