Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a world-famous novel about an ambitious scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who finds out the secret of life and creates a monstrous creature from old body parts. The creature lacks perfection and turns against him for not creating a female companion. Victor loses his dear ones as he tries to escape from the monster and in the end dies. The monster too decides that it is time for it to die and goes to the North. The character of Victor represents the modern scientists who, due to their thirst for more knowledge and development, do experiments which brings negative results. The novel has relevance in the present-day world when cloning and other new advancements have risen in the scientific field.
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This thesis is a critical analysis of the character, Victor Frankenstein in the novel.
Victor Frankenstein’s character is seen in various perspectives. As a child he is projected as highly talented and bright. As he grows up he becomes an ambitious scientist. His character may also be seen as that of an adventurer and even an arrogant and selfish individual whose primary thoughts are his personal gains and totally unconcerned about his family and the society. Later in the novel, Victor is portrayed as a helpless remorseful man.
The Role Of The Scientist In Frankenstein
Mary Shelley is an eighteenth century English writer, known for her Romantic novels and biographies. Shelley, who also was an editor, followed the Gothic tradition in her works. Among her works, the one which won her much popularity is the novel ‘Frankenstein,’ which was published when she was 21. The novel is about a talented scientist named Victor Frankenstein, who creates a monstrous creature which gets destroyed only with Victor’s destruction. Victor, who is a scientist finds out the secret of life and out of his excitement, he creates a creature. He realizes the monstrosity of the creature only after the creation.
It frightens him and he tries in many ways to escape from the dangerous creature. Though he tries to forget about it, the creature comes to him very often complaining about its loneliness and demanding a companion and causes the death of his wife, brother, friend and indirectly his father. Victor, depressed and irritated with its acts, decides to kill the monster and goes in search of it. He sees the creature in between, but fails to kill it.
Later on, Victor pursues the monster to the North Pole but dies there without succeeding in his attempts. However, the creature too dies soon after his death. The novel conveys the dangers of going in search of knowledge which is beyond the reach and understandability of human beings. The purpose of this essay is to critically analyze the character and role of Victor Frankenstein in the novel. Victor can be viewed from various perspectives like that of a highly talented and ambitious scientist, an adventurer, an arrogant and selfish individual whose primary thoughts are his personal gains, a remorseful man and so on.
His character greatly develops with the novel, and provides enough evidences to support all these characteristics. As a child, Victor Frankenstein is projected as bright and highly talented. His curiosity drives him to the ends of rational thinking and he becomes obsessed with outdated theories of ancient alchemists. Though the character of Victor is highly ambitious and does the wrong thing by bringing to life a monster, it is impossible to not sympathize with him in the second half of the story, when his helplessness becomes evident. It was his curiosity for the unknown that propelled his ambitions. But he becomes aware of his mistake and decides not to repeat the same mistake by creating another monster as a companion for the former. His sense of responsibility is evident here.
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Victor represents many of the modern scientists who are on the pursuit of forbidden knowledge and make dangerous inventions with their limited acquired knowledge. In their quest to conquer uncovered territories of science, they ignore the ill effects of their experiments. They fail to foresee the negative consequences of their immature experiments. As Victor grows, he gets introduced to natural philosophy and chemistry.
This creates in Victor a desire to find out the secret of life. He is eventually convinced that he can perfectly recreate human life. It is known to every man that there are certain phenomena in this world which have always remained above human understandability and control. Challenging the nature’s norms could only brew disasters. Willard Gaylin, in his journal article titled ‘Fooling with Mother Nature’ says “Dr. Frankenstein is at work in every major city of the modern world. We honor, we revere, we respect and need him. We wish him well and urge him to go further. An artificial heart, a brain transplant, go further – an artificial placenta; go further. These are achievements from which we should take pride.” (Gaylin, 17).
Sure enough, Victor’s desire was for something above human beings’ control. However, he succeeded in creating a monstrous creature from old human body parts. His intention of doing it was that he would be the creator or the God to his creation. He also anticipated praise and worship from it. His arrogance is quite evident when he says, “After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.”(Chapter-4: Frankenstein).
Immediately after its completion, Victor Frankenstein realizes the dangers of his deed, but becomes helpless. He becomes conscious of his responsibility as a scientist. But the idea of abolishing the outcome of his experiment does not occur to him. The author, through Victor, tries to convey the message that it is foolish to desire anything that is beyond our control. Though Victor successfully brings to life a creature, the creation lacks perfection and the result is that Victor is unable to control the actions of the creature. What he expected from his creation was utmost submission but what turned out was far beyond his conceptions. The realization that his creation was not complete and perfect made him unhappy and he failed to like the creature. (What are the ramifications of imperfect man playing god).
God not only created everything in the universe but also ensured their upbringing. The creator’s affection is evident in the nurturing of all creations. The situation that the creator fears his own creation and dislikes it, proves that it is impossible for human beings to take the role of God. “Why do you call to my remembrance,” I rejoined, “circumstances, of which I shudder to reflect, that I have been the miserable origin and author? Cursed be the day, abhorred devil, in which you first saw light! Cursed (although I curse myself) be the hands that formed you! You have made me wretched beyond expression. You have left me no power to consider whether I am just to you or not. Begone! relieve me from the sight of your detested form.” (Chapter-10:Frankenstein’).
Shelley’s message is relevant in today’s scientific world, when technologies like cloning have been found out. Many of these advancements are not used for good purposes. These practices are against human dignity and have severe consequences regarding social ethics.
The character of Victor is often paralleled to the monster by many critics. His ambitious nature is as such seen in the monster too, when it tries to find out everything that’s new to it. Just like the brilliant scientist, the monster is quick in learning too. He indirectly causes the death of his dear ones through the monster. The responsibility of these tragedies should be shared equally on both Victor and the monster.
Gaylin explains why the character of Dr.Frankenstein is terrorizing. “The tragedy lies in the dreadful fact that with the realization of the promise we have somehow or other switched identities. We have lost our identity with Dr. Frankenstein and now identify with the monster. Perhaps that is an overstatement.” (Gaylin, 17). This is probably why the author does not name the creature and instead calls it by its creator’s name. It can be seen from the novel that Victor’s life drastically changes after the creation of the creature. He is frustrated with the imperfection of his work and his life turns miserable.
Though he has a family, he loses almost all of them and becomes alone like the creature, who keeps complaining about being lonely. The pain of solitude is experienced by Victor Frankenstein and the monster at the same period. The creature gets the freedom to die after its creator’s death. Like Victor, who lost his mother soon after his birth, the creature does not have a mother. Victor is its creator. Maternal affection is denied to both the creature and Victor. In many instances, Victor’s aggressive nature towards putting into practice his knowledge is similar to the violent nature of the creature.
The scientist is only concerned with his supernatural dream of recreating life and the creature is only bothered about its want for a companion. Victor through his character, proves that any attempt to go beyond nature’s rules will be stopped at any rate by powers unknown. Victor’s creation was against nature rules because he made the creature out of old body parts. For the same reason, the creature was depressed about its birth. It felt like an orphan and longed for the love and affection of someone near and dear.
Victor secludes himself from social life while he creates the creature. He locks himself up in the laboratory and gives little thought about his family or friends. His transition from an ordinary person to an ambitious and proud scientist is visible when he talks casually about his isolation from the rest of his family and friends. “And the same feelings which made me neglect the scenes around me caused me also to forget those friends who were so many miles absent, and whom I had not seen for so long a time.”(Chapter-4: ‘Frankenstein’). It is his selfishness together with high ambition that makes him live away from his family and friends.
Victor considers it more important to experiment his newly gained knowledge than seeing his family. This aspect of Victor Frankenstein’s character can be related to the workaholics of modern times. They give up the joys of social and family life in exchange of gratification from advances in their curriculum. Frankenstein’s selfishness can even be seen after the creature’s birth. In his selfishness, he did not think about the consequences the creature would bring with it. He did not realize the dangers of creating artificial life until the creature started its destruction. But it was too late; the wheel of tragic aftermaths had already been set in motion.
Victor fears the creature and strongly believes that it might kill him. He does not hesitate for even a second if it would harm his family or friends. He fails in protecting even Elizabeth, because he imagines that the creature will show its hatred only against him. But to prove its point about the price of solitude, the monster targets everyone surrounding Victor and spares him leaving him to experience the pain.
At first Frankenstein sympathizes with the creature and understands its need for a soul mate. But Victor soon realizes the dangers of another monster after he agrees to make a female companion for the creature. He is already aware of his first mistake and does not neglect the possibility of bringing forth a monstrous race. This situation is very similar to the modern times scenario, where the bad consequences of many new inventions are not foreseen and avoided.
Scientists often think about the solutions for the problems of their inventions after something goes wrong and find that the alternatives will trigger more serious consequences. Many scientific and technological advancements, initially introduced for the betterment of mankind, backfires. As Victor stands helplessly, his dear ones get killed one by one. Here, readers can see a desperate scientist who regrets his invention’s imperfections and wishes he had not done it. When the creature demands the creatior of a female companion, Victor says, “Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness.” (Chapter-20: ‘Frankenstein).
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Through the character of Victor, the author conveys the message that a demon once created cannot be easily destroyed. In the novel, the creature does not get destroyed until the death of Victor. Had he created a companion for the creature in the first place, it might not have become so violent and uncontrollable.
The problem occurred there when he failed to understand his creation’s basic requirements. “For a few moments I gazed with delight on her dark eyes, fringed by deep lashes, and her lovely lips; but presently my rage returned: I remembered that I was for ever deprived of the delights that such beautiful creatures could bestow; and that she whose resemblance I contemplated would, in regarding me, have changed that air of divine benignity to one expressive of disgust and affright.” (Chapter- 16: ‘Frankenstein’).
In the context of genetic engineering and similar scientific advances of modern times, Victor Frankenstein reminds us of ethics and scientific responsibility. Frankenstein emerges against natural laws by trying to create artificial life. He does not consider these laws as unchallengeable. Though he manages to attain Godly status by succeeding in creating life, he fails in his responsibility as a creator. (Pellet).
Victor Frankenstein’s creation lacks the perfection which is essential in its success. He also fails to understand the basic needs of his creation, which produces undesirable results.
One reason for Victor Frankenstein’s failure to understand his creation’s need for a companion could be that he himself had been detached from friends and family for the sake of his experiment. His preoccupation with his ambitions intoxicates and blinds him. His failure as a responsible creator can be attributed to his obsession with science.
Chapter- 16: ‘Frankenstein’
Gaylin, Willard. Fooling with Mother Nature. The Hastings Center Report. 20. 1. 17. 1990.
Pellet, Jean Philippe. Literary Essay on Frankenstein by Marry Shelley. 2001. Web.
What are the ramifications of imperfect man playing god. Free Essays, Cliff Notes and Term Paper Data Base. 2004. Web.