Professor Craig Thompson
Victor Frankenstein’s monster is an abandoned child, shunned by his father and creator, and left to his own devices to raise himself in the harsh, mountainous landscape. Had the monster been shown love and acceptance, instead of shunned by his creator, all his murderous tendencies could have been avoided. It is through this glass, viewing the monster as childlike, that brings forth sympathy. All of the monster’s rage can be traced back to a lack of love and understanding, and his petty revenges upon Victor as a sign of his love, unrequited, turned to hatred. There are many moments along the monster’s tumultuous journey that show how truly childlike he is. When the monster sees his reflection in the water and realizes he is ugly, he becomes sad, which is such a relatable and uniquely human experience. His only true guidance comes from Mother Nature, and when the landscape is rough and weather cruel, he mirrors those things and becomes filled with rage and destructive tendencies himself. At every turn, when the monster seeks to express his humanity and connect with others, he is thwarted and instead receives pain. This negative reinforcement haunts him throughout the book, until at the end, he unloads all of his pent-up anguish upon the captain and vows to end his own life. In this way, he is yet more honorable than his creator, who unleashed this monster upon the world, uneducated and unloved.
When the monster is first imbued with life, he opens his eyes and Victor immediately recoils, irresponsibly leaving the room. Where once Victor had been obsessed with creating life, when he saw what he had wrought, he was disgusted. “I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” (Shelley, 36) Victor recognized that his own obsession is what has led to this disaster. However, instead of dealing with the monster in a direct way, Victor goes home to bed. Later, his monster comes to him through the window, and even attempts to smile at his creator, but Victor once again flees. Rejected, the monster retreats to the mountainside to try and survive.
Frankenstein’s monster is most at home in nature. When the weather is calm and mild, it restores him and he seems to move closer to being at peace. “Spring advanced rapidly; the weather became fine, and the skies cloudless…My senses were gratified and refreshed by a thousand scents of delight, and a thousand sights of beauty.” (Shelley, 80) This appreciation of nature surfaces again and again and often acts as a mood reflection of the monster. As this particular Spring approached, however, the monster found himself drawn to humans once again. As the Winter thawed, he found himself falling in love with a family.
The monster observes and learns from the family of De Lacy, who were living in the cottage in the forest, through a hole in the wall of their home. He taught himself language and how to read as he became more involved at the cottage, hiding through the following seasons on their property and reading their copy of Paradise Lost. During his research at the cottage on humans, the monster began to develop rudimentary concepts of good and evil, Heaven and Hell, and wondered what is his place in the world. He wanted so badly to make a good impression, and took months to work up the courage to approach the old blind man when he was home alone. De Lacy is the first person to treat the monster as a decent human being, his blindness did not allow him to see the hideousness of the monster, so he was unafraid of him. Suddenly, Felix, Agatha, and Safie return to the cottage. Upon seeing the monster, Agatha fainted and Safie fled the cottage. Meanwhile, “Felix darted forward… dashed me to the ground, and struck me violently with a stick.” (Shelley, 94) The monster, so hurt and angry by his rejection by De Lacy’s family, that although he leaves them unharmed, the next night he burns the cottage to the ground. The monster never sees the family again. Every time Frankenstein’s monster seeks out contact with humans, things go awry. The monster simply cannot control his emotions and lacks the emotional guidance and maturity to tell right from wrong, and the innate fear he is regarded with by humans makes him angry, sad, and confused.
When he is traveling near a river, he stumbles across a girl who had fallen in and is drowning. Although it is difficult, the monster fights the current and rescues her and brings her to shore. As he is attempting to revive the young girl, her companion arrives and forcibly removes her from his arms before departing. As the monster follows, the man shoots him. This is a big turning point for the monster, as it causes him to lose the faith and hope he had left in humanity. The monster says, “This then, was the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human being from destruction, and, as a recompence, I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound, which shattered the flesh and bone. The feelings of kindness and gentleness, which I had entertained but a few moments before, gave place to a hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind.” (Shelley, 99)
Inherently, the monster’s actions are driven towards wanting love and acceptance. When the monster is overcome with emotion, usually anger, it is pure and uncontrolled. Without the emotional tools necessary to process anger, the monster is left with a blinding rage against those who hurt or rejected him. This erupts into many acts of violence throughout the course of the book, during which the monster does not fully comprehend the consequences of his actions, much like a toddler. All he sees is getting revenge on Victor, not the pain, manipulation, and havoc he himself has caused. For example, the first person the monster murdered was William, Victor’s little brother. William calls the monster ugly, and upon giving him the name Frankenstein, the monster responds by murdering him due to Victor’s indifference. Having become jaded and crafty, the monster took the locket from William’s neck and hid it on the servant, Justine. She is accused and convicted of William’s murder, and Victor, in his cowardice, says and does nothing to exonerate her.
Facing cold abandonment and rejection on all fronts, the monster becomes obsessed with convincing his creator to make a female companion monster for him. To this end, the monster stalks Victor, following him around the world as he travels, and beseeching him to create this companion. After following Victor for some time, he is at last swayed to create a female monster. Things seemed hopeful for him, but Victor dawdled creating the she-monster. At last, when she was nearing completion, the monster comes to check on Victor and his progress only to find that Victor will not bring her to life. Victor tears up the she-monster in front of the monster, who was so eager for companionship. Now believing he will be alone forever, the monster’s hatred for Victor grows, and he vows to see Victor on his wedding night.
Incensed by the destruction of the she-monster, the monster rebels by murdering the people Victor cares for. Henry, Victor’s best friend and guiding light, is next to die. Elizabeth is murdered on their wedding night. Her death brings about such a sadness in Victor’s father that he, too, passes away. At last, Victor is as alone as his creation and vows to destroy his monster. As Victor and the monster become locked into their eternal hunt for revenge, both are reduced to merely surviving. Driven by hatred, they torment each other until Victor becomes ill and dies on that woebegone ship in the Arctic. At this point, the monster engages in a monologue in which he professes his regret for the murders and for driving his creator to his death. He accepts that this hatred that has been turned towards his creator throughout the book is truly self-hatred, and upon that realization, the monster can bear his own pain no longer. He vows to sail off and create a funeral pyre and die. The monster has shown growth and acceptance for his actions, and once faced with the true horror of what he had wrought, along with the anticlimactic destruction of his creator and nemesis, opted to die. By sparing the world his pain, destruction and rage, he shows again that he is more compassionate, responsible, and more honorable than Victor as well. Frankenstein’s monster led a sad, lonely life. Every creature he opened his heart to betrayed him. Any child raised in such an environment and faced with the same circumstances, would have an equally hard time adjusting. Without guidance, emotional maturity, friends, or even companionship, the monster never stood a chance of maintaining his connection to humanity.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and J. Paul Hunter. Frankenstein: the 1818 Text, Contexts, Criticism. W.W. Norton & Co., 2012.