Shelley’s Frankenstein reveals to us a quandary within our classical ideas of storytelling, the book uses epistolary form to shroud the point of view that we should follow, George Levine wrote that “by the direction of its three separate narratives, and the fates it spells out, it to be explicitly anti-heroic”. Shelley herself, it might be argued, was unsure on who she wishes to present to us as the monster she set out to create. Although at a first look it seems obvious that the creature is intended as the villain, we must make sure to remember how the creator and mankind are presented to us, and how events in the author’s life would influence her to communicate a story of monstrous humanity.
A critic of humanity would almost certainly begin with the fact that all of the creature’s misdeeds are owing to his treatment from his creator. At the monster’s birth Victor flees and provides for it only hate, Mellor wrote that “Frankenstein is a book about what happens when a man tries to have a baby without a woman”. Mary wrote this from her understanding of the theory of Locke’s Tabula Rasa, where someone is born as a blank slate and influenced by humanity. The monster confirms that “for a long time I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow,… but when I heard details of vice and bloodshed, my wonder ceased”, we see here that the monster, as an allegory for humankind, was born without sin, and it is only through his rejection, first by Victor and later the De Lacey family that he learns hate, it is Felix who “struck me violently with a stick” , and causes the monster’s violent descent. However David Soyka writes that “his creator .. makes it impossible for the De Laceys to accept him”, and in fact it is not Felix who the monster blames, but his “Cursed creator”, for as Victor rejected his own family in the scientific pursuit leading to the monster’s birth, he rejects his creation. Not only does Victor act monstrously in his neglect to teach the monster right from wrong, but outrightly creates a monster in the way that he views the creature, later in the book we see that any form of diplomacy, through the creation of a wife, is unavailable to Victor because of his prejudice against his creation. However, equally, now that the monster accepts himself as a “wretched outcast” he takes it upon himself to “declare everlasting war against the species” and so we must judge the creation for mirroring his doppelganger in Frankenstein.To return to Victor as a God however we find another flaw in that he refuses to create for the monster a wife, for he fears he will become the creator of “a race of devils”, this could be seen as his prejudice and a monstrous quality that leads to the death of his wife. However I instead find the evil in this within the creature, the monster himself we know is obsessive over his own looks, and in Victor’s words “loathed his own deformity” and yet Alton Frank writes that the monster is rejected “for his appearance, not his nature”, the fact that the monster yearns for “sympathies necessary for my being” shows that he himself can only find his being within his appearance, and not his nature, for Frankenstein even realises that the wife might “turn with disgust from him”, the monster’s own obsession with his apparel is his own misguidance, and as far as we can blame Victor’s well founded reason for not creating a wife as leading to the death of Elizabeth, it is the monster that commits the deed, and within the attack claims dominance over the bride not through his nature but in making her appearance closer to him through “pale and distorted features”. We can see that even if Victor created a wife in the perfection he originally intended, to the monster’s self obsession she would not suffice.
On the humanist side however one realises that the they the reader would act in much the same way as Victor when confronted with the animalistic “Yellow eye.. yellow skinned” beast, and infact it falls to the monster to redeem himself from what we naturally see as monstrous and evil, it is at this point in which i will call the difference between Shelley’s story and that of Genesis, as to blame Victor as we blame God is unfair due to the fact that humanity was created through agapic love and in God’s image, whereas Victor is faced with a monster not born from love but through his desire for a “new species that would bless me as its creator”. To give this allowance however we must recall that God does not abandon his creation, and instead treats it with the love that is absent from Victor, therefore we must instead provide analogy with Milton’s Paradise lost, where the creator casts out his own “devil”. In both cases we sympathise with the victim and take a heretical standing against God. This is reflective of the original title of the novel, “The Modern Prometheus” however, is it the monster that stands against his God in Victor, or is Victor the Promethean figure stealing the secret of life from God and being punished for his hubris. Anne Mellor brings up the idea that Mary Shelley “perceived in Percy an intellectual hubris” and reflected him in Victor, in fact, she claims that all of Romanticism works as Frankenstein does through their “mythopoeic vision”, therefore it is not the monster that is even the victim, but Victor through his art against nature to create something for the betterment of mankind, sprouting originally from his influences of Agrippa and Paracelsus. A regular criticism of modern interpretations of the story is how they fail to portray the intelligence of the monster, Victor himself is guilty of this, often naming him as “brute” or “wretch”. However this allows us to ask why the monster cannot use his reason to discover virtuous behaviour and still acts brutishly. For Shelley’s true antagonist throughout the novel is the promethean fire itself, Rieger argued that Shelley “skips the science” yet I would place Victor’s clawing aspirations of science at the root of the tragedy. Alton Frank wrote that “we worry about scientists having too much knowledge” and I believe this is a core theme of the story. Shelley focuses on both Victor and the monster’s virtues as a man, but never allows for praise to his academic achievements, even creating the character of Clerval (or walton, really can’t remember sorry) as a comparison to Victor without the hubris that causes his downfall, in a way, his appearance is to the monster as Victor’s intelligence is to himself, a barrier, and catalyst for monstrous traits.
I believe that Shelley did not set out to attack any single feature of the society of the time the book was written, instead she allowed influence from a range of factors from the social situation of the day, her own family life, to the mythology she was versed in. In essence, to attack the monster is to attack mankind as the monster is portrayed as a caricature of mankind’s traits, and the traits of the classical monster are reminded to us by Shelley of their reflection within society. Victor and his monster have been ranged in the description from sworn enemies to a Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, each is subject to their own God and physicality or intellectual urges. Therefore both the monster and humanity are tied together in description of monstrousness, and each advantage one holds is mirrored in the other, eventually we must find the evil within the traits held by both, I believe Mary Shelley used the book to warn us about the dangers of overindulgence in intellectualism or appearance, hubris, and how we allow our environment to influence us as beings.
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