Frankenstein -- a Critique of Essay

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Links can be made to Shelley's own life - her mother died shortly after her birth. Both the lack of a mother and a fear of natural childbirth are attributes of Victor's character in Frankenstein and ideas close to the author's own life. Through her literature Shelley demonstrates the need for both men and women to be present and willing to carry out different tasks for the well being and perpetuation of the family unit itself (Fisch, 1993).

Shelley presents the relationship between Victor and the Monster in a variety of ways that periodically confuse the bond between the two characters There is a sense in which she alludes to Milton's Paradise Lost, a moralistic poem. Shelley transforms the initial relationship of father and son (implied from the infantile action of the Monster reaching out) to one of Creator and Creation, similar to the relationship of God and Adam. The bond later deteriorates after Victor abandoned his creation and destroyed the Monster's female companion. While the Monster was prepared to be 'mild and docile' to his 'natural lord and king' Shelley draws inspiration from Milton's lines in the Monster's comments 'I am rather the fallen angel'. Through Victor's neglect of his fatherly role he has succeeded in creating a truly satanic Monster. But, instead of being full of the creator's natural love for his creation, as in Milton, the concept of evil is indeed created and perpetuated by the creator -- it is Victor who causes Satan to be unleashed, through no fault of his own (Smith, 2008).

For the creature to become satanic in behavior, one must focus on the effect society had upon the individual. Shelley wrote this novel during a time of significant social change. Scientific advancements made people question God, technological progression was changing daily life, and traditions of old were regularly falling by the wayside. This was a period of political and social unrest in which there were often riots, political unrest, and both literary and philosophical criticisms of government and natural law. Shelley's Monster can be seen as a literary creation designed to demonstrate the social injustices of the time. The Monster in Frankenstein is a direct reaction contemporary Victorian society. Some even go as far as believing the creature symbolized a 'gigantic body politic' centered around the feelings, aspirations, and dichotomous nature of the French Revolution (Mellor, 1988).

Shelley places the Monster's attitudes towards social rejection within the inner most narrative frame of the novel. The Monster intimately and articulately describes how individuals and communities across the social spectrum have been unable to accept him. The De Lacey's are an idyllic family group who function because they have chosen to isolate themselves from a society that has damaged them in the past. The Monster learns about human language and emotion from the family and notably begins to socially interact with the group by secretly providing logs for the fire. The Monster takes encouragement from seeing this family accepting Safie (an Arab girl) and hopes that he also can become part of this domestic group.

Shelley uses the Monster's education to provide a powerful critique of society. Overhearing sections of Volney's Ruins of Empires the Monster questions the apparent dual nature of man 'at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base.' (125) Shelley blurs the boundaries between what is monstrous and what is human. The Monster's ability to understand this concept suggests both an intelligence and sensitivity that is intrinsically human.

Again alluding to Paradise Lost, Shelley creates a parody of Eve's discovery of her beauty as the Monster sees his reflection in a pool and is shocked by his appearance. The blind father of the De Lacey family is the only character who is able to accept the Monster - the other members of the family violently reject him. Shelley uses this family to illustrate the earlier example of human duality within this microcosm of society. This idyllic family initially appears in a positive light, highlighting the importance of a traditional family dynamic. However, this inward-looking community is only able to function by rejecting what appears alien and is therefore interpreted as a threat. The De Lacey's insularity is both their greatest strength and ultimately their flaw.

The Monster sees a potential companion in William 'a beautiful child ...[with] the sportiveness of infancy' (137). However, even this youth has been socialized and taught to reject what he interprets as a threat. William relates what he sees to the stories of ogres and rejects the Monster using the epithet 'wretch' (138); a term used frequently by Victor. This repeated phrase suggests that social prejudices are passed through the familial institution of the family in microcosm and then ultimately in macrocosm through society in general.

Alienation from society is presented in two ways in Frankenstein. The novel contains self-imposed isolation in the case of the De Lacey family, and Victor's own alienation during his quest for self-satisfaction. We also see the effect of isolation imposed on an individual by society through the events of the Monster's life. Pathos is created for this character, who states 'I am malicious because I am miserable' (145) and longs for companionship. Victor's action of tearing up the female creation in front of his first "child" is a final rejection and a figurative statement by which the Monster realizes that he will never be accepted by family or society and never have the means to create a community less alien to him. The only path to satisfaction he can see is revenge over his creator. Shelley implies that this destructive nature is a direct reaction to his feeling of rejection by those around him.

The Monster destroys those who cannot accept him. He burns down the De Lacey family cottage and brutally murders William Frankenstein. The Monster embarks to destroy Victor's family, now enraged by having been totally denied everything for which he yearns. During the murder of William, the Monster's heart fills with 'hellish triumph' (138); it is rejection by both family and society that has turned him satanic. He wanted to be good, he would have been part of the family -- but he was pushed into the ugly acts that Victor saw as part of his nature.

Shelley presents further social criticism through the events of Justine, servant to the Frankenstein family and particular friend to Elizabeth, who is eventually tried in Court. Justine's social alienation is based on her class and status rather than physical appearance 'without notes a man would be considered a vagabond and a slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profit of the chosen few' (92). Elizabeth comments on the events leading up to Justine's apparently inevitable execution. She provides criticism of law and the church, revealing them as corrupt social structures. Elizabeth, in a similar way to the Monster, highlights the duality of mankind 'men appear to me as Monsters thirsting for each other's blood' (92). This again blurs the lines between man and Monster, but "teaches" the creature that although he framed Justine for his own crime, it is humanity that is eager to destroy what it cannot control

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a powerful social critique; groundbreaking because of the way it challenged so many aspects of Victorian society. Written at a time before Marxist theories or sociological models questioned western social structures, Shelley provides criticism of church, law and economics. Frankenstein predates Darwin's theories on evolution, yet Shelley's ideas challenge Victorian theories on the origins of the creation of species; directly questioning the role of God. While these ideas are both forward thinking and innovative, the emphasis Frankenstein places on the psychological effects of external sociological and internal family influences that are responsible for shaping an individual psyche are most remarkable. The change in the Monster's temperament illustrates that initially benevolent natures can become perverted through rejection by socialized individuals, thus anticipating the nature/nurture debate (Bartlett, 2007-08). The modern reader, then, even steeped in contemporary science, sees the extreme truth in the creature -- the passion for life, the simple joy in wanting to belong to a family, and the intrinsic results of the earliest definition of evil -- that of the absence of good.


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