Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Charles Darwin, Origin of Species
There are many themes which readers can discern in Mary Shelley's inestimable work of literature, Frankenstein. They include the virtues of humanity vs. The vices of monstrosity, the power and effect of family and "community" (Bentley 325), as well as the considerable ramifications of ambition and work. However, the prudent reader will perceive that the principle motif unifying all of these themes, and that which is the most poignant and which sets the foundation for this manuscript is that of intimacy. It is intimacy that Victor himself had and spurned in favor of his labor, intimacy that the his creation forever was distanced from and therefore inevitably craved, and a prevalent intimacy htat fostered between Victor and Walton, which was also evident in the relationship between the former and his sister Margaret. There is little doubt that the dearth of intimacy that plagued Victor's monster and caused him to commit acts of monstrosity throughout the novel was caused by his stay in the hovel next to the De Lacy cottage. A close reading of these passages and others reveals that the author utilizes this theme to emphasize the principle point of the novel -- that the monster, despite his appearance, is much more human than his creator Victor, who is the true monster in the book.
To corroborate this thesis, readers must understand that the true essence of humanity is not something that is granted by existing as a member of the genus of homo sapiens. There are considerable amounts of human beings who have acted less than human and committed inhumane actions. In fact, one may make the case that Victor is actually one of them, especially when one considers how he spurned his family in pursuit of his scientific ambition, and allowed innocents such as Justine to die while he sat silently instead of confessing his indirect involvement in the crime for which she was convicted. Therefore, it is not unimaginable that Shelley bestows the characterization of the monster with qualities that are supremely human -- especially when he resides in the hovel outside the De Lacey cottage. One of the best qualities of humanity is kindness, an altruistic manner of endeavoring to do good works for no other reason than the feeling it produces. The monster feels this feeling after watching the De Lacey clan, which the following quotation proves.
This trait of kindness moved me sensibly. I had been accustomed, during the night, to steal a part of their store for my own consumption, but when I found that in doing this I inflicted pain on the cottagers, I abstained (Shelly, 1985, p. 157).
This quotation demonstrates the fact that monster learns his ways of humanity from observing the clan. The monster is inspired to kindness after seeing Felix and his sister sacrifice their food for their father. Not only does he stop stealing from them, he even replenishes their supply of firewood to demonstrate more kindness. Thus, the monster is exemplifying the virtues of humanity.
Essentially, the author utilizes the De Lacey family in the plot to teach the monster all of the positive virtues of humanity that he exemplifies during the rest of the book. However, he is able to learn many of these virtues simply by witnessing the sense of intimacy that connects Felix, Agatha, their father, and later on Safie. It is interesting that Shelley posits this intimacy as one of the sole values that can counteract the ills of the world, which afflict the family in the form of poverty and political exile. Despite these problems, the tender connection between the family is portrayed in a positive light and has a profound effect upon the monster, as the following quotation evinces. "…they enjoyed one another's company and speech, interchanging each day looks of affection and kindness" (p. 156-157). This passage implies that the monster learned about affection, compassion, kindness, and other wholesome human values by merely observing the De Lacey clan. He observes and understands the sacrifices Felix and his sister make for De Lacey, and wants to participate in their "union" (Bentley 325) of community and friendship. He is moved by their quaint simplicity, their struggle to feed and keep one another warm during winter, and the aesthetic values of humanity in the form of their appearance, music, and even literature that they demonstrate. He internalizes these values, and does all that he can to aid them in their struggle and to endear himself to them in a way that is decidedly human and completely belied by his appearance of deformity and ugliness.
The monster's experience with the De Lacey clan is positive in the fact that it teaches him the best of the values and virtues of humanity. Yet it produces a negligent effect that is not any lesser pronounced because, by daily witnessing the acts of intimacy and consideration that the clan shares for one another, he sees the stark, barren isolation and exile that is forever his fate simply because of how he looks. This is quite a formidable position Shelley places the monster in -- he can observe, emulate and even produce the best aspects of humanity, yet he can never reap the rewards of it or obtain any sort of similar reaction from another because of his appearance. The monster is well aware of this fact, and the anguish, suffering and despair he feels as a result not only makes him all the more human -- but eventually serves as the turning point of the novel. The monster realizes the gravity of his quandary the first time he views himself in a pool of water. "At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster…I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification" (p. 159). Again, it is important to realize that this passage serves to underscores the humanity Shelley endows the monster with. He has been so moved by the virtues exemplified by the De Lacey clan -- including the subtle grace of their appearance -- that he effectively loathes his own coarseness. Moreover, he realizes that the latter forever separates him from joining in the full joy of life that true humanity can bring. Therefore, this suffering makes the monster all the more human and is spawned from the intimacy of the De Lacey clan -- after all, what is more human than desiring that which is unattainable?
All of the intimacy that the monster innately understands, that he observes from the De Lacey clan, and which he ardently desires, is the sort of intimacy that Victor Frankestein was born with and discards. In doing so, he proves that despite his status as a man, he is much less of a human -- has much less human and humane qualities -- than the monster is. Victor willingly alienates himself from his own loving family (which is essentially the counterpoint to the De Lacey clan, since Victor's was endowed with all of the material gains that the latter lacks) in order to create the monster. It is Victor's initial spurning of his creation that teaches the monster to fear mankind. He is the one who has the power to do something compassionate and kind for the monster -- to create for him a bride so that the monster can finally access the full intimacy with another that he perceives and desires more than anything else -- and who displays, by reneging on his promise to do so, a cruelty and heartlessness that condemns the monster to eternal isolation and loneliness, which is the opposite of intimacy. The following passage, in which Victor is close to completing the creation of the monster's bride before destroying it, well corroborates this point. "I…trembling with passion, tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged. The wretch saw me destroy the creation on whose future existence he depended for happiness," (p.211). This passage underscores the full heartlessness of Victor. He is aware that within him lies the means of procuring the "future…happiness" of his creation, yet he does not hesitate to destroy the creature's bride -- and his chances of ever fulfilling the full degree of intimacy with which he has been privy to, yet never actually received from another. Furthermore, this heartless act of Victor readily implies the fact that he is the actual monster. His creation only kills those who are close to Victor to seek revenge on him for producing him, abandoning him, and then decimating his only chance at future happiness. The deaths, then, of Victor's brother William, Clerval, Justine, and even Elizabeth (who Victor neglects and leaves alone so that the monster can destroy her) are on the hands and the consciousness of Frankenstein -- not his creation. Victor is well aware of this fact, which is why he is…