Yet, we also see that he still does not understand the true origin of the beast -- the human within. The fact that he dies before he is successful, yet the monster obviously goes off to end his own fate, indicates that the evil both originated, and eventually died with him -- the true source from which it sprang.
Victor Hugo's Hunchback: An Illustrative Device
In Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, there exists a strikingly similar theme -- if different in form. Although it is definitely true that Hugo's famous Quasimodo is a bit more innocuous than the Frankenstein monster, he nonetheless evokes a certain horror if only in appearance. Yet, much like in Shelley's work, Hugo brings out the monster that is human nature within the other character's interactions, motivations, and actions in the story.
There is little question that Hugo fully intended Quasimodo to evoke horror in his readers. He creates Quasimodo as a grotesquely deformed, almost non-verbal, and deaf. Interestingly, Hugo assigns the character a friend, if not a creator as in Frankenstein, but as a protector -- one who supposedly has the best interests of the monster at heart. This friend, Dom Claude Frollo, ironically on some levels represents the "best" of humanity as is exemplified by his devotion to the Church and a life of God. However, the reader soon sees the irony, as well as the inherent evil of the human heart not in the monster, but in the supposedly "good" human man. This, the reader sees most clearly in the following passage, perhaps one of the most striking in the novel, when Frollo, a supposed beacon of hope and mercy, passes by Quasimodo being tortured by a terrible mob:
Nevertheless, that cloud cleared away for a moment, at the passage of a mule which traversed the crowd, bearing a priest. As far away as he could see that mule and that priest, the poor victim's visage grew gentler. The fury which had contracted it was followed by a strange smile full of ineffable sweetness, gentleness, and tenderness. In proportion as the priest approached, that smile became more clear, more distinct, more radiant. It was like the arrival of a Savior, which the unhappy man was greeting. But as soon as the mule was near enough to the pillory to allow of its rider recognizing the victim, the priest dropped his eyes, beat a hasty retreat, spurred on rigorously, as though in haste to rid himself of humiliating appeals, and not at all desirous of being saluted and recognized by a poor fellow in such a predicament. (Book Sixth. Chapter IV. A Tear for a Drop of Water.)
Here, one notes not only the sadness, despair, and cruelty of the crowd (another representation of human evil, but much worse, the horrible betrayal of Quasimodo's natural hope in the goodness of the human spirit. For there, with the fading of his smile, the reader is aghast at the death of hope, as well as the depth of Frollo's monstrous nature.
Interestingly, few readers who have read both works can fail to notice the same imagery as presented in this theme, as well as the emotional response it is designed to evoke in the reader, in Shelley's work as well, particularly in the scene after the "birth" of the monster, when, in innocent hope and true trust and affection, he reaches out to the "humanity" of his creator, Victor:
beheld the wretch --the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs...(53)
Again, here the reader notes the sadness of the monster's reaching out to the "goodness" of the man, only to be rebuffed, and de0prived of the most basic human kindness. Like Frollo, Victor "escapes" his responsibility, transforming him, rather than the creature, into the real monster.
Further, within the story, and unlike the popular modern version, the reader sees Esmerelda, although beautiful and certainly filled with more kindness than Frollo, as nonetheless tainted by her human nature. This is illustrated by the fact that although the reader notes her (expected) kindness to Quasimodo in the same scene above when she gives the tortured creature a drink of water while upon the pillory, he does not allow her to be overly kind, and thus become a kind of cliched allegory of human goodness. Consider the following:
She approached, without uttering a syllable, the victim who writhed in a vain effort to escape her, and detaching a gourd from her girdle, she raised it gently to the parched lips of the miserable man...Meanwhile, be had forgotten to drink. The gypsy made her little pout, from impatience, and pressed the spout to the tusked month of Quasimodo, with a smile.
Here, the reader notes, not only her kindness, again -- clearly pure in its good intention, but also cannot help but glean a certain sense of her own selfish motives, characterized by her "pout" and impatience. After all, she might have imagined, it was the least the creature could do to gratefully accept her kind gesture as expected!
Perhaps more striking in Hugo's work, however, is the way in which, more than in Shelley's work, the monster represents goodness, while the human represents the monster. Again, it is of such a contrast that it borders on the cliche; however, it serves to underscore the message of the book. In fact, one not only sees the nature of the monster as good compared to Frollo, but Hugo goes onward to show every character as flawed in comparison.
Examples of this abound in the book -- from the obvious and striking evil of Frollo, whose depravity (and ironic malevolence seems to know no bounds), to the more subtle, yet just as powerful portrayals of Gringoire, Esmerelda's cuckolded husband, Phoebus, her shallow lover, and Esmerelda herself. It becomes apparent when compared with each of these characters that it is Quasimodo alone who is capable of true love.
Indeed, much like the Priest, Frollo, Phoebus represents what is commonly considered in human society to be noble and good. He is a Captain in the King's army -- brave, strong, and handsome. Yet Hugo describes him as the force through which Esmeralda loses both her virtue (perhaps, cultural the seat of her humanity and goodness), as well as eventually her life.
In all, the true message of the story seems clear -- that all of the most normal, even average, human characters are monstrous in their very humanity. Further, much like Shelley's Frankenstein, once that message is driven home fully, the literal "monster," or the literary device that he is, is no longer needed, and he expires.
Allegory or Entertainment?
Although it is undoubtedly a function of both of these stories a representations of the romantic genre to illustrate the psychology of the soul -- the inner workings of human nature -- in this case on the dark side of the spectrum, there of course remains a very strong "popular entertainment" tinge to both stories. Although both tales are certainly allegorical in nature, it is clear that they were also penned to entertain.
This is not only the case with these novels, but it also seems to be part of the essential formula for most gothic tales. Even today, many assert that the contemporary horror genre is filled with similar messages concerning the nature of human evil -- if less artfully presented. Yet the question remains, why is the literal monster required to illustrate the point? Is it not sufficient to show human evil without utilizing the aid of a monster character? Of course, the answer lies in the strong tradition of contrasting images and of the use of the ironic to drive home moralistic tales. Indeed, some may suggest that this tradition is born of the some of the oldest sources of Western moralistic sensibilities and literary inspiration.
Consider, for example, that the earliest linguistic roots of the term "monster" in the Western European tradition comes from the Latin. Interestingly, and quite in keeping with the themes of both stories discussed here, the original meaning of the term (in Latin) indicates far more than a frightening or grotesque being. Instead, the original term, "monstrum," indicates "...an evil omen, portent, monster; literally, "that which serves as a warning," "to show, point out, indicate (WordSources, 2005)." Thus, in keeping with its original meaning, many consider the eventual evolution of the classic "gothic" monster story to function as a kind of "lesson" through which the evil inherent in all human experience is manifested.
Further, even in early Biblical sources, as in the Old Testament, the theme of the Monster (especially the serpent or snake)…