Upon my completion of Shelly’s Frankenstein, I cannot help but consider the battle between fate and free will within the structure of the text. It seems to me that Frankenstein’s monster represents the presence of fate for many of the characters. These characters meet their fate through the hands of Frankenstein. Beyond the monster’s countless murders, he in turn framed two different people (Justine and Victor) for murder. In fact, there are few actions within the novel (with the exception of the Delaneys’ story) that are not completely manipulated or governed by the monster. Consider: we only learn of Frankenstein because he has followed the monster to the North Pole (after following the monster through the country for a serious period of time); Victor only travels abroad to comply with the monster’s request for a bride; Victor’s wedding was only hastened due to Victor’s fear of the monster’s ‘wedding night’ threat. Within Shelly’s criticism of Romanticism, what work is being done concerning fate and free will? Can the text be read as a large struggle between individual perception of fate and personal free will?
Throughout the novel Frankenstein, we are constantly bombarded by Victor's declarations of abhorrence for the very thing that he has created. Almost every address he makes to his creation is that of "fiend," "daemon," or "monster." It is evident that Victor feels shame and revulsion for his creation, from the very moment that he sees the monster come to life. And yet, and perhaps this is my own misinterpretation of the text, but I always sensed a certain hesitance from Victor when opportunities presented itself to kill the monster. They have so many conversations and arguments, one wonders why Victor doesn't carry a gun with him at all times so as to shoot the monster whenever the opportunity presents itself--which proves to be, in the text--quite frequent.Perhaps even more prevalent, is the Creation's hesitancy to kill Victor. He is stronger, faster, and apparently, much craftier and diabolical than Victor could ever be. Not to mention the many times the Creation expresses his mutual hatred for Victor as well...And yet, never once does he physically (or should I say, directly) harm him. Instead, he chooses to murder all those dearest to Victor; and when the Creation sees the end result of his misdeeds, Frankenstein, dead from the emotional and physical exhaustion he has gone through, he mourns him, and then promptly flees to kill himself. "Blasted as thou wert, my agony was still superior to thine; for the bitter sting of remourse will not cease to rankle my wounds until death shall close them for ever." (Shelley, 215)I suppose my question is, despite their hatred, is there a kind of unbreakable bond and camaraderie that binds Victor and his Creation, that hinders them from acting out their hatred? Did a kind of love exist between the two of them that neither wanted to admit nor act against? Is it a bond like father and son? Or was it more one sided; that Frankenstein would have killed the Creation had he had the chance? And what does it say that the death of one causes the death of the other? Would that have happened, if the places were switched?
What I found particularly interesting about the last few chapters of the book was the way in which health and physical condition started to play an even stronger role in Frankenstein. When the reader is first introduced to Victor he is ill in the present, so this is not a new theme, however during the final chapters Victor’s illness become more prominent as it is conveyed to Walton as having occurred for some time before Walton’s crew pulls Victor out of the water, particularly during Victor’s imprisonment. I think it would be interesting to discuss a comparison between Victor’s deteriorating wellbeing and the monster’s extreme athletic prowess. This contrast could symbolize many things, such as Victor being metaphorically incomplete without the monster and thus physically ill. It could also be making some sort of statement about karma, in which Victor’s mistakes are catching up with him. Off of this quickly comes the question of the nature of Victor’s illness: is it simply a sign of Victor’s weak constitution, or are his fever and illnesses manifesting themselves physically because of being psychologically induced? This latter idea is especially interesting to consider because of the cycle of Victor’s sickness: he seems to become extendedly ill after something happens with the monster. For example, in chapter 22 while seeing the corpse of Henry Clerval, Victor throws himself on the body and shouts about his “murderous machinations” that are responsible for Henry’s death, and the death of past and future victims (Shelley 202). Then Victor explains that, “the human frame could no longer support the agonies that I endured, and I was carried out of the room in strong convulsions” (Shelley 202). Following this scene Victor has a fever that lasts two months during which he is “on the point of death” (Shelley 202). With this in mind it could be construed that Victor’s illnesses are actually a symptom of his guilt over the monster’s actions. However this motif of health in Frankenstein can be interpreted in many ways and would thus be very interesting to discuss.
‘“But soon,” he cried with sad and solemn enthusiasm, “I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt. Soon these burning miseries will be extinct. I shall ascent my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames. The light of that conflagration will fade away…”’(Shelley, 200).In class we mentioned the use of light and fire as a symbol for knowledge. I find it interesting then, that the monster after Frankenstein’s death should wish to commit suicide with fire. To me, the monster is the embodiment of the search for knowledge gone too far. We’ve all heard the term ‘fighting fire with fire’. Is Shelley trying to show us that the same can be done with knowledge? That scientific knowledge can be combated with a nature based understanding of limitations? Or is this supposed to be an example of nature taking back the secret that belonged to it?
One thing that is interesting is the evolution of the monster's ideas about his relationship to Victor. When they first cross paths, he calls him his creator, and his master, and realizes that Victor is in control of his fate. He begs for a mate, for sympathy, for his creator to, in essence take care of him. However, by page 191, things have definitely changed. The monster calls Victor "slave" and says "You are my creator, but I am your master - obey!" He no longer is imploring or pleading Victor, his is demanding and ordering him. He seems to understand that his physical power of human kind places him a position of power over Frankenstein and his loved ones. But what is interesting is considering this in relation to the monster's dialogue after Walton finds him in the cabin of the ship. "what does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me?" Which implies his position of being subordinate to Victor and needing his approval/pardoning. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that at Victor's death the monster sees "the miserable series of [his] being wound to its close"? It is also interesting that when discussing his mentality during the murders he says, "I was the slave, not the master, of an impulse which I detested." There are obvious shifts in the monster's sense of power throughout the narrative that I think are worth exploring. My own ideas are simply that they are somehow intertwined with his sense of misery.
As the book goes on, the relationship between Victor and nature changes as his character grows. Towards the start of the story, Victor finds himself deeply immersed in studying natural philosophy. Romanticism was very popular during the time this book was written, and it emphasized nature as contemplation and questioned natural philosophy. Victor’s relationship with Romanticism is very interesting throughout the book. At the beginning, he is obsessed with his own personal idea of himself as a genius. Creating the monster could cement a place in history for him as a great genius by conquering life and death. Also any time that he is distraught in the beginning of the story, he takes to nature as a refuge to think. He uses his time with nature to contemplate and reflect as Romanticists of the time did. He is depressed near the beginning of the story at several points, and he takes to nature to deal with this sadness. However, being with nature is never a permanent answer to his problems. Shelley seems to be criticizing Romanticism through Victor Frankenstein. As the story approaches the resolution, it seems like nature is almost resenting him. “The rivers were covered with ice and no fish could be procured” (Shelley 237). Every time he needs something physically from the wilderness, he can’t get it. The Arctic desert is a treacherous terrain and vastly different from what he experienced in the beginning of the novel. The monster is a creation of nature, and it is ruining everything in his life. Nature and the narrator’s description of it are linked very clearly throughout the novel, but I feel its correlation with Romanticism and the contemplation of nature is a subject that can be searched in more detail.
“Oh, Frankenstein! generous and self-devoting being! what does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst. Alas! he is cold, he cannot answer me” (Shelley, 254).For the majority of the novel, the monster felt hatred for his creator. However,the preceding quote demonstrates that the monster now feels remorse for his fallen creator. What has caused such a change of heart in the monster? It seemed as though the monster would be overly pleased with the demise of Victor, but now it seems that he only feels remorse and sadness. This is clearly a very human reaction to this situation; it seems common for humans to feel sympathy for those who have died, even if they strongly disliked the person. This is not the reaction we would expect of a monster; a true monster would have likely rejoiced in the death of his foe. Perhaps this is an attempt by Shelley to further blur the line between human and non-human, hero and villain. The monster demonstrates the very human feelings of both hatred and remorse throughout the story, but yet many would argue that he is not a human being. He also plays the role of the villain very well as he destroys Victor’s life piece by piece. However, the monster does display some heroic qualities like love and remorse. He also proposes that he will suffer a death that many may see as tragically heroic. It is clear that Shelley purposely presents the monster in such a mixed way so that much contemplation is required in order to clearly define his role in the novel.
Although the novel was published in the early 1800’s, it is almost more applicable than ever to society in present day. Our society is undeniably obsessed with appearance. The media sends constant subliminal messages that if you are not physically attractive, you are not going to be successful in life. These are messages that children learn without being explicitly told. They watch TV shows and movies with beautiful people, usually involving a cliché happy ending involving love, money, and overall success. They read magazines and see commercials featuring models possessing bodies entirely unattainable for most normal people. And yet, they are not told this, and instead end up thinking there is something wrong with them for not looking this way. Frankenstein’s monster is the exact same way. He is a small child who is forced to learn the ways of the world on his own. He says, “Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant, but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded theirs. When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?” He knows that he is skilled and that there is nothing wrong with him in that sense. So, the one reason he is excluded from society is because he is unattractive, which is through no fault of his own. This is one thing I thought about a lot while reading the book, most likely also because I recently completed a research report on body image in the United States. I thought this was a great example of how a book can be read in different ways relating to the current social climate. So, my question is, did Mary Shelley intend for this to be a social commentary on society and the mistreatment of people based on appearance, or has this theme become more and more relevant as our society has become more and more sickly obsessed with aesthetic beauty?
In the end we see Victor destroy the monster’s last attempt to have a mate to connect to and in revenge the monster destroys Victor’s family. Victor made his creation beyond the capabilities of any man and saw himself as a god for this new race and in the end both maker and creature destroy one another. Completely jumping ahead a few hundred years why is man still obsessed with creating something beyond it? Victor reanimated the dead but given technology of the time that would be impossible, but within our own lifetime we strive to create an artificial life. I am not making the argument that progress is inherently evil rather why do we find the need to play God? In our own time science endeavors to create more advanced robots and smarter AI’s. I mean to beat the dead horse of “man vs machine” and wonder at our desire to create intelligent life beyond our own. Do we create artificial life for company, that in this vast universe we create something to satisfy our cosmic loneliness? Do we create like Victor did to make ourselves into gods so that we can have dominion over something wholly new and wholly ours and not the result of divine intervention or evolution? If we give our knowledge, our fire, to a new species what’s to say they won’t end up like Victor’s monster, angered and coming for their maker?
I found chapter 15 to be a very poignant moment in both the monster's tale and the novel as a whole. I believe the events of this chapter show details of the monster's humanity and also Shelley's own thoughts and opinions on what it means to be human and also comments on the harsh hand of human nature.While the monster tries his best to win over his friends by the blind father first--he is perceptive enough to recognize the human nature to fear things that are different, or ugly--his plan fails when the younger family members return early. For the plot, it is very important to note that while the monster was nervous, he believed he could win them over with his manners. While he understood the basic cultural precepts that relegated him to "creature" status, he misjudged how strong these social mores were.Chapter 16 begins "Cursed, caused creator! Why did I live?" (151). Obviously the monster was stricken with anguish, and, here, he questions the meaning or purpose of life without love. Shelley uses this point in the novel both to garner sympathy for the monster and also to accentuate his humanity.
I want to address some underlying questions that I have while reading On Human Nature. To some extent, I agree with Wilson's general concepts and justification and often even can predict which psychological or biological example he is going to use to prove his point. However, I do struggle to grasp what exactly is his underlying implications for all of this. Perhaps it will come later in the reading and we sort of covered it last week in class that, I may be wrong but Wilson is saying that understanding that human nature is a product evolution is not just an informative and suggestive area for research but it should be the only way to approach considering humanity. He argues for at times simplistic way of viewing things, for example that behavior, if studied closely enough can be predicted in the coin flipping example but also the dilemma that it can be understood but the amount of research necessary to predict a coin flip let alone human behavior would take an incredible amount of time for a simple prediction. Another area where I find myself questioning is the fact that humans are not only self aware but are now at the point where we can recognize our purpose that stems from evolution to reproduce and protect the passing of our genes. But what does that mean for a society to recognize? Does that mean that we can or should forgive cheating behaviors and look at altruism as a selfish thing? What purpose does that ultimately serve? If a bird knows the biological reason for flying south does that matter? I understand the informative nature of considering ourselves in this way but I guess I would wonder what these means as members of society and what it should mean. Perhaps these are questions that will be addressed further in the reading.
As I continue to read the novel, I am baffled by the fact that I have not found one strong female character in it. We are presented with several intelligent, determined and more or less courageous male characters in the novel but we find none of those qualities in their female counterparts. Women are thought of as things to be protected due to their frailty rather than respected for their intellect or accomplishments. I assume one would argue that this was simply the writing style of the time, and I would find it hard to agree due because of the author background. Mary Shelley, the author, is not only a strong intelligent female but her mother was one of the most prominent and well read feminist of their time. Astonishingly women are presented as submissive and inferior beings in Shelley’s work; and although they are spoken of highly it is in more of a protective and possessive manor. Victor’s description of the first time he met with, and was presented with the idea of Elizabeth is quite telling of the general consensus of the novel in regards to women. “’I have a pretty present for my Victor - tomorrow he shall have it.’ And when on the morrow, she presented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift, I, with childish seriousness, interpreted her words literally and looked upon Elizabeth as mine - mine to protect love, and cherish.” (26)Elizabeth is arguably the most forefront female character in the novel and she is probably the most submissive. Victor describes Elizabeth as a possession rather than a human being. He thinks of her as something that was simply given to him instead of having to win her over. In my reading I noticed that Elizabeth basically feeds off of Victor’s attention and complies to his every demand. I would downright describe her as needy. Her passiveness actually results in her demise when the monster kills her after Victor commands her to retire for the evening. I cannot think of another character who is much more assertive and dynamic than Elizabeth. The novel never has a female narrator nor is it told from a feminine perspective. Although it is completely possible that I am reading these characters wrong or that my analysis of them was inaccurate I am still surprised by the fact that this novel is filled with docile female characters.