Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Role of Frankenstein's Monster

      “For while I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. They were for ever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned. Was there no injustice in this? Am I to be thought the only criminal when all human kind sinned against me?  Why do you not hate Felix who drove his friend from his door with contumely?  Why do you not execrate the rustic who sought to destroy the savior of his child? Nay, these are virtuous and immaculate beings! I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on” (Shelley, 257).
      The monster in Frankenstein is obviously an essential character in the novel’s storyline; the entire plot revolves around the monster’s creation and actions.  Given this fact, it is easy to see why the reader may have such a strong desire to clearly define the monster’s role in the story.  Is the monster in Frankenstein a hero or a villain?  This is a complicated question, one that has likely plagued anyone who has ever had the privilege to read Frankenstein.   One can only answer this question after much contemplation and meditation on all of the events that take place in the novel.  Only then, can the reader attempt to accurately define the role of the monster.  This is not a black and white issue; there are several layers of grey that must be examined to properly categorize the monster. The most fitting description of the monster is not as a hero or villain, but as a victim of the thirst for knowledge.  
      Shelley intentionally presents the monster in such a manner so that it is not clear whether he is a hero or a villain. The monster carries out several heinous acts of violence that are befitting of a villain.  However, the monster also possesses hero-like qualities of love, kindness, and sympathy.  “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).  This quote from the monster demonstrates that he now feels compassion for his fallen foe.  A true villain would not have mourned the death of his enemy; this act of mourning is indicative of a hero.  Since the monster possesses several qualities of both hero and villain, it would be inaccurate to label him as one or the other; he is neither. 
      What Shelley illustrates is that there is no clear-cut good guy or bad guy in the story; there are only victims.  Both the monster and Victor are victims to the powerful thirst of knowledge that Victor seeks.  Everyone around Victor also seems to indirectly fall victim to this pursuit of knowledge by the hands of Victor’s creation.  One cannot help but sympathize with both Victor and the monster.  Victor’s good intentions in creating the monster ends up costing him all that he holds dear.  And what about the monster? He seeks love and friendship but is only met with agony and loneliness.  His only purpose was to be a guinea pig of sorts.  His creator showed him no love and abandoned him to the world.  The monster and Victor both have understandable reasons for why they exacted revenge on one another.  This does not mean that the reader has to agree with the actions of Victor or the monster; it just means that the reader must develop an understanding that both characters felt they had legitimate reasons for their actions.  The monster has a right to feel angry with Victor; he just ends up taking it to an unnecessarily excessive end.  This demonstrates that the monster, like humans, is susceptible to fall victim to his own emotions.   
      Shelley’s illustration of the monster as a victim, as opposed to a villain, makes him much more relatable to the reader.  It is easy to feel sympathy for him as his miserable existence is portrayed for us.  Everyone has felt alone or hurt at some time in their lives; this all too human feeling helps the reader understand why the monster would be angry with his creator.  Making the him into a clear-cut  villain would make for a much less relatable character, and a less compelling story.  The reader becomes emotionally invested in both Victor and his monster, making the reader care about the fates of both characters so much more than if the story was hero versus villain.  The monster’s role as a victim is further secured when he takes over the end of the novel.  Having the monster end the novel rather than Victor shows that he was never meant to be a villain, but rather a victim of circumstance.  He mourns over his fallen enemy and gives Walton very insightful explanations for his actions.  It is hard to remain unsympathetic for the monster even though he committed such dastardly deeds.  This ability of the monster’s character to evoke such sympathy from the reader makes him a victim, not a villain.  The way that the monster will die is also unbefitting of a villain. Having the monster become a casualty of suicide perhaps illustrates his role as a victim better than anything else in the novel.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publication, Inc, 2009. Print.


  1. My first comment is unrelated to the content completely. I would make sure you proofread your paper in the future because there are a few very simple typing errors in here. However, what you actually wrote about is highly similar to what I wrote about. I also believe that the monster was neither hero or villain, as most would. I argued that he was simply an antagonist to Victor, as opposed to a victim. Your argument for the monster being a victim is very compelling and definitely urged me to think a bit deeper about the argument. I still think that, because most of the story is told from Victor's viewpoint, I never really found the monster to be much of a victim. The narration from Victor's view, until the end, shows him being almost terrorized by the monster the whole novel. He is constantly frightened of what the monster may do to him or his loved ones. I am not saying that Victor is any sort of hero, but he does tell a large amount of the story that we are reading. The parts where the monster tells his story brings a level of sympathy to the reader for the monster, but he still commits multiple murders fueled by vengeance. Although I don't necessarily see him as a villain, it was hard for me to accept him as a victim due to the fact he was systematically killing Victor's loved ones out of anger. As you said, the reader is allowed to interpret these intriguing characters in any way they feel so I suppose I just felt differently about it, despite the fact your argument is very well constructed and led me to think about the issue more.

  2. I like the quote you open with - but I don't like that you don't immediately use it, but instead begin with a highly general (and in a way, easy) introduction. It doesn't take a long paragraph to tell us what the monster is - this is space that could be used to articulate or justify that reading! The third paragraph, in fact, does the same work as the 2nd - it just does so more compactly, and uses details of the text to make its arguments.

    The 4th paragraph, where you argue that we can understand and sympathize with the both the monster and Victor, doesn't progress your argument at all. It's fine to say, at a high level, that we can sympathize with both - but what about the moment which challenge that supposition? Do you sympathize with Victor when he is silent, as Justine is on her way to the gallows, or when he simply walks away from the monster? Do you sympathize with the monster as he murders William? This isn't an argument that will work unless you engage with the moments in the text which can and should challenge it.

    In other words, to argue that both the monster and Victor need to be understood as victims, you should be able to show us that Victor is a victim when he *seems* to be a villain, and that the monster is a victim when he *seems* to be a villain - and to do that, you need to do engage with the text much more deeply than you have.