Frankenstein’s Failure In analyzing the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, it is difficult to determine which is worse, the downfall of Dr. Frankenstein himself or the degeneration of his creature into the realms of evil. Both Dr. Frankenstein and the monster begin their existence in a state of goodness and innocence, yet both are brought low through their association with evil. Dr. Frankenstein receives warnings regarding the unnatural teachings of his early scientific teachers yet continues forward with his experiments until he progresses beyond the point of no return. The monster he creates is given little chance at goodness as he is first rejected by his creator and then refused companionship by this same creator. After examining the motivations of each character however, it is eventually determined that the monster’s fall into evil outweighs the downfall of Frankenstein as the monster was given few options for good while Frankenstein was given several opportunities for salvation.
From the beginning of his studies, Victor Frankenstein purposefully and intentionally turned his back on the natural world as a means of concentrating on discovering the secret of bringing life to inanimate material, a process in which he was “forced to spend days and night in vaults and charnel-houses. My attention was fixed upon every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of the human feelings” (Shelley, 1993: 45) while “my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature” (Shelley, 1993: 49). Despite the warnings he’d received and the obvious challenge to the natural order of things, Frankenstein continued his search for deep knowledge, continued to work on the creature he had started, continued to envision it as a beautiful thing that would give all homage to him and remained unable to foresee the true nature of what he was doing until it was too late and the living monster stood facing him in all its horrendous grotesqueness. Although he creates the monster, he cannot bear to look upon him and becomes so ill following the creature’s animation that he requires long-term care by his friend Cherval before he is fit enough to travel. Frankenstein, having created something so hideous he can’t bear himself to look upon it, abandons his creation and allows it to enter the world unprotected, uncared for and misunderstood at every turn; essentially dooming his creature to eternal loneliness in his monstrosity. This feeling of utter disregard for the well-being of the created wells up immediately upon the creature’s first breath of life. “The beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room” (42). Frankenstein only agrees to discuss things with the monster once the threat has been made to his family, forcing the monster to violence as the only means to gain an ear.
The monster on the other hand comes into life with a gentle spirit and a predilection for loving the natural things of the world. As the spring warmed the earth during the monster’s stay outside the De Lacey home where he gained the learning he should have gained from Frankenstein, the monster tells Frankenstein “my spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature; the past was blotted from my memory, the present was tranquil, and the future gilded by bright rays of hope and anticipations of joy” (119). After he is chased even from this loving and patient, the monster becomes possessed by thoughts of revenge against his creator for making him so unacceptable to any kind of company, yet he is still able to find respite in the solitude of nature. “The day, which was one of the first of spring, cheered even me by the loveliness of its sunshine and the balminess of the air. I felt emotions of gentleness and pleasure, that had long appeared dead, revive within me. Half surprised by the novelty of these sensations, I allowed myself to be borne away by them; and, forgetting my solitude and deformity, dared to be happy” (148). However, even in these silent places, the monster was unable to avoid negative human interaction, becoming injured as he struggles to save a woman being swept away by a spring-fed stream. Thus, he becomes convinced that there is no where and no place for him to be happy as long as normal humans are present. With his final hope for happiness thwarted in Frankenstein’s refusal to create a companion for him, the monster then dedicates himself completely to the destruction of the man he wished most to love. In the end, the creature tells Walton, ”I had cast off all feeling, subdued all anguish, to riot in the excess of my despair. Evil thenceforth became my good. Urged thus far, I had no choice but to adapt my nature to an element which I had willingly chosen” (239).
It is because the monster falls from such a sublime height free of original sin and open to love, life and beauty to a condition in which he is able to strangle the life out of the innocent and young William, as well as murder the other beautiful and innocent people in the story – Clervel, Justine and Elizabeth – that the monster’s fall is worse than Frankenstein’s. While Frankenstein was complicit in his destruction, having purposefully pursued studies he had been warned against, diligently fought against his natural inclinations regarding his work in the charnel houses and willingly fled from the monster he’d created, thus setting it free upon an unsuspecting world, the monster was never given such options. Instead, it was a product of the environment in which it had been thrust, quick to condemn and even faster to threaten. Despite its harsh treatment, the monster even continued to seek solitude and isolation as preferable to hurting others as a means of survival but realized as a social creature, it would need some company. It is only driven to evil when Frankenstein refuses to acknowledge him. While Frankenstein can be seen as more evil because he had created this creature and then forced it into the path it eventually took, the fall of the monster is itself worse because of what it could have been in better circumstances.
Shelley, Mary. The Essential Frankenstein. Leonard Wolf (Ed.). New York: Simon & Schuester, 2004.