The Portrayal of Evil in Frankenstein
The contrast of good and evil is a common theme in literature. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley highlights the duality of humanity, in showing that Frankenstein and creation are neither solely good nor evil, but are capable of both. In doing so, we are also shown that evil does not exist in isolation – and that it does not exist without cause.
One of the themes of Frankenstein is nature, and what is natural and what is not. The appreciation of nature and weather is used to portray the humanity of the monster. For example, in chapter 16 the creature describes the events of his life since he fled from Frankenstein’s basement laboratory on the night of his creation. He tells of how he has plunged into despair following the rejection of the De Lacey family, and feels uplifted by warm weather: “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.” (Shelley, pX) The monster’s ability to take pleasure in nature shows his human side. The contrast of this with the monster’s actual errand – enacting revenge upon Frankenstein reinforces the monster’s humanity, in highlighting the duality of his nature. Like humans, the monster is capable of both good and evil thoughts and actions.
Frankenstein himself expresses an appreciation of nature and weather in several instances. In chapter seven, journeying home after William’s death, he finds comfort in the eternal nature of the Alps – “My country, my beloved country! who but a native can tell the delight I took in again beholding thy streams, thy mountains, and, more than all, thy lovely lake!” (Shelley, pX) Overshadowing this, however, is the complete overthrow of the natural order that he has already undertaken in creating the monster. Frankenstein has stitched together body parts stolen from buried corpses and infused them with life. The immediate rejection of his creation, the “breathless horror and disgust” that he feels at the first sight of the monster-child, is not even related to remorse for his actions. Instead it is only a result of the creature’s hideously unnatural physical appearance. (Persson 2002)
Frankenstein’s act is an evil one. He has created life without regard for the consequences, and when he finds his new creation distasteful he flees without regard for the safety of either the monster or the people around it. His refusal to deal with his responsibilities causes the deaths of family members and his closest friend, and ultimately his own as well. His disregard for the sanctity of human life, his self-absorption and his selfish attitude towards his immediate family are unnatural – much more so than the looks or the behavior of the monster.
The monster has killed, and killing is an evil act, but it is in reaction to fear, pain, and suffering. By showing us the human side of the monster, Mary Shelley evokes feelings of sympathy. After fleeing, Frankenstein encounters the creature again in chapter ten, and the reader is shocked to discover that the “abhorred monster” is actually a sensitive, gentle, and emotional creature whose actions are driven by the desire for companionship and the very human need for love: “believe me, Frankenstein, I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity; but am I not alone, miserably alone?” (Shelley, pX) The monster began life as an impressionable and naïve “child”, knowing neither good nor evil. Hated and feared by all who see him, and rejected by the very person who gave him life, the monster has been taught evil only through his interactions with other people.
Persson, Hans. Frankenstein. (2002). Retrieved April 23, 2006 from .
Shelley, Mary. (1818). Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. New York: Collier Books, 1961.