Who is responsible for the murders in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’? ‘Frankenstein’ is a novel written in 1818 by Mary Shelley, which has become one of the most popular novels of its genre. ‘Frankenstein’ has been, and is, read throughout the world, having stood the test of time by remaining popular nearly two centuries after its creation. Two main factors probably gave Shelley the impetus to write the novel. The first being the wider social influence of the fast paced scientific developments of the 19th century, and secondly, from a personal perspective, the problems and sorrow which Shelley endured in her family life.
The 19th century was a time of great scientific discovery and it is likely that the experiments that were being carried out at the time would have had a huge impact on Shelley, leading her to create ‘Frankenstein’. We can well understand the power of science in the modern world, including the promise and dangers suggested by genetic engineering, for example. Similarly, in the 19th century, the public must have been fascinated by the work of scientists such as Galvini. Galvini managed the incredible feat of reviving dead tissue, and his nephew, Aldini actually went one-step further and ‘reanimated’ limbs of a whole corpse using electricity.
From this perspective, it is plausible that Shelley would have sought to capture the public’s already intrigued imagination in her work. Shelley herself had a troubled childhood; her mother died only ten days after she was born, and it may have been her father’s sudden remarriage that made her marry at the age of sixteen to Percy Bysshe Shelley. Even after this she suffered great pain, as her daughter died two weeks after she was born. This event is critical if we are to understand Shelley’s motives in writing the novel.
Having suffered bereavement in both her child and adulthood we can believe that Shelley would have had an interest in the concept of death and the control that we can have over the existence of life itself. At this point it is interesting to note that the concept of control over the events in the story, including murders, is shown in metaphors. Such as sickness and the weather. These metaphors serve as themes foretelling future events. Prior to the death of William, Elizabeth tells us that Frankenstein ‘… has been ill, very ill…
‘ This shows us that Mary Shelley uses the metaphor of illness to indicate the loss of control Frankenstein feels in his life in general. Shelley also lets Frankenstein know of this event through a letter from Elizabeth which is a more personal form of writing and it also brings us closer to the character. Therefore, since murder is defined as a conscience action and Frankenstein feels he has no control over his life, he will at first distance himself from the murders of William, Clerval, Justine and Elizabeth later in the novel.
Although the monster is actually the killer, it would seem throughout the novel that it is Frankenstein who is indirectly responsible for the murders. It was he who had created the monster, both physically through this scientific work, but also emotionally, by rejecting him by only looking at the creations exterior, ‘… Breathless horror and disgust filled my heart… ‘ This quote describes how Frankenstein described the creation upon first sight. We cannot tell if the creature would have been a monster, had Frankenstein not rejected him just because of the way he looked.
Furthermore, we can see that Frankenstein makes assumptions about the character of his creation through his actions as he thought that it was trying to grab him instead of trying to make a gesture of friendship, ‘… One hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me… ‘ Moreover Frankenstein’s concept of morality is clearly clouded by his passion for science, “From this day natural philosophy, and particular chemistry, in the most comprehensive sense of the term, became nearly my sole occupation. “