Who, in your opinion, is the real monster of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. Is it the destructive, unnamed fiend or his creator, Victor Frankenstein? In order to explore the novel and reach a decision about this question, it makes sense first to look at the roots and some influences of the story, to investigate what the allusions to the real world in ‘Frankenstein’ may mean. The world that Mary Shelley inhabited was, at the time, host to many newfound and innovative machines created as part of the Industrial Revolution.
Fueled largely by the invention of the steam engine, the revolution was a great impact on the economy of Britain, and led to great expansion in many areas of industry, allowing many people’s manual and difficult jobs to be replaced by faster and cheaper machinery. Even at the time, this was considered to be an enormous step towards the future of modernization around the world. However not everybody experienced the benefits of these changes and it did not stop the exploitation of ordinary working people.
As well as the people who lost their jobs, there was also immense toil placed upon those who had to maintain the working machinery. There were very few safety regulations in factories, and infamously there were even children forced into labour for long days, sometimes mutilated under inhumane conditions amongst the hazardous new machines. Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin, warned her that along with being amazed with these latest technologies, she should also reserve some fear for them, which is in-keeping with themes that manifested themselves in ‘Frankenstein’.
Comparisons can be made between Victor Frankenstein’s creation and James Watt’s steam engine in that both were released into the world, with both creators unknowing how they may have caused the devastation of people’s lives. The Industrial Revolution is an example of how innocent people could be overlooked and eventually suffer in the name of progress. Another prime illustration of society changing at the time that is alluded to in ‘Frankenstein’ is the French Revolution.
The lower class citizens of France were poorly looked after by the country’s nobility, who were out of touch with the poverty and starvation amongst normal citizens. Eventually these people decided to pull together and rebel against the upper classes. The king and his wife were captured and put to death, followed by any members of the rich aristocracy who hadn’t fled from the country. The idea surged forward and now nobody dared to try and stop the execution of these people.
Starting as something beneficial for the country, the idea of the revolution soon became a ‘terror’ that took too long to stop. The similarities between this and the themes in ‘Frankenstein’ are that both Victor and the idea of revolution started as incredibly positive things created by man to aid humanity that ultimately went awry in miserable ways and led to the deaths of many people. The personal life of Mary Shelley herself is not to be ignored when thinking about why such a horrifying story was written by a nineteen year-old woman.
She was the daughter of two influential and wealthy people. Her mother Mary Wollstonecraft; a philosophical writer and feminist; died shortly after childbirth leaving Mary to be raised by her father William Godwin, also a renowned philosopher. It is said that during childhood Mary gained an informal education (albeit an advanced one) by hiding under her father’s desk and eavesdropping on conversations that he held with some of the great minds of the time. Such a level of understanding was unusual for a woman of that era. In later life she absconded with Percy Shelley and became pregnant.
However her baby didn’t survive more than twelve days after birth, mirroring what happened after her own delivery. With these two instances of birth and death instilled in Mary’s mind, it seems less of a surprise for some of the content of ‘Frankenstein’ to have been included by such a young woman. There are also striking parallels between her family life and that of Victor. According to letters from Mary’s father, her childhood was as pleasant as it could have been, where Victor states himself that “No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself.
” Both are said to have had kind and ‘indulgent’ parenting and the intelligence of both her and Victor likely means that they both didn’t take this (or their wealth) for granted. Mary Shelley may have wanted to draw these similarities between her and her character so that she was able to relate to his actions and effectively express her state of mind using him. She felt guilty for the death of her mother, knowing that if she had not been born her mother would have lived.
Things happened in Mary Shelley’s life that no human could possibly control, which makes it interesting that the tragedies of Victor’s life were caused by something not technically human, Throughout the course of the novel there are many opportunities for the reader to sympathize with both the eponymous character and his creation; but the issue is whether the actions or emotions of either outweigh the other enough to come to a decision about which of the two adversaries is justifiably the most ‘monstrous’.
From the very moment Victor starts talking about his own personality he labels himself “sometimes violent, and my passions vehement… ” and describing himself to have an “eager desire to learn,” giving us an impression of how he is to behave later in the story. It is in this same section of the novel that we learn of his intentions for the benefit of humanity, aiming to do great good by finding an elixir of life. He also claims wealth an ‘inferior object’, showing that even if he possesses a greed for recognition as a benefactor, he does not care about obtaining great wealth from his idealism.