Frankenstein: Characterization of the Main Hero

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“Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus’ is a novel written by Mary Shelley and is published in the year 1818 in three volumes. The novel can be said to have marveled on various aspects such as narrative technique, theme, realism, and appropriate representation of the socio-political milieu. The characterization of Victor Frankenstein can be read as a severe criticism of the overreaching romantic imagination that had motivated many of the early nineteenth century poets including P. B. Shelley and Lord Byron. Victor’s character also exposes the futility of the unrestrained pursuit of intellectual creativity that often leads to narcissistic self-absorption and romantic isolation. Victor’s creation on the other hand allegorizes a monstrous surfacing of his own repressed self, an alter-ego or ‘doppelganger’ for whom he feels only loathing and attempts to disown and abandon throughout the span of the novel.

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The structure of the novel focuses on male virtue which is transmitted through gendered literature, historical experience, and social organization. The level of interdependence in the narratives of the novel literalizes Walpole’s gothic theme of visiting the sins of the father upon the sons iterated in the preface to The Castle of Otranto. Thus, the Creature had to always live like an outcast devoid of a companion because of the Creator’s ‘hubris’, ‘hamartia’, and the act of overstepping limits.

The novel is very adept in presenting the developing mind of the protagonist which helps the readers fathom what propelled this innate passionate curiosity about the phenomenal world. Victor’s ego-centric intellectual aspiration is strongly suggested by his excited observations on the stage of the University of Ingolstadt, “I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation”. His scientific interests are however contemptuously dismissed by his father as nothing but “sad thrash”. The surging fervor with which Frankenstein pursues natural philosophy to divulge the secrets of life, death, and immorality is, thus, analyzed by many critics as a Freudian equivalent of the Oedipal violation of the mother. Frankenstein’s involvement with creativity is represented by Mary Shelley as a form of necromancy and an extreme form of narcissism. Many feminist critics have argued that by circumventing the female in the act of reproduction, Frankenstein achieves the ultimate masculinist fantasy. His ‘hamartia’ lies in his self-delusion in terming his scientific project as benevolent since it does not serve humanity in any way. It has sprung from his conceited ambition and ‘hubris’ of creating a new species that would “bless him” as their “Creator and source”.

The Creature is described to be “eight- feet tall” and possessing “translucent yellow skin” which somehow fails to hide the vessels and muscles underneath. Looking at his creation the Creator exclaims.

“Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart…”

Victor had created the Creature out of fragments of corpses but was still abhorred by his final appearance. This makes the readers realize that his ambition has blinded him and has even made him lose his ability to logical self- assessment. He does not possess the scientist’s neutrality or objectivity to analyze the flaws in his endeavor. Victor also presents the shallowness in his character by judging his own creation based on physical attributes. As a Creator and as a father- figure, he did not express the parent’s joy at the birth of a child, nor did he try to instill noble ideals in him and shoulder his responsibilities. Victor interprets the Creature’s “grin” as a monstrous hostility and wonders, “How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe . . .?” instead of a child’s innocent need to be loved and nurtured by the parents. The question thus arises in the reader’s mind that who then is the real monster? The Creature is judged and hated and, thus, he learned to treat others the same way.

After being created, the Creature roams around lost and disarrayed in the countryside searching for a partner. When the readers read about his interaction with Agatha, Felix and their father, the humanized interior beyond the grotesque exterior comes to the fore-front. The nameless creature lacking the androcentric self-deficiency of the maker yearns for self-deficiency through family ties and a mate. In his frantic demand to his maker for a female mate, he yearns for sexual and emotional self-expression that is more humane than his unemotional maker. Despite being a creator, Victor falls short of God’s approach towards his creation, Adam, as he fails to see these aspects of the Creature. Victor could not think of making a female counterpart for the Creature lest it might lead to the extinction of the entire human race. He, thus, brings out a selfish self in doing so and shies away from his responsibility towards his creation.

Victor’s narration presents models produced in the male imagination by the masculine desire, the scientist as hero, the artist as hero, and the poet as hero. Victor, thus, re-iterates the Romantic concept of the poet being the prophet. The Creature while hiding from human view, encounters a suitcase in the woods filled with books and clothing. He reads Milton’s Paradise Lost and cannot help but compare himself to both Adam and the fallen angel. Now, if the Creator can be considered as the hero, prophet, savior, or even messiah then there is a sense of accountability that comes to place. All forms of creation can be considered as a manifestation of the Creator himself. Just like in Christianity the question arises that if God could create Satan then is God all good? Similarly, we can question if Victor created something so “monstrous” then is he all good, or is his creation a mirror to all the evil facets in his being? The novel thus raises a very 21st-century question of whether art can be differentiated from the artist.

It is the subtitle of the novel, The Modern Prometheus that alludes to the myth of Prometheus in Greek mythology. The novel still twangs our sensibilities and serves as a cautionary tale in a world that denounces myths and accepts science with open arms. According to the myth of Prometheus, he created the entire human race. He stole fire from the Sun god, Zeus, and gave it to the humans who were otherwise living in a dark and damp world. For trespassing against the sanctity of the divine realm, Prometheus was punished by the gods. Viktor’s sin lies in the fact that he tried to apotheosize himself by creating as Prometheus did, his own living creature who would laud him as divine, and for this, he was undoubtedly punished.

Now, in the modern world, no one has faith in the existence of the Olympian gods. So, how can a 21st-century reader consider the works of Victor Frankenstein to be a violation of what is deemed sacred? The answer is, in the modern world ‘mother’ nature has replaced Zeus as the sacred. To violate nature is to risk nature’s retaliation and risk letting monsters loose on the world.

The undefined terrifying region of the icy craggy landscape through which the Creature pursues his maker resembles the psychological landscape of the author. The monstrous form of the Creature symbolizes the intellectual chaos and torment which Mary Shelley experiences while she is grappling with the creative act of writing. The Creature, therefore, is not only her intuition of scientific knowledge gone wrong but her own apprehension that she may fail to execute her intended idea into a consistent literary form. It can thus be concluded that whether it is a fictional scientist manufacturing a fictional creature or a novelist fabricating a novel around it, both are levied with the same burden I like to term as the ‘creator’s burden’. 

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