Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Victor Frankenstein, a native of Geneva who early evinces a talent in natural science. Having concluded his training at the university at Ingolstadt, he works until he discovers the secret of creating life. He makes a monster from human and animal organs found in dissecting rooms and butcher shops. The monster brings only anguish and death to Victor and his friends and relatives. Having told his story, he dies before his search for the monster is complete.
The Monster, an eight-foot-tall synthetic man endowed by its creator with human sensibilities. Rebuffed by man, it turns its hate against him. Its program of revenge accounts for the lives of Frankenstein’s bride, his brother, his good friend, and a family servant. Just after Victor dies, the monster appears and tells the explorer that Frankenstein’s was the great crime, for he had created a man devoid of friend, love, or soul.
Robert Walton, an English explorer who, on his ship frozen in a northland sea of ice, hears the dying Frankenstein’s story and also listens to the monster’s account of, and reason for, its actions.
Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor’s foster sister and later his bride, who is strangled by the monster on her wedding night.
William Frankenstein, Victor’s brother, who is killed by the monster while seeking revenge on its creator.
Henry Clerval, Victor’s friend and a man of science who is killed by the monster to torment Frankenstein.
Justine Moritz, a family servant tried and condemned for William’s murder.
There is a reason Shelley’s novel was named for its main character – Victor is the embodiment of the duality of human life, at least to Mary Shelley. A native of Geneva, Switzerland, he grows up reading ancient alchemy texts and, we can assume, fantasizing of a life of the magic of the old sciences. By the time he reaches the university at Ingolstadt, the ideas he grew up with are useless, even detrimental, to the practice of then-modern day science. Shelley uses Victor here as a symbol of the new replacing the old – there are times when the new “forgets” lessons taught by the old.
In his time at the university, Victor adapts to the ideas of modern science and learns...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
The monster is the secondary focus in Frankenstein; after all, he is the result of Victor’s perverse view of science, and of life. Literally sewn together from old body parts and animated by arcane chemicals and what must be lightning, he enters life and the novel a hulking, eight feet tall newborn baby. His “father’s” first act is to disown and abandon him – is it any wonder he goes on a rampage? Mary Shelley seems to be using the Monster as both a product of modern science’s refusal to accept the natural world and as Victor’s “dark side.” It is as if the emotion Victor doesn’t seem to have has been transferred into the Monster, who has no...
(The entire section is 377 words.)
Frankenstein is a frame narrative – the story or stories told exist within a kind of “main story.” Robert Walton's letters to his sister are the frame around which the novel is based. Walton captains a North Pole-bound ship trapped in ice. While waiting for the ice to thaw, he and his crew pick up Victor, weak and withered from his journey of revenge. Victor recovers enough to tell Walton the story of his life, then dies when his story is finished. Walton had felt that he and Victor were beginning a genuine friendship, and he mourns the loss of this man he barely knew, whose life was such a mess.
Walton is more than just a convenient frame for the story of Victor...
(The entire section is 206 words.)