Compare Victor Frankenstein to his creation. Who is the hero of the book?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The irony of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is that even though Victor Frankenstein thinks he has created a monster, the creature himself often acts more humanely than Victor, while Victor's actions are often monstrous. This ironic reversal, as well as the similarities between Victor and his creature, highlight the ways in which humans can sometimes be "monsters."

When he is young, Victor is a virtuous child, dedicated student, and devoted son and brother. He has an idyllic childhood. However, once he becomes interested in the processes of life and death, he becomes obsessed with his project of creating life in something that was once dead. Hence, he assembles dead body parts and makes a creature that he then brings to life. He is horrified by his creature and abandons him. Victor fails to take responsibility for his creation, and in a sense, is a terrible father. He doesn't like the way his child/creature looks and is repulsed by what he (Victor) has done, so he runs away and leaves the creature to fend for himself.

The creature, abandoned and alone, must make a way for himself and learn about the world around him. He is initially a kind-hearted being, but his hideous appearance scares people, so his true nature is never really understood. After being driven out of a village, the creature tries his luck again with the DeLacey family; the father is blind, so he thinks he can appeal to the man's mind and heart and win a human friend. He admires the family greatly and learns about sympathy, relationships, and family from them. The family leads him to aspire to great human virtue. However, when he finally approaches the father, they are interrupted by the rest of the family, who are horrified. The monster learns that the way Victor created him is the reason for all of the hardships he endures. He seeks his creator out to try to persuade him to build him a female companion. Victor initially consents but later destroys the unfinished female creature. This leads the creature to launch a revenge campaign against Victor and his family and friends. The novel ends with the two chasing each other around the Arctic trying to kill each other but also strangely attached and dependent on each other.

Both the creature and Victor are intelligent and inherently good at the start of their lives. Circumstances cause them to change for the worse. Victor creates those circumstances, while it could be argued that the creature is largely a victim of Victor's choices. Ultimately, Shelley raises the question of which character is the hero and which is the villain. Both characters have positive qualities, but both have also committed sins and crimes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

1. As the novel progresses, Victor becomes more like his creation. At first, he is horrified at the Monster's appearance and his own "handiwork."  However, as the killings multiply, Victor comes to view himself in a horrific light.  He realizes that he, like his creature, is a monster because of what he set loose upon the world. At the beginning of Chapter 9, Victor craves isolation just as the Monster does, away from the probing eyes of mankind.  He states,

I shunned the face of man. . . . solitude was my only consolation--deep, dark, deathlike solitude.

When the Monster kills Elizabeth, Victor becomes even more like his creation--he is fueled by revenge.  As he visits his father's, brother's, and wife's graves, he promises,

For this purpose will I preserve my life: to execute the dear revenge will I again behold the sun and tread the green herbage of earth (Chapter 24, page 190).

The Monster wants revenge upon Victor for abandoning him, and Victor wants revenge for the loss of everything dear to him. In the end, Victor and the Monster change roles; Victor, once the pursued, pursues his creation.

2. Many would argue that the Monster is truly the book's protagonist.  Almost all of the novel's conflict is centered upon him, and the two pivotal moments in the book--the destruction of the female creature and Elizabeth's death--are generated by the Monster.  However, Victor does represent a true tragic hero and a Romantic hero.  He falls from a high position (noble birth, well respected, etc.); he possesses a tragic flaw--hubris and an insatiable thirst for knowledge; and he demonstrates a tragic realization while on his deathbed on Walton's ship.

3.  I personally believe that Shelley intends for Victor to be the novel's protagonist, but also for the reader to see the creature not as her work's antagonist but as a mirror character for Victor.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial