In Frankenstein, is the monster cruel out of his nature, or has he learned this behavior?

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hmassman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fascinating question! Over the years, scholars have debated this particular question about the creature in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Although there are multiple sides to this argument, by analyzing the text, some insight is revealed.

Foremost, when the creature first originates, he is scared and alone. He indicates no immediate desire for revenge or any feelings of hatred; rather, he seems confused and isolated. As the text reveals:

“It was dark when I awoke; I felt cold also, and half-frightened, as it were instinctively, finding myself so desolate. Before I had quitted your apartment, on a sensation of cold, I had covered myself with some clothes; but these were insufficient to secure me from the dews of night. I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept.”

Furthermore, as the story continues, the creature tries to help people, despite their fear of him. For example, the creature tries to help the De Lacey family by bringing them firewood. Subsequently, he also saves a girl from drowning. However, despite these attempts, society labels him as a monster because of his physical appearance.

As the creature continues his life, he begins reading and learning about society. The creature learns more about himself and humanity through this learning. Consequently, he begins to question his own identity as being that of a “monster.” As the text reveals:

“When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?

“I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me: I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge. Oh, that I had forever remained in my native wood, nor known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat!”

Thus, as a result of knowledge and learning from society, the creature begins to question his own identity. He further appears to start acting like a monster after society labels him as a monster, even after he helps the De Lacey family and saves the drowning girl. Therefore, his monstrous acts appear (at least somewhat) learned from and influenced by society.

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