In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Victor often seems to fall ill after traumatic events. Is this a means of escape (if so is it efffective)? Is there another explanation for his recurring illness?

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Victor, the protagonist of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, seems to be unable to deal with any traumatic events in his life. If anything traumatic befalls him, Victor lapses into sudden illnesses. For some, these illnesses may act as a defense mechanism which allows Victor to escape from the reality of things. For others, these sudden illnesses may be the "things" which force Victor to recognize exactly what he has done.

The first time readers see Victor fall ill is in chapter five.  Victor has just found success in reanimating life. Horrified by the creature, Victor paces his loft until he falls into a fitful sleep. During this sleep, Victor dreams of Elizabeth and her death. Awaking from the dream, Victor finds himself in a cold sweat with his muscles convulsing. Later the next day, after Clerval arrives, Victor believes that he sees his monster. Immediately, Victor falls down in a "fit." It takes months for him to recover. This illness could illustrate Victor's inability to face what he has done.

Victor also becomes very ill when he arrives in Ireland. After being charged with Clerval's murder, Victor falls into illness again. During this illness, he rants and raves that he is responsible for the deaths of William, Justine, and Clerval. This illness could illustrate a time where Victor is able to understand (and come to terms with) his responsibility for creating the Creature.

Both of these times Victor falls ill, he takes many months to recover. For some, this may illustrate a defense which allows him to "ignore" what he has done. On the other hand, Victor may need this time to recover from the shock his body and mind has gone through. Regardless, Victor seems far too weak to really deal with life. He seems to push himself to the brink of exhaustion only to fall into illness when he has gone too far

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While Victor works on his initial attempt to create life, he forgets about everything else except that one goal. He neglects his relationships; he stops enjoying nature; he forgets, even, to really think critically about what he's doing and what the consequences could be. He sort of loses himself to the process. In addition, he says of this time, "often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion." It is shortly after this work is complete, and after he has spent almost two years alone, that he nearly dies of illness. Without the ministrations of his best friend, Henry, he would likely not have been restored to health.

The second time Victor becomes catastrophically ill is just after he has given up the attempt to make a second creature, during which time he was always alone, and immediately after he learns that Henry has been murdered. Similarly, it is only when his father comes to tend him that Victor's condition begins to improve.

In both cases, Victor had just spent a great deal of time alone—in a book where the importance of companionship is a major theme—and he also has had to sort of "turn off" his human nature in order to do this work, because the work is so loathsome and repulsive. Even his creature cannot feel happy and healthy without a companion. As a result of Victor's extreme solitude, self-neglect, and repugnant occupation, he falls ill. Likewise, in both cases, it is only the devoted attention of someone who loves him that brings him back to health. Thus, it seems as though being alone for such a long time also partly causes his periods of illness, especially since only a loved one is able to restore him.

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