How does Victor depart from the typical tragic hero?

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Frankenstein is a brilliant man who brings disaster on himself and his family because he has a tragic flaw – pride. This tragic flaw causes him to make a huge error of judgment in trying to create life. His problems are not brought about by personal depravity but by the tragic flaw and error of judgment. In the classic sense of a tragic hero, fate and external forces combine with the tragic flaw and error of judgment to bring on the tragedy. I think it can be argued that fate and external forces do not play a part in Victor’s tragedy, however, so in that sense, he departs from the classic definition of tragic hero. Although I believe a case can be made against this view, it is my opinion that fate has nothing to do with exacerbating Victor’s tragedy. It is all on him – he created the monster, and if the monster did not exist, then there would have been no tragedy. The monster teaches himself to talk and to read and learns that he is subhuman. Everything that he does after this is motivated by the fact that his existence is painful to him and Frankenstein is responsible for this. Frankenstein refuses to create a mate for him, so the monster sets out to kill everyone that Frankenstein loves. Frankenstein was caught in a dilemma of his own making – if he created another monster, then he could have prevented other loved ones from being killed, but Frankenstein was conflicted about compounding the problem and creating two monsters. So again, he is the cause of the tragedy, not fate or external forces.

The Aristotelian tragic hero had to be a noble character – like a prince or a king. Writers have deviated from this requirement and many tragic heroes have not been of noble birth. Frankenstein would fit this as well. He is not a noble, although he is well-off.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the first analysis of Victor Frankenstein as a tragic hero--especially that unlike a traditional tragic hero, Victor makes his own choices; fate does not control him.

One other element of a tragic hero that Victor does not fully possess is a tragic realization.  Most Greek and Shakespearean tragic heroes recognize their error and tragic flaw as they experience their downfall.  Othello's final speech before he commits suicide is a prime example, and Creon from Sophocles' Antigone acknowledges at the play's end that his pride engendered the many deaths in his family.

While Victor does tell Walton his tale as a lesson and warning and encourages Walton to take his men back to the safety of England instead of continuing on his quest for glory, the hero's final words demonstrate that he still does not fully accept responsibility for the unspeakable tragedies that his creating and rejecting the monster caused.  He claims that it was his fate to seek glory and advance science, and in doing so he does not experience a sincere realization of his significant role in his own downfall.