Frankenstein Tragic Hero

How is Frankenstein a tragic hero?

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To consider Victor Frankenstein’s status as a tragic hero, we have to look not only at Frankenstein’s character, but also at the intent of the author, Mary Shelley.

Obviously Victor Frankenstein meets a tragic end as a result of a tragic character flaw—he dies pursuing the monster that...

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To consider Victor Frankenstein’s status as a tragic hero, we have to look not only at Frankenstein’s character, but also at the intent of the author, Mary Shelley.

Obviously Victor Frankenstein meets a tragic end as a result of a tragic character flaw—he dies pursuing the monster that he created out of his own misguided attempt to manipulate nature by endeavoring to do something man was never meant to do—create life.

However, once Victor has created this life—the grotesque monster that humanity finds so frightening—another character flaw emerges. The monster is not inherently evil; it tries to find human companionship and even bestows kindness on others, but it simply cannot find acceptance, even from its creator. If Victor had been able to engage in an appropriate relationship with his creation he might have still been able to consider the experiment a success. But instead, he cannot overcome his initial repulsion to the creature’s physical appearance. This is another of Shelley’s themes in the novel—people judge others by superficial standards and often cannot overcome those judgments.

As a consequence of his rejection by mankind, based solely on his appearance, the monster becomes a cruel murderer. Frankenstein’s tragic flaw here is his inability to love what he has created; he cannot get beyond the superficial fact of its horrifying appearance. Had he accepted the monster for what he was, a huge, ugly, but kind and devoted friend, his wife and brother would never have been killed, and he himself would have survived. This flaw caused his ultimate downfall. 

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A tragic hero in the traditional sense is a person who begins in a high level in society but then falls to a low level because of some great flaw in his character.

Victor Frankenstein does fit into this mold, so to speak. His family is wealthy and occupies a high level in Geneva.  His parents are philanthropists and can afford to send Victor to the prestigious Ingoldstat University.

However, Victor's obsessive need to discover the force of life and to actually create life transcends the normal curiosity of a student.  He is absorbed in this project to the point that he ignores his family and his studies. 

Ultimately, the creature that Victor creates repulses him.  It is this very creature who kills his brother, his wife, his friend, and, in a roundabout way, his father.  Finally, Victor dies while pursuing the creature.  Tragedies generally end with bodies littering the stage, and this novel is no exception.

Finally, the subtitle, The Modern Prometheus, refers to a tragic figure from mythology who makes the mistake of displeasing the gods and giving fire to man.  As a result, he is chained to a cliff and repeatedly tortured. 

 

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