How is Victor Frankenstein evil, and how is he good?
There will be much discussion with such a question, only confirming to the powerful portrait Shelley gives the reader. One way in which Victor can be seen as good is that he represents the progressive element of science. Being a man of rational thought and scientific inquiry, Victor believes in the ever present optimism in Science. This notion of science posits the idea that science can lead to explaining the unexplainable, making elements in life better, and allowing the greatness of individuals to flourish and prosper. On another level, when Victor becomes aware of what his creation has done, Victor does take some level of responsibility in trying to stem its path of destruction, assuring that he will go to the ends of the world in order to destroy it. This shows that Victor is not an entirely malevolent figure. On another level, some will argue that Victor's unwillingness to create a companion for the monster reflects his good nature, as he does not want to exacerbate the problems his creation has caused.
Some can argue that Victor is not an entirely beneficent figure, as well. In this argument, I think the most compelling piece of evidence would be that Victor does not fully accept responsibility at the point he becomes aware of the monster's destructive capabilities. When first learning of the destruction wrought by the monster, Victor runs away, hiding from the ethical and moral responsibility required in such a situation. In such actions, he denies his role, within which some can suggest that he is partly culpable for what he has done. His zealous pursuit of science was done out of selfish glory, a self indulgent desire to jealously guard what he believes is rightly his. In this setting, one sees that Victor is not engaging in creation for the benefit of others, as much as for the glory of self. Finally, individuals who would point to Victor's poor character would suggest that his hunting down of the monster is nothing more than vengeance personified, and an act that seeks to exact revenge for the destruction of his idyllic vision. Textual analysis and support can be found to articulate both conceptions of Victor.
Victor's sins are pride and selfishness. In his involvement with the acquisition of scientific knowledge he commits the tragic mistake of others in the middle ages: He pursues the powers of science without consideration to the consequences. In this pride of his, Victor fails to take responsibility for his creation and its actions. In one part of the novel, he attributes "spirits" to having caused the tragic actions. In another he says,
"I felt as if I had committed some great crime, the consciousness of which haunted me. I was guiltless, but I had indeed drawn a horrible curse upon my head, as mortal as that of crime."
In his selfishness, he does not come forward to admit what he has created, thereby saving Justine from death. Instead, he remains quiet in order to preserve his own freedom.
Finally, Victor Frankenstein, whose foil is the loving Henry Clerval, finally realizes the danger of the creature and essays to arrest his murderous path. Yet, he rationalizes his behavior to the end:
...but I feel myself justified in desiring the death of my adversary. During thse last days I have been occupied in examining my past conduct; nor di I find it blamable.
It seems to me that Victor's motives were selfish. It wasn't until death touched him personally that he wanted to control it. The possible benefit to humanity at large was simply a possible bi-product of his selfishness and desire to control nature. I don't believe this makes him evil, but I wouldn't give him the credit of creating his monster for the good of humanity.
Victor is simply foolish for trying to control something that is best left to nature. Again and again in the novel, Shelley stresses the cleansing and healing power of nature and the importance of living in harmony with nature rather than trying to control or change its course. In fact, Victor is miserable and exhausted both pyhsically and mentally when he is withdrawn from nature and locked in his laboratory. It is not until he is back amongst the natural elements that his misery is assuaged, “My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature; the past was blotted from my memory, the present was tranquil, and the future gilded by bright rays of hope and anticipations of joy.” So, Victor is not so much evil as he is foolish and arrogant to think that he can change or control the natural order of life.
The question is, who is the REAL monster? Victor Frankenstein did not set out to be evil. He wanted to discover a way to prevent people from suffering the loss of loved ones as he almost lost Elizabeth to fever and did lose his mother to that fever. However, in doing so, he failed to consider the consequences to his actions. He never considered the creature, his responsibilities to the creature, or the effects of this neglect on others around him and in the world. So, how is Victor evil? His selfishness and disregard or neglect of the creature/son he brought into the world.
In his defense, he does try to make things right, but he does too little too late. Victor does a lot of growing up and maturing during the course of the novel, but he never truly makes the best decisions for everyone involved.
I don't believe that Victor is evil at all.
The thing with Victor is that he is plagued by a hamartia - his inability to take control to his mistakes and his horrible passion for ending death. These are the reasons why the creature was created in the first place, and thus, the cause of all of the deaths that followed.
Yes, technically, that means that Victor is responsible for numerous murders, but that does not make him evil. He constantly blames himself for the tragedies that befall him, even though they were not immediately inflicted by his own hands. If he were evil, he would lack a conscience and blame the creature fully for the deaths, but that wasn't the case.
On that note, Victor is good because he does have enough of a conscience to take responsibility for what he unleashed into society. As well, he is even heroic in a sense. After the tragic deaths of William, Justine, and Clerval, Victor is overcome by the deepest, darkest misery; even to the point where he falls extremely ill with grief. Yet, he wills himself to live on, despite the wonderful allure of death, all on the purpose of being there to protect and avenge his loved ones from the creatures villainous acts. He is a very strong character, even if his emotionally charged narration makes him appear weak, and for that reason, he tends to earn both the sympathy and respect from the reader.
Victor Frankenstein started out wanting to do something good. He observed his mother's death which was traumatic for him. He thought that if he could create the perfect human being, no one would ever have to suffer from disease again. In addition, ambition is not necessarily a bad thing. Victor was a studious student and loved to learn.
Victor performed a bad thing by not thinking about the consequences of his actions. He rejected his creation, but continued to love his family. One of the worst things that he did was to allow Justine to be convicted and killed for a crime she did not committ. Victor suffered greatly due to his choices, but in the end, he did try to find some redemption.