Who Are The Narrators In Frankenstein
Who is the narrator of Frankenstein, and why is the narration important?
There are actually three narrators in the novel. Walton begins and ends the novel by corresponding with his sister through letters. This is known as the "epistolary form" in which letters are used to tell the story. Walton introduces Frankenstein and his creature through his letters to his sister, creating suspense by using Victor's word "demon" to describe the creature. Walton is an objective narrator of both Frankenstein and the creature. Victor Frankenstein then picks up the story, telling the reader about his childhood up until he attends the university. The creature then begins his narration,...
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Mary Shelley uses a ‘framed narrative’ in Frankenstein, with three different characters telling their story at various points over the course of the novel. First the reader receives Captain Walton’s narration, in the form of letters to his sister. Secondly, they receive Victor Frankenstein’s tale and within his account of events, they receive the perspective of the Creature – Victor Frankenstein’s indomitable creation. The structure is important as “fatal prejudice” is a key aspect of the story. By keeping the Creature’s account of events from us until halfway through the novel, Shelley blinds her readers with the same “fatal prejudice” her protagonist suffers from.
The novel opens in epistolary form, using letters to narrate events. The first letter is from Captain Walton, addressed to his sister, Mrs Saville. These letters detail the progress of Walton’s naval expedition and introduce the reader to his ambitious character, who shares many character traits with the novels namesake, Victor Frankenstein.
The epistolary form allows Shelley to show the reader aspects of Walton’s character, rather than explicitly telling them what he is like. This will enable the reader to understand the sacrifice involved on Walton’s part in the end of the novel, as he agrees to turn his ship around and return to England, in accordance with the wishes of his crew:
“I have consented to return, if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision: I come back ignorant and disappointed.”
Exposing Walton’s wishes to “tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man” in the early chapters is crucial if the reader is to understand that it is Frankenstein’s tale which forces Walton to know his limits and turn back before it is too late.
When Frankenstein boards Walton’s ship and recounts his tale, his words are related to Mrs Saville in Captain Walton’s letters, and in turn to the reader. The narrative shifts to a first person narrative in Chapter One, with Victor Frankenstein explaining his family background before detailing his academic pursuits and accomplishments, culminating in the animation of the Creature. The first person narrative imparts Frankenstein’s passion and need for intellectual stimulation and challenge to the reader, as well as conveying his sheer horror when faced with the animated Creature:
“I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
This narrative is interspersed with letters from Frankenstein’s “own Elizabeth”, whom he promised his mother he would marry on her deathbed. The integration of letters allows Shelley to show the reader what is happening in various places at once, without an omniscient narrative voice.
Following Elizabeth’s letter, is a letter from Victor Frankenstein’s father, conveying the shocking news of the death of innocent William. The narrative shows Frankenstein’s emotional response to this news in comparison to the emotional responses of his family. The effect of this narrative is to see a deteoration in sympathy for Frankenstein, as he is selfish and insular in his family’s period of need.
Eventually, the reader hears the Creature’s side of the story in Vol II, Chapter III. The first person narrative continues, but the voice shifts to that of the Creature; he recounts the “original era of my being” and the series of hardships he endures at the hand of man. The narrative of the Creature is important as it signals a process of realisation for the reader; they realise that they – much like Agatha, Safie and Felix - are blinded by a “fatal prejudice”. Thus far their only opinion of the Creature has been derived from Victor Frankenstein’s hyperbolic descriptions. They see the implications of Frankenstein’s abandonment on the Creature and come to sympathise and, perhaps even justify, his violent actions which cause the death of innocent young William, and Justine.
The narrative shifts back to Frankenstein’s point of view and by this point, the reader feels little sympathy for the selfish scientist; firstly because of his detachment from Elizabeth who does not receive the attention she deserves, and secondly because he abandons the creation of a companion for the Creature despite promising to make one. There is little surprise on the part of the reader when Frankenstein discovers the print of the murderers hand on Elizabeth’s neck. After all, the Creature was perfectly explicit: if he received a female companion he would isolate himself from society, if not he would bring about Frankenstein’s demise.
The novel concludes with Walton’s letters to his sister, following his decision to return to England. This follows the death of Victor Frankenstein and the departure of the Creature “borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance”. The novel concludes with Walton having learnt from Victor Frankenstein’s mistakes and it is pertinent that his voice is the one Shelley gifts the last word.
The framed narrative highlights the dangers of being prejudiced, raises pertinent questions about the extent of human creativity and remains to this day a chilling work of Gothic fiction with messages for us all.