Last Updated on April 25, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2921
In Volume Two, Chapter Three, the creature assumes the role of narrator as he tells Victor his story.
When he is first brought to life, the creature is overwhelmed by sensations he doesn’t understand. Seeking relief from the sunlight and heat that plague him on the first morning of his life, he walks out of Ingolstadt into the forest, where he drinks from a stream and eats berries. When night falls, the clothes he had put on in Victor’s apartment prove insufficient to protect him from the cold. He weeps until he is comforted by the sight of the rising moon and the discovery of a cloak under a tree. As the days pass, the creature gains knowledge and understanding of his surroundings. He discovers the beauty of birdsong and is frightened by the sound of his own voice. He also discovers an abandoned campfire, which he learns can burn him as well as be used for warmth and cooking. Eventually the creature is forced to leave the fire in search of more food. He sets out through the woods, crosses a snow-covered field, and arrives at a small hut where he finds an old man cooking breakfast. To the creature’s surprise, the old man screams and runs away. The creature is enthralled with the hut, however, and rests there after eating the old man’s food. Even more amazing to him is the village he discovers after leaving the hut. Unfortunately, when he enters one of the cottages there, the creature’s appearance causes the children inside to scream and a woman to faint. Some of the other villagers run away, but others attack the creature, throwing stones at him until he escapes into the woods. The creature then takes shelter from the weather and “the barbarity of man” in a low wooden hovel attached to a small cottage.
The next morning, the creature discovers that the hovel is enclosed by a pigsty and a pool of water. After stealing a loaf of bread and a cup to drink from, he crawls back into the hovel and covers the opening by which he entered with wood and stones so that whoever lives in the cottage won’t be able to see him. Compared with the forest, the warm, dry hovel is “a paradise.” After eating his breakfast, the creature peers through a crack in the wall at a young woman walking by with a milk pail balanced on her head. When she returns, a young man takes the pail from her. Though the woman looks sad, the man looks even sadder. He leaves the cottage some time later, taking a handful of tools into the field, while the woman continues to attend to various chores. The creature then discovers a crack in the wall adjoining the cottage through which he can see inside the cottagers’ home. There, in a clean but bare room, he sees a kindly-looking old man sitting by the fire. The young woman sits down beside him, and he begins to play a beautiful, melancholy tune on a guitar. When the woman starts to cry, the old man comforts her, and the creature is overwhelmed with unfamiliar emotions. A short while later the young man returns with a load of firewood, and the woman makes soup while he works in the garden. After the cottagers eat dinner together, the old man leans on the young man’s arm as they walk in the sunlight. When night falls, the creature is amazed by the cottagers’ use of candles and listens uncomprehendingly as the young man reads aloud.
For the next several months the creature continues to hide in the hovel and observe the cottagers. He learns that the young man and woman are a brother and sister named Felix and Agatha, and that the old man, their father, is blind. To the creature’s eyes, the family seems to possess everything anyone could want—a comfortable shelter, food, fire, and, most of all, love and companionship—but he often sees Felix and Agatha crying. When he realizes the family suffers from poverty and hunger, the creature gathers roots and berries for himself in the forest at night rather than stealing their food. He even gathers firewood for the cottagers and clears the snow from their path, acts which the astonished family attributes to a “good spirit.” The creature is fascinated by the cottagers’ ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings to each other by speaking and reading, and he resolves to learn their language so that he might introduce himself to them. One day he sees his own reflection in a pool and is horrified to discover that he is a “monster,” totally unlike the cottagers, who he thinks are beautiful. Still, he hopes that when he does reveal himself, the family will be able to overcome their initial disgust with his appearance and come to love him for his gentle nature.
Winter comes to an end, and the creature delights in the beauty of spring. One day as he watches the siblings listen to their father play guitar, the creature notices that Felix seems even sadder than usual. Then a knock comes at the door, and Agatha goes outside to find a dazzlingly beautiful woman on horseback. When Felix sees the woman he is overcome with joy and, kissing her hand, calls her his “sweet Arabian.” His father and Agatha greet the woman warmly as well, and all their sadness seems to be dispelled by her arrival. The creature learns that the woman’s name is Safie and that she and the cottagers don’t speak each other’s languages. He follows along as Felix teaches Safie several words of his language, then listens as the young man converses about her with his father late into the night. The next day, Safie sings and plays the guitar so beautifully that it brings tears to the creature’s eyes.
Spring goes on, and life in the cottage continues much as before except that its inhabitants are happy. The creature spends his days learning the family’s language along with Safie and improves even more rapidly than she does. Felix reads to Safie from Volney’s Ruins of Empires, and from this book and Felix’s explanations the creature learns about human history and civilization. This new knowledge leads him to wonder about the nature of humanity, which seems to include both good and evil and inspires in him both admiration and loathing. Realizing that he is fundamentally different from the cottagers, the creature also wonders about his own nature. He has no idea where he came from, knows of no one else like him, and is tormented by the idea that he might be a monster doomed to isolation, never to enjoy the affections the cottagers bestow on one another. He learns about the social hierarchy, gender roles, family relationships, and death, and the more knowledge he gains, the more loneliness he suffers. The creature thinks of the cottagers as his “protectors” in what he refers to as an “innocent, half-painful self-deceit.”
The creature’s narrative becomes the third story-within-a-story in Frankenstein, as Walton tells Margaret the story told to him by Victor and to Victor by the creature. Essentially a full-grown newborn left to his own devices, the creature begins his life in a state of utter confusion. His progress mirrors that of the human race as he gradually comes to understand more about his surroundings and, in another allusion to the Prometheus myth, to discover fire, which can be seen as representing knowledge. The creature discovers that fire has the potential to be both beneficial and harmful. Unbeknownst to him, his creator, Victor, has already discovered a similar truth about scientific knowledge. The confusion and suffering the creature endures after being abandoned by Victor is pitiable and contrasts sharply with Victor’s view of his creation as a malevolent fiend. The creature’s appreciation of the beauty of birdsong and the moon mirrors Victor’s own love of nature while showing the creature’s sensitivity and initial innocence, while his fear of his own voice foreshadows the painful self-awareness the creature will come to develop—and the self-loathing he will come to feel. The wonder the creature feels when he watches the moon rise for the first time furthers the association between himself and the moon that began the night Victor brought him to life.
The creature unwittingly embarks on the path to becoming the “monster” who murders William when he enters the old man’s hut and is surprised to see its inhabitant scream and run away. This is the first sign the creature receives that his appearance is frightening, although he doesn’t understand this at the time. The old man’s behavior toward the creature echoes Victor’s and foreshadows the way people will continue to react to the creature in the future. Likewise, the creature’s surprise at the old man’s reaction, unthinking eating of the old man’s breakfast, and fascination with the humble cottage illustrates the creature’s innocence. Alluding to John Milton’s Paradise Lost—an important reference point for the creature throughout Frankenstein—the creature tells Victor the hut “presented to me then as exquisite and divine a retreat as Pandaemonium [hell’s capital city] appeared to the daemons of hell after their sufferings in the lake of fire.” With the villagers’ violent response to him the next day, however, the creature begins to lose his innocence, to fear showing himself to humans, and to catch a glimpse of the “barbarity of man.” The hovel in the forest becomes his “paradise” and his refuge from this barbarity. Although he has very little experience of interacting with human beings (and none, so far, that are positive), the creature is a keen and sympathetic observer of the cottagers: he notices their sadness, gentleness, and kindness, and he finds them beautiful. Rather than immediately becoming bitter toward humanity based on his treatment by the villagers, the creature instead comes to deeply admire the cottagers. This suggests that the creature is no mere “fiend” or “daemon” with an inherently malevolent nature as Victor seems to believe, but a person of deep feeling and great sensitivity who is overwhelmed by the beauty of the old man’s “divine” music and by the mingled “pain and pleasure” of watching the old man comfort Agatha. That night the creature hears, without understanding, a book read aloud for the first time, which hints at the importance books and reading will soon take on in his life.
The creature’s admiration of and love for the cottagers continues to grow as he watches them. “I longed to join them, but I dared not,” he says, as he remembers how he was treated by the villagers. To the creature, the cottagers’ lives look wonderful, but he realizes they are unhappy. The fact that he is “deeply affected” by their suffering shows that the creature feels the strong emotions that were so important to the Romantics. When the creature realizes that the cottagers are poor and that the younger two often go hungry so the old man can eat, he stops stealing their food and starts gathering firewood for them and clearing snow from their path. At this point the creature appears to be kind-hearted, altruistic, and eager to “restore happiness” to the cottagers and to avoid causing them pain—a far cry from the fiend Victor believes him to be. Indeed, the cottagers, who know the creature by his kind actions alone, think of him as a “good spirit,” and the creature’s compassion for the cottagers’ poverty echoes the concern Victor’s parents showed for the poor. Like Victor, the creature is also intelligent and curious, as illustrated by his desire to learn the “godlike science” of language and his rapid progress when he follows along as Felix teaches French to Safie, along with his naive but thoughtful response to what he learns from Ruins of Empires. Demonstrating his capacity for empathy, the creature says of the cottagers, “When they were unhappy, I felt depressed; when they rejoiced, I sympathised in their joys.” Victor, on the other hand, still finds it extremely difficult to empathize with a being he himself created. Largely out of a desire for fame, glory, and ultimate knowledge, he created a living being, only to immediately reject and abandon that being and decide it was a evil simply because it was ugly. While recovering from his illness, Victor thought only of his own suffering, never of the suffering he might have inflicted on the creature. Instead, he tried to forget what he had done, and his selfishness resulted in tragedy. Though Victor does feel some compassion for the creature when he agrees to go to his hut, his feelings toward his creation are still dominated by hatred and anger, and his emotions and actions now contrast with the love and kindness the creature feels for the cottagers.
When the creature sees his reflection in a pool of water, he understands, to his horror, why people are so afraid of him: “When I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” Seeing himself how the world sees him, the currently harmless creature internalizes the perception of himself as a monster—and eventually will come to embody that perception through his actions. “Alas! I did not yet entirely know the fatal effects of this miserable deformity,” he tells Victor. In addition to deeply upsetting him, this incident plants a seed of self-loathing in the creature’s mind. At this point he still believes that the “superior beings” in the cottage might come to love him in spite of his ugliness, but in the way he speaks about himself to Victor— calling himself a “foolish wretch,” for instance—it is evident that the creature has come to hate himself. For now, though, he still innocently hopes to win the cottagers’ hearts, growing more confident in his mastery of their language all the time. The creature’s soaring optimism at the beginning of spring echoes Victor’s own after his spring walking tour with Clerval, and he displays a similar Romantic love of nature: “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.”
Learning about human history from Ruins of Empires and Felix’s comments on it is fascinating but troubling to the creature. “Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?” he wonders. At first he doesn’t understand how one person could murder another, but as he hears more, he recognizes that humans have the capacity for both good—which fills him with admiration—and evil—which fills him with “disgust and loathing.” The creature is shown to be particularly empathetic when, along with Safie, he is moved to tears by what he learns about the genocide committed by European settlers against the indigenous peoples of the Americas. (This detail also echoes an earlier statement by Victor that the Americas should have been “discovered more gradually.”) The creature’s reactions to what he learns demonstrate the Romantic idea that people are born good, while evil is the result of harsh treatment by society. It also furthers the theme of the price or dangers of knowledge, a theme that runs through Victor’s side of the story and that relates to the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from paradise, which is retold in Paradise Lost. Like Adam when he eats the forbidden fruit, the creature gains knowledge of good and evil, but the knowledge brings him suffering and costs him his innocence. What the creature learns about human societies and families makes clear to him just how alone he is in the world, and his “sorrow only increased with knowledge.” Like Victor when he thinks it would be better to be an animal than a human, the creature wishes he had never left his “native wood” or felt human emotions. The loneliness imposed on the creature is a torment to him, and he longs more than anything to join the web of human relationships and experience the love and affection the cottagers enjoy. “What am I?” he wonders. Without a relationship to any other being, the creature strongly feels the lack of an identity or purpose. His anguish at being without friends or family not only contrasts with the happiness of the loving family in the cottage but with Victor’s idyllic upbringing. It also echoes the ill effects that isolating himself from his loved ones has had on Victor, first in Ingolstadt when he was building the creature and now in Belrive as he suffers his secret alone. The creature’s longing draws attention to the importance of family and to the selfishness of Victor’s unwise decision to neglect his loved ones for years. Without the positive influence of Elizabeth, Clerval, and Alphonse, Victor’s worst traits—his selfishness and obsessiveness—went unchecked. Unlike Victor, the creature has no choice in his alienation from society; he longs for the support and affection that has been denied him by Victor’s rejection and by human beings’ prejudice against physical deformity.
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