Last Updated on April 25, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4721
In Chapter Six, the creature learns the cottagers’ story. The family’s last name is De Lacey, and until a few months before the creature’s arrival they enjoyed a life of wealth and comfort in Paris, where Felix and Agatha’s father, whom the creature refers to as De Lacey, was a...
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In Chapter Six, the creature learns the cottagers’ story. The family’s last name is De Lacey, and until a few months before the creature’s arrival they enjoyed a life of wealth and comfort in Paris, where Felix and Agatha’s father, whom the creature refers to as De Lacey, was a respected politician. One day, Felix happened to be present at the trial of a Turkish merchant who was wrongfully sentenced to death. The sentence caused widespread outrage, and Felix was so horrified that he resolved to save the merchant. He visited the man’s cell by night and informed him that he planned to help him escape. The merchant promised to reward him, but Felix refused until he met the merchant’s daughter, Safie, who had arrived from Constantinople the same day her father was arrested. The merchant saw that Felix was enchanted with his daughter and promised him her hand in marriage. Felix declined out of politeness but still hoped the marriage would take place. While Felix planned her father’s escape, Safie sent him letters she wrote with the help of a French-speaking servant. (The creature still has copies he made of these letters and promises to give them to Victor to prove his story.) Safie told Felix that her mother was an Arab Christian who was sold into slavery before marrying Safie’s father, who is Muslim. Before Safie’s mother died, she raised her daughter as a Christian and taught her to aspire to an independent and intellectual life. Safie now dreaded the prospect of returning to Turkey, where she wouldn’t be able to enjoy the same freedoms she would in Paris. Nevertheless, she accompanied her father when he escaped from prison the night before his execution, aided by Felix, who conducted the two of them to the Tuscan port city of Leghorn. Safie’s father renewed his promise to allow his daughter and Felix to marry, and Felix remained with them while the merchant waited for an opportunity to cross the Turkish border. Meanwhile the two young people conversed through an interpreter and grew ever closer. Secretly, Safie’s father was opposed to the idea of his daughter marrying a Christian, but he continued to deceive the lovers out of fear that Felix might betray his whereabouts to the French government.
Not long after their arrival in Leghorn, Felix received news that the government had discovered his plot and that his father and Agatha, who had hidden themselves in a remote corner of Paris, had been imprisoned. He returned to Paris hoping to free them by turning himself in, first arranging for Safie to stay at a convent in Leghorn if her father should have an opportunity to return to Turkey while Felix was away. Felix and his family ended up spending five months in prison before being exiled from France with their fortune confiscated. They took refuge at the cottage in Germany, where Felix received an insultingly small amount of money from the merchant along with the devastating news that he and his daughter had left Italy. In reality, believing his whereabouts to have been found out, the merchant had suddenly sailed for Constantinople alone, leaving Safie in the care of a servant until she could follow with the rest of his things. Safie, however, was outraged by her father’s command to forget the now-impoverished Felix, and she had no intention of returning to Turkey. When she learned of Felix’s exile, she gathered her money and jewels and left for Germany with her attendant, a Turkish-speaking girl from Leghorn. In a town not far from the De Laceys’ cottage, her attendant fell ill and died in spite of Safie’s attempts to nurse her back to health. Luckily, Safie knew the name of the cottage’s location, and the woman who lived in the house where she had been staying ensured that Safie arrived there safely. When the creature learns this story he is deeply affected, regarding it as further evidence of the cottagers’ goodness.
One August night in the forest, the creature finds a trunk containing clothes and books. He takes the trunk back to his hovel and discovers that the books are French editions of Paradise Lost, Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter. Through these books, the creature experiences new depths of emotion and learns a great deal about human beings. He greatly admires Werter, whose lofty feelings he can relate to, and he weeps at the young hero’s suicide without entirely understanding it. Though he finds himself in some ways similar to the characters in the novel, the creature is plagued by doubt about his own nature, which he knows to be essentially different from theirs. From Plutarch the creature learns of the rulers of ancient Greece and Rome, which further develops his love of virtue and hatred of vice (though he confesses to Victor that his understanding of these terms was limited at the time). Paradise Lost has the most significant effect on the creature. He sees himself as somewhat similar to Adam in that he is entirely alone in the world as Adam originally was, but very different in that Adam was created perfect and happy and was protected and educated by his creator. Instead, the creature often identifies more with the character of Satan because of the envy he feels for the happiness enjoyed by his “protectors.” Now that he is confident in his reading abilities, the creature also begins to read a journal he found in the pocket of the clothes he took from Victor’s room. In this journal Victor recorded every grotesque detail of how he formed the creature. As he reads of his origins, the creature is overcome by disgust and despair. He curses Victor for making him so hideous and alone, pointing out that even Satan had companions in his fellow fallen angels. Still, the creature is resolved to introduce himself to the cottagers, convinced that they will respond to his admiration of them with compassion.
As he waits for the right time to reveal himself, the creature observes several positive changes in the cottagers’ lives. Not only has Safie’s presence raised their spirits, but they now have servants whose help leaves the cottagers more time to enjoy themselves. The creature, however, grows more tormented all the time, resenting the fact that his creator has abandoned him and that, unlike Adam in Paradise Lost, he has no Eve to offer him sympathy. The onset of autumn brings him additional distress until he sees that the cottagers continue to be as happy as before, which only increases his longing to share in their affections. He decides he will introduce himself to Felix and Agatha’s father when the old man is alone in the cottage. Being blind, De Lacey won’t be frightened by the creature’s appearance.
One winter day the young people go for a walk, the servants go to a fair, and De Lacey sits alone in the cottage, deep in thought. The creature is extremely nervous about executing his plan, but eventually he gathers his courage and knocks at the door. He tells the old man he is a traveler in need of rest and is invited in. When De Lacey asks if the creature is French, the creature responds that he was educated by a French family and is on his way to ask protection of some nearby French friends. Though these friends are kind, and though the creature loves them and even performs acts of kindness toward them, he is terrified that they will think he means them harm and reject him as a monster. Sensing his guest’s sincerity, De Lacey asks the creature to tell him his story and offers to help him earn his friends’ trust. The creature is filled with gratitude, but when De Lacey asks him his friends’ names, the creature is so overwhelmed that he begins to weep. Just then he hears the young people returning and, grasping De Lacey’s hand, confesses that the old man and his family are the friends he spoke of. He begs De Lacey to protect him. When the young people enter the cottage, however, things do not go as the creature hoped. Agatha faints, Safie runs away, and Felix knocks the creature to the floor before hitting him with a stick. The creature escapes before Felix can strike him again, then returns to his hovel in anguish.
That night the creature wanders the woods, howling with rage and despair. Sinking to the ground, he vows to wage war on humanity and on Victor in particular. When the sun rises, however, he feels calmer and thinks that all might not be lost with the cottagers. He decides to try to talk to De Lacey again in the hope that old man will advocate for the creature to his children. After an afternoon nap troubled by nightmares about the previous day’s events, the creature returns to his hovel by night and waits for the cottagers to wake up. They never appear, however, and the cottage remains dark. Eventually the creature sees Felix approach the cottage along with the landlord. He learns from their conversation that the De Laceys have decided to abandon the cottage due to the shock of the previous day, which has endangered De Lacey’s life and left Safie and Agatha terrified. After Felix and the landlord leave, the creature never sees any of the De Laceys again. He spends the day despairing in his hovel, where he experiences the feelings of hatred and revenge for the first time. That night, in a fit of rage, he sets fire to the cottage and watches it burn.
The creature decides to make his way to Geneva, which Victor’s journal identifies as his hometown. Though he feels nothing but hatred for his creator, the creature believes Victor is the only human being from whom he can seek pity or justice. He spends the winter traveling by night, growing more bitter and vengeful all the time. One beautiful morning in early spring, the creature decides to continue walking through the woods after sunrise. Momentarily forgetting his misery, he begins to cry tears of happiness. At the edge of the woods he comes to a river, where he sees a young girl slip and fall into the water. The creature rescues her, but as he attempts to revive her on the shore, a man appears and tears the girl away. The man flees back into the woods and, without quite knowing why, the creature follows. The man responds by turning around and shooting him in the shoulder with his gun. Enraged at being repaid for his good deed in this manner, the creature renews his vow to seek vengeance on humanity. He spends the next several weeks recovering in the forest while contemplating revenge.
The creature reaches the countryside around Geneva about two months after recovering from his injury. While resting from his travels he sees a small boy run by. Reasoning that the boy must be too young and innocent to fear his ugliness, the creature decides to make the child his friend. As soon as the creature grabs him, however, the boy screams, calls him a monster, and threatens him with retribution from his father—M. Frankenstein. Realizing the boy is related to Victor, the creature strangles William, then exults in his new ability to make his creator suffer. The creature is attracted by the miniature of Caroline that William wears around his neck and takes it with him, although the thought of how the woman in the miniature would fear and shun him fills him with rage. After he leaves William’s body on the grass, the creature comes to a barn, where he sees a young woman sleeping on the straw. Incensed by the thought that he will never receive affection from this or any woman, the creature places the necklace in the young woman’s clothes. This way, the creature thinks, she will be rightly (in his opinion) forced to pay for a crime he committed because of the loneliness inflicted on him by people like her. For several days the creature lurks near the scene of his crime, then wanders into the mountains, where he encounters Victor. Now, sitting with Victor in his hut, the creature finally puts his request to his creator: He wants Victor to create him a female companion who, being as hideous as the creature himself, won’t be able to refuse his love.
Victor is initially bewildered by the creature’s request. While his anger toward the creature receded during the first part of the creature’s tale, he is now overcome with rage at the description of the creature’s crimes against William and Justine, and he says that nothing could convince him to create another evil being like the creature. The creature argues that he only commits evil deeds because he is treated so cruelly and vows to utterly destroy Victor’s life if Victor doesn’t do what he asks. He explains that he would gladly show kindness to any human being who showed him the same, but that he knows this can never be; his only hope of ever experiencing sympathy lies in Victor creating him a companion. Victor is moved, though he remains apprehensive. The creature promises that if Victor grants his request, he and his mate will journey to South America, where they will live a peaceful life far away from humankind. Victor becomes skeptical. If the creature longs for human sympathy, he says, he will inevitably seek out people again and respond to their rejection with violence, this time with the help of his companion. Victor refuses to be responsible for this, but the creature swears his “evil passions” will disappear when he has a mate. Though Victor finds himself unable to truly sympathize with the creature, who still inspires feelings of disgust and hatred in him, he feels he has no right to deny his creation this one chance at contentment. After reflecting on the creature’s promises and threats, Victor decides it is his duty to both his creation and his fellow humans—the creature’s potential victims—to grant the creature’s request. He consents on the condition that the creature and his mate leave Europe and every place where people live as soon as Victor has fulfilled his end of the bargain. The creature agrees. He tells Victor he will be anxiously observing his progress, then rushes down the mountain and disappears across the glacier. Depressed, Victor descends the mountain slowly, and as night falls he feels oppressed by his surroundings. In the morning he goes straight to Geneva, where his family is alarmed to see how haggard he looks. For his part, Victor feels as though he no longer has a right to his family’s companionship. At the same time, it is his desire to save them from the creature’s wrath that propels him toward his new all-consuming goal.
The cottagers’ story, which the creature tells in Chapter Six, forms the innermost story in Frankenstein’s nested series of narratives: the creature learns it from the cottagers and tells it to Victor, who tells it to Walton, who tells it to his sister. The creature says of what he learns, “It impressed me deeply. I learned, from the views of social life which it developed, to admire their [the cottagers’] virtues and to deprecate the vices of mankind.” His response shows his romanticization of the cottagers as well as the innocence and goodness he still possesses. The fact that the cottagers were exiled is perhaps part of the reason the creature feels a kinship with them: although they were originally respected and well-liked members of Parisian society, the De Laceys became outcasts when they were banished and deprived of their fortune, and now they are outsiders in rural Germany. Due to the unique circumstances of his “birth” and appearance, the creature may be more of an outsider than anyone on earth, and he fervently hopes these fellow outsiders will accept him into the happiness and love they have created for themselves in spite of being—like Adam and Eve, Satan, and the creature himself—rejected and exiled. The knowledge the creature has gained from the cottagers’ history (and, earlier, from Ruins of Empires) of how unjustly people can treat each other only increases his admiration for the cottagers, who he sees as superior both to himself and to other human beings.
Though he knows his appearance is almost certain to horrify the cottagers at first, the creature hopes to eventually be welcomed into their family as Safie has been. The beliefs with which Safie was raised by her Arab Christian mother made Safie an outsider in Turkey, just as her nationality and language made her an outsider in Paris, but the De Laceys have lovingly accepted her—as well as aided in her cultural assimilation by teaching her French. The De Laceys’ “adoption” of Safie into their family echoes the Frankensteins’ adoption of Elizabeth Lavenza, whose noble origins made her an outsider in the peasant family with whom she lived and who, though fully assimilated into the family almost at once, is different from the Swiss Frankensteins due to her Italian background and lack of blood relation to them. As a Muslim Turk, Safie’s father is an outsider as well, and the French government’s discomfort with his ethnicity, religion, and material success led him to be unjustly sentenced to death. Safie emerges as perhaps the strongest female character in Frankenstein when the creature recounts how she disobeyed her father and chose to reunite with Felix rather than return to Constantinople, reaching the De Laceys’ cottage only after a difficult journey through unfamiliar territory. (Elizabeth, in particular, appears passive and submissive to the men around her by contrast.) Safie’s story also reveals Mary Shelley’s Eurocentric cultural bias in that, as in most Western writing of the time, Christianity is portrayed as the religion of the enlightened and Europe as the land of the free, while Islam and the Middle East are characterized as rigid, confining, and desperately dissatisfying to Safie’s independent, intellectual nature. At the same time, Shelley condemns the prejudice the French government displays by “barbarically” sentencing Safie’s father to death on the basis of his nationality and faith—yet the wrongfully sentenced man ultimately turns out to be deceitful and cruel. Accepting otherness may be a moral obligation in Frankenstein, but only when that otherness can be readily assimilated into the prevailing cultural paradigm. While Safie is able to immediately and seamlessly fill the role of a wife to Felix, a sister to Agatha, and a daughter to De Lacey, the creature’s possible roles are much less clear. The unprecedented and grotesque nature of his origins renders him much more of a foreigner in relation to the De Laceys than Safie could ever be, and while Safie’s “angelic” beauty endears her to others at first sight, the creature’s “daemonic” deformity inspires only revulsion.
As he tells his story to Victor, the creature no longer has any hopes of being welcomed by Victor as Safie was by Felix and his family. The creature’s offer to show Felix and Safie’s letters to Victor, however, does display his desire to prove he is telling the truth and thereby win some measure of trust and sympathy from his creator. The fact that Felix brings suffering on his family by helping Safie’s father to escape from prison echoes the suffering Victor brings on his family by creating and then abandoning the creature. Both are idealistic young men from wealthy families who pursue reckless schemes, but Felix’s family knows and apparently approves of his plan, while Victor’s family remains ignorant. Additionally, Felix’s scheme is initially motivated by a desire to right a wrong, while Victor’s is mainly motivated by a desire for personal glory.
The creature’s discovery of the books in the forest marks a crucial point in his development and understanding of himself and the world. He naively believes the books to be “true histories,” and his relationship with these texts forms yet another layer in the complex combination of narratives that comprises Frankenstein. The Sorrows of Werter (usually translated as The Sorrows of Young Werther in English) is a novel by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that influenced the later Romantic movement. The hero, Werter (or Werther), is a passionate and sensitive young artist who commits suicide after facing unrequited love and rejection by society. Though he considers Werter to be a “divine” and superior being, the creature relates to the character’s strong emotions, longing for love, and outsider status, while the “gentle and domestic manners” described in the novel remind the creature of the cottagers. The motif of suicide, which began with Victor’s suicidal thoughts following Justine’s execution, reappears when the creature weeps for Werter’s death and can be seen as an instance of foreshadowing, along with the fact that from the novel the creature learns about “despondency and gloom.” While reading Plutarch’s Lives, which explores the moral character of famous Greeks and Romans, the creature is introduced to “high thoughts” and further develops his own sense of morality. He feels a passionate admiration of peace and virtue and a horror of violence and vice, although he still has only a limited understanding of these concepts. The theme of nature versus nurture resurfaces when the creature reflects that his preference for the “peaceable lawgivers” described in Lives is due, at least in part, to the fact that he has learned about humanity from the peaceful cottagers. “Perhaps,” he says, “if my first introduction to humanity had been made by a young soldier, burning for glory and slaughter, I should have been imbued with different sensations.” In Shelley’s view, people may be born kind and gentle, but character is ultimately shaped by society and the way a person is treated.
English author John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, which retells the biblical story of how God cast Satan out of Heaven and Adam and Eve out of Paradise, is the book that makes the deepest impression on the creature. His comparison of himself to both Adam and Satan is woven throughout the book, with Adam a model of what the creature feels he should have been to Victor but Satan ultimately a “more fitting emblem” of his state. Like Satan, the creature has been cast out by his creator, but as the creature points out multiple times in the novel, even Satan had the other fallen angels to keep him company in hell. In Frankenstein’s creature, Mary Shelley has created a character whose suffering and sense of rejection is greater even than Satan’s, because he is completely alone. The creature’s identification with Satan’s bitter envy of others’ happiness strikes an ominous chord that is further developed by the horror and despair he feels about his origins and abandonment when he reads Victor’s journal. Significantly, the creature yearns not only to be accepted by his creator but to be comforted by a female companion as Adam is by Eve. Like Adam and Eve, however, the creature has lost his innocence by learning about humanity’s capacity for both virtue and vice—metaphorically eating from the biblical Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. His alienated state is further emphasized by the fact that while the cottagers seem to be growing happier and closer with one another all the time, the creature is only growing lonelier and more anguished. When he finally gathers the courage to speak to De Lacey, the old man’s statement that, although he cannot see his guest’s face, he is convinced of the sincerity of the creature’s words and wishes to help him suggests that the creature is not inherently evil but a victim of human prejudice. De Lacey’s comforting words about the love and charity in unprejudiced hearts take on a sadly ironic tone when Agatha, Safie, and Felix return and, respectively, faint, run away, and attack the creature.
“Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live?” the creature asks when he confronts Victor on the glacier. “Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed?” These types of direct appeals to Victor keep the creature’s tale grounded in Victor’s own narrative and remind the reader that Victor is listening to the story in the creature’s hut in the mountains—or rather, listened and then retold the story to Walton, who retold it to Margaret. They also involve Victor in the tale and make explicit the fact that the creature holds Victor responsible for his suffering. The creature’s story rejoins Victor’s in Chapter Eight when he commits his first act of revenge against his creator—and his first murder—by strangling William in Plainpalais. Already bitter and miserable at having been shot after rescuing the young girl from the river—not to mention rejected by the cottagers and abandoned by Victor—the creature is now forced to realize that even an innocent-looking child is bound to react to him with fear and prejudice. This time the creature takes rather than saves a child’s life, and Victor and the reader receive confirmation that the creature is indeed William’s murderer. The rage and torment the creature displays at his inability to ever experience romantic love hints at the demand he makes at the end of the chapter: that Victor create him a mate. It also motivates him to frame Justine: “The thought was madness; it stirred the fiend within me—not I, but she, shall suffer; the murder I have committed because I am forever robbed of all that she could give me, she shall atone. The crime had its source in her: be hers the punishment!” He attributes his ability to commit this act to “the lessons of Felix and the sanguinary laws of man.”
The creature has lost his innocence and his belief in the goodness of humankind, and he now exults not in virtuous ideals but in his newfound power to make Victor suffer. The two options he offers Victor—that he will either live a completely peaceful life with his mate in the wilderness or utterly destroy Victor’s life—exemplify the human capacity for both good and evil that forms one of the novel’s central themes. “I am malicious because I am miserable,” the creature tells Victor. “Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind?” Here, Shelley has the creature argue in favor of the Romantic idea that evil is not inherent in human beings but results from being abused by society. At this point the creature has proven himself to have all the emotions, thoughts, and desires of not only a human being, but a human being at least as intelligent, passionate, flawed, and complicated as Victor himself, if not more so. For his part, Victor does feel some compassion for the creature, but he is unable to overcome his horror and hatred of the creature’s ugliness enough to truly sympathize with him; and while the creature has long contemplated the relationship between Victor and himself, this is the first time Victor has considered that he might have a duty toward the creature as his creator. As he climbs miserably back down the mountain, Victor no longer feels the presence of the natural world as a sublime source of joy and comfort but as an oppressive, destructive force. When he arrives in Geneva he finds himself even less able than before to take comfort in his family’s love, and his sense of isolation echoes the creature’s: “I felt as if I were placed under a ban—as if I had no right to claim their sympathies—as if never more might I enjoy companionship with them. Yet even thus I loved them to adoration.”