Last Updated on April 25, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2798
With no hope left of anything but revenge, Victor decides to leave Geneva and track down the creature but is uncertain of how to begin his pursuit. The day of his departure he wanders around town until nightfall, when he enters the cemetery and kneels before his family tomb. There...
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With no hope left of anything but revenge, Victor decides to leave Geneva and track down the creature but is uncertain of how to begin his pursuit. The day of his departure he wanders around town until nightfall, when he enters the cemetery and kneels before his family tomb. There he prays for help from the spirits of his loved ones and swears aloud that, although he no longer wants to live, he will spend the rest of his life pursuing the creature until either he or his creation is dead. Unseen in the darkness, the creature laughs and tells Victor he is satisfied with his creator’s decision before disappearing into the dark.
Led by slight clues and chance sightings, Victor follows the creature’s trail down the Rhone River, across the Black Sea, and into the Russian wilderness. Sometimes the people in the villages he passes through point him in the direction of the creature, and other times the creature himself leaves Victor clues. Victor also finds himself miraculously saved from danger and provided with food in his most desperate moments, which he attributes to the actions of the guiding spirits of his loved ones. At night he experiences blissful dreams of being with his father, Elizabeth, and Clerval in Switzerland. These dreams give him the strength to continue mechanically pursuing the creature during the day. The creature leaves notes commanding Victor to follow him into the Arctic wastes, pointing him toward food, and reminding him of the cold and suffering he will be made to endure until their final confrontation. After finding a note with instructions to prepare himself for the final leg of the journey, Victor acquires a sledge and dogs. He travels swiftly, gaining on the creature all the time, and soon arrives in a village on the coast. The villagers tell Victor the creature arrived last night and stole a sledge and dogs of his own before setting out across the sea of ice. At this news Victor almost loses hope, but he is driven onward by his burning desire for revenge and his belief that the spirits are encouraging him in his task. He exchanges his sledge for one suited to traveling across the ice and continues his pursuit.
After three weeks on the frozen sea, Victor has almost given in to despair. After one of his dogs dies following an exhausting trek up a mountain of ice, he looks out across the ocean and sees the creature in the distance. The sight of his nemesis causes Victor to weep with joy and renewed hope. He pursues the creature for two days but loses track of him when the ice breaks, leaving Victor stranded on a perpetually shrinking ice sheet. Several hours later he is amazed to see Walton’s ship, which he steers himself toward with oars made from his shattered sledge. He plans to ask for a boat in which to continue the chase but consents to come onboard when he learns the ship is heading north.
Now, having finished his tale, Victor wonders if he will live to fulfill his vengeance. Though he doesn’t expect Walton to seek the creature himself, he does ask the captain to kill the creature if he should ever come in contact with him. Walton’s record of Victor’s story ends here, and the captain continues his own narrative in further letters to his sister.
Letter of August 26th, 17–
Walton describes how Victor alternated between calm, agony, and rage as he spent a week telling his horrific story. Having read Felix and Safie’s letters and seen the creature himself from the ship, Walton is entirely convinced of the truth of Victor’s tale. Several times he has asked for details of the creature’s formation, but Victor is unwilling to see his mistakes repeated and refuses to elaborate. The two men often converse on other subjects, and Walton praises Victor’s eloquence and intelligence while lamenting the fact that he will lose the only true friend he has ever found if Victor dies. He tries to convince Victor to start a new life and form new relationships, but Victor replies that no one will ever be able to replace Elizabeth or Clerval. His life’s sole purpose now is to destroy the creature. Walton observes that Victor’s only happiness lies in dreaming of his dead loved ones, who he believes visit him in spirit, and he reluctantly acknowledges that the only peace his guest can hope to find lies in death.
Letter of September 2nd
Walton’s ship is trapped between mountains of ice. He worries he and his crew will all perish before the ice breaks and that his “mad schemes” will be to blame. The thought of his sister waiting in vain for his return to England particularly pains the captain, but he hopes she will live a happy life with her family even if he dies at sea. Victor encourages Walton not to lose hope, reminding him that sailors have survived similar situations many times before, and Walton feels his spirits lifted by his friend’s eloquence. The sailors also take temporary courage from Victor’s words, but with each passing day they become more anxious to escape the ice. Walton begins to fear a mutiny.
Letter of September 5th
The ship is still trapped in ice and in danger of being crushed. Several of the sailors have died, and Victor’s health is failing. In the morning a group of sailors demand to be let into Walton’s cabin, where on behalf of the whole crew they ask that if a passage through the ice opens, the captain will turn the ship southward rather than subject them to further peril. Walton is troubled by the idea of turning back but feels that he might not have the right to refuse the sailors’ request. While Walton hesitates to reply, Victor rouses himself from his sickbed to make an impassioned speech in which he exhorts the sailors to be brave and cling to their “glorious” purpose rather than abandon it at the first sign of danger. If they turn around now, he says, they will return home as cowards, but if they continue their quest they will be hailed as heroes. Exhausted by this speech, Victor sinks back into near-lifelessness. Walton tells the sailors to think about his friend’s words. If they insist on turning around, he will consent, but he hopes the crew will regain their courage. Personally, however, Walton would prefer to die at sea rather than face the shame of abandoning his goal.
Letter of September 7th
Walton agrees to abandon the voyage and turn southward if the ship is freed. His hopes of scientific discovery destroyed, he laments the fact that he will have to return home “ignorant and disappointed.”
Letter of September 12th
The ice breaks, opening a passage south, and to the joy of the crew, Walton gives the order to turn the ship toward England. Victor reacts to the news by telling Walton that, for his part, he will not give up his quest. Certain that the spirits he believes are guiding him will give him strength, he tries to leap out of bed but immediately faints. When he regains consciousness, the ship’s doctor privately tells Walton that Victor doesn’t have long to live. Later, as Walton sits by his friend’s bedside, Victor tells him that he no longer feels any hatred or vengefulness toward the creature, although he still believes his creation should be destroyed. He also believes he did the right thing by refusing to make the creature a companion who might have shared the creature’s propensity for vengeance and violence. Aware that he is close to death, Victor renews his request that Walton finish his task for him by destroying the creature, assuring the captain that what he first asked out of a desire for revenge he now asks out of “reason and virtue.” Despite his fear that the creature might live to wreak further havoc, Victor says he feels happy for the first time in years and sees his dead loved ones waiting for him. He advises Walton to choose peace over ambition but acknowledges that others might succeed in their ambitions where he himself has failed. Half an hour later, Victor dies. Walton mourns the loss of his friend and the failure of his expedition but hopes he will find solace at home.
That night, Walton hears a hoarse voice coming from the room where Victor’s body lies. He enters to find the creature standing over Victor’s coffin. The captain is horrified by the creature’s hideous face, but when the creature darts toward the window, Walton asks him to stay. The creature pauses. Turning back to Victor’s body, he declares that his life is complete now that he has destroyed his creator, and he laments that he can no longer beg Victor’s forgiveness. Though Walton had intended to destroy the creature as Victor asked, he finds himself moved to compassion by the creature’s words. When the creature continues to reproach himself, however, Walton points out that his remorse is useless now and that if he had heeded it sooner, Victor would still be alive. The creature replies that he has been tormented by remorse ever since he began to wreak his vengeance. After murdering Clerval he was overcome by self-loathing and pity for his creator, but when he saw that Victor was preparing to marry, the creature was overcome by envy. He felt compelled to fulfill his earlier promise to seek revenge on Victor’s wedding night even though he believed killing Elizabeth would bring him agony. After her murder, however, the creature began to exult in evil and despair, becoming wholly focused on completing his revenge. Now that Victor is dead, the creature has finally accomplished his goal.
Walton is moved by this speech until he remembers that Victor warned him of the creature’s powers of persuasion. He accuses the creature of mourning Victor’s death only because the “hypocritical fiend” can now no longer torment his creator. The creature denies this but says he doesn’t expect sympathy. His dreams of being loved, accepted, and virtuous have all been destroyed, and he considers himself the most miserable and malignant being on earth. He points out that Victor’s story couldn’t have captured the misery the creature endured and questions why he should be treated like a criminal when those who have rejected and harmed him are regarded as blameless. Nevertheless, the creature acknowledges that he has committed terrible crimes, for which he hates himself. He tells Walton he plans to travel as far north as possible, where he will build himself a funeral pyre and gladly die in the flames. For all the suffering Victor endured, the creature believes he has endured worse. Only in death can he hope to be relieved of his misery and guilt. After bidding the captain farewell, Victor Frankenstein’s creature leaps out the cabin window and disappears into the darkness on a sheet of ice.
Without the joy and meaning he once found in family, friendship, science, and the divine majesty of nature, hunting down the creature he abandoned becomes the sole purpose of Victor’s life. He describes his pursuit of the creature as “more as a task enjoined by heaven, as the mechanical impulse of some power of which I was unconscious, than as the ardent desire of my soul.” Likewise, the creature’s sole purpose is now to make his creator suffer as long as possible by leading him into the Arctic wastes: “you live, and my power is complete,” he writes in one of his notes to Victor. Creature and creator are locked in a struggle that constitutes the only purpose or meaning left to either of them and that can end only in death. For Walton, the Arctic is—or, at least, was at the start of his voyage—a land of mystery, wonder, and poetry, but in Victor’s case the Arctic reflects the barrenness and isolation of his ruined life. More bleak even than the island where he assembled and destroyed the creature’s companion, the harsh lifelessness of the sea of ice contrasts with the lush, gentle beauty of Switzerland, where he grew up surrounded by love and happiness.
In Walton’s final letters, his admiration for Victor appears untarnished by the tale he has just heard—a tale which is sometimes interpreted as portraying Victor as being as or more monstrous than the creature. On his deathbed, Victor himself comes to the questionable conclusion that he bears no blame for his past actions. He does, however, lament that, while he once believed he was destined for greatness, he has now sunk into “degradation.” Just as the creature has done several times, Victor compares himself to Satan: “All my speculations and hopes are as nothing; and, like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell.” The creature has achieved his revenge in forcing Victor to suffer the same internal suffering he has himself endured, except that Victor at least has the memories of his loved ones and the belief that he will see them in the afterlife to comfort him. Later, after being encountered by Walton following Victor’s death, the creature echoes Victor’s words when he compares himself to Satan for the last time: “But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.”
Victor’s advice to Walton is somewhat contradictory in these final letters. Although his entire life story would seem to warn against the selfish, single-minded pursuit of scientific ambition, he delivers an impassioned speech to Walton and the sailors in which he urges them not to give up their “glorious expedition” but to continue north and become “benefactors of your species”—exactly what Victor dreamed of being when he decided to form the creature. “This ice,” he tells them, “is not made of such stuff as your hearts may be; it is mutable, and cannot withstand you, if you say that it shall not.” Victor appears to retain his belief that humans can—and should—conquer and control the forces of nature in the name of knowledge. Just before he dies, though, he advises Walton to “Seek happiness in tranquillity, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries,” adding that, then again, it is possible that others might succeed where he has failed. The fact that Walton agrees to turn the ship around and return home can be taken as evidence that the captain has learned, if reluctantly, from Victor’s experiences, just as Victor hoped he might when he first began to tell his story.
Walton later finds the creature standing over Victor’s dead body with his hand extended. The creature’s posture echoes the way in which, on the night he was brought to life, he stood over Victor while he slept, then extended one hand as if to “detain” his creator as Victor fled. In Walton’s conversation with the creature, the reader receives the creature’s point of view (through the medium of Walton’s letter) one last time. In contrast to Victor, who decided on his deathbed that his past actions were not “blameable,” and who didn’t feel he had done wrong by the “daemon” he had created, the creature is consumed by remorse and self-loathing because of his actions and wishes he could ask Victor to forgive him.
Like Victor when he encountered the creature on Montanvert, Walton is appalled by the creature’s appearance, and he struggles with mixed emotions of compassion and anger as the creature speaks. Interestingly, Walton loses sympathy for the creature when he recalls that Victor warned him about the creature’s eloquence—a trait Walton previously ascribed to Victor himself and ardently praised. Victor died believing himself basically blameless and the creature a malevolent being that should be destroyed, while the creature—although he still believes he has been treated unjustly by hypocritical humankind—goes to his death believing himself a “malignant devil” and Victor “the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men.” At the same time, he believes his overwhelming sense of remorse has made his anguish far worse than Victor’s ever was. In the end, both creature and creator die as beings broken by suffering, and both welcome death as an end to their pain.