There is a reason Shelley’s novel was named for its main character – Victor is the embodiment of the duality of human life, at least to Mary Shelley. A native of Geneva, Switzerland, he grows up reading ancient alchemy texts and, we can assume, fantasizing of a life of the magic of the old sciences. By the time he reaches the university at Ingolstadt, the ideas he grew up with are useless, even detrimental, to the practice of then-modern day science. Shelley uses Victor here as a symbol of the new replacing the old – there are times when the new “forgets” lessons taught by the old.
In his time at the university, Victor adapts to the ideas of modern science and learns...
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The monster is the secondary focus in Frankenstein; after all, he is the result of Victor’s perverse view of science, and of life. Literally sewn together from old body parts and animated by arcane chemicals and what must be lightning, he enters life and the novel a hulking, eight feet tall newborn baby. His “father’s” first act is to disown and abandon him – is it any wonder he goes on a rampage? Mary Shelley seems to be using the Monster as both a product of modern science’s refusal to accept the natural world and as Victor’s “dark side.” It is as if the emotion Victor doesn’t seem to have has been transferred into the Monster, who has no idea how to deal with it.
He tries to join regular society, only to be rejected. He looks in a mirror and realizes he is ugly, a parody of a human being. Despite his naturally gentle, even loving nature, the Monster’s separation from humanity drives his growing rage toward the man who created him then left him to fend for himself in a world that has no place for him. Seeking revenge on his creator, he kills Victor's brother and demands that Victor create a woman like him so he won’t be alone. Victor double-crosses the monster, destroying his work on the female monster, and the Monster kills Victor's best friend, then his new wife, in return.
Shelley wants us to feel sympathy for the Monster – she seems to be saying that Victor is the true monster of the novel – and she does so by giving him a gentle, eloquent nature. He assists a group of poor peasants and saves a girl from drowning, but because of his outward appearance, he is rewarded only with beatings and disgust. Torn between revenge and his natural impulses, the monster is destined to be lonely and guilty over the deaths he has caused.
Even Victor’s death is a hollow victory; although the source of the Monster’s suffering is gone, he was truly the creature’s only connection to real life. Without his “father” to guide him, the monster trudges off into the snow and ice, presumably never to be seen again.
Frankenstein is a frame narrative – the story or stories told exist within a kind of “main story.” Robert Walton's letters to his sister are the frame around which the novel is based. Walton captains a North Pole-bound ship trapped in ice. While waiting for the ice to thaw, he and his crew pick up Victor, weak and withered from his journey of revenge. Victor recovers enough to tell Walton the story of his life, then dies when his story is finished. Walton had felt that he and Victor were beginning a genuine friendship, and he mourns the loss of this man he barely knew, whose life was such a mess.
Walton is more than just a convenient frame for the story of Victor Frankenstein; he is also a parallel to Victor in a way. Like Victor, Walton is an explorer, chasing after the unknown. Victor's influence on him causes him to at times cheer his newfound friend’s boldness and his journey, at other times to feel sorrow and fear at Victor’s abuse of both science and nature. In the end, he knows that Victor’s journey is not his, and wisely lets the monster go. Through Victor, Walton has learned his lesson.