Victor Frankenstein

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Last Updated on October 24, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1109

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Victor Frankenstein is introduced as a tortured man on his deathbed, bent on destroying the creature he arrogantly brought into existence. However, in his youth, he was a bright and curious boy full of boundless optimism who hoped to leave a lasting impression on humanity. Born in Geneva, Switzerland, to doting parents, Victor leads a happy childhood. As a child, he was fascinated by the writings of ancient alchemists, which spurred his interest in studying immortality. After he enters the University of Ingolstadt, he learns to combine his love for mysticism with more modern methodologies.

Victor’s chief scientific pursuit is to answer fundamental questions about life and death. Specifically, he hopes to overcome death and create a new species of superhumans, who he believes will “bless” him as their “creator and source.” Victor’s motivations for creating the creature are complex, and, as he narrates his life to Walton, he seems torn between blaming fate for his misfortunes and accepting responsibility for his actions.

Victor’s initial fascination with overcoming death can be traced back to his childhood obsession with alchemy. Though eventually won over by modern scientific concepts, like chemistry, Victor never loses his interest in mysticism. The derision he faces as a result only seems to spur him forward, leading him to combine modern methods with ancient philosophies. The death of his mother also greatly impacts Victor. He comes to view humans as deficient and artless in their mortality, and he aspires to better humanity through his scientific work.

However, Victor’s vision of himself as the “creator and source” of a new, better species suggests that his motivation is rooted in arrogance rather than altruism. Victor does want to advance humanity, but he hopes that by doing so, he will be the recipient of the love and gratitude due to a god. Just as the Greek Titan Prometheus sculpted humans out of clay, Victor sculpts what he hopes will be the first member of his superior race out of dead tissue. Just as Prometheus gave fire to humanity, a gift they were not meant to receive, Victor attempts to give the secret of immortality to humanity. Yet while Prometheus loved and nurtured his creations, going so far as to steal fire from the Greek gods for them, Victor is disgusted by his creation, fleeing from the creature’s hideous countenance.

By rejecting the creature, Victor fails as a creator. Whereas Prometheus was punished for defying the Greek gods out of his love for humanity, Victor is punished for refusing to take responsibility for his creation. Whereas Prometheus was loved by his creations, Victor is reviled. Though Victor aspires to godhood, he proves inadequate. In rejecting instead of loving his creation, Victor inadvertently condemns his creature to a life of suffering and loneliness. As the creature exacts his revenge, Victor is punished for his transgressions against the natural order and against his hapless creation. By a twist of fate, Victor’s endeavor to reanimate dead tissue is successful, but his rejection of the creature results in misery instead of glory.

The overarching theme of Victor’s story is that knowledge comes at a price. In Victor’s case, that price is his relationships with his friends and family, his sanity, and, ultimately, his life. Though surrounded by loving friends and family members, Victor isolates himself in his pursuit of forbidden knowledge. The more he learns about the secrets of life and death, the more he withdraws from his mentors and loved ones. In the months leading up to his successful creation of the creature, Victor begins shunning his “fellow-creatures as if [he] had been guilty of a crime.”

As Victor tells his story to Walton, he seems to believe that fate was aligned against him from the beginning and that it was his destiny to pursue his unnatural goals. He comes to view his creation as a monster, which “heaven” and “destiny” have called upon him to destroy. However, the narrative seems to suggest that neither fate nor the creature are the true villains of Victor’s story. Unlike the creature, who faced rejection from all he met, Victor’s isolation is self-imposed. Perhaps fate led Victor to pursue the secrets of immortality, but it was Victor’s own arrogance and irresponsibility that unleashed the creature on the world, cementing his status as a tragic hero.

Ultimately, Victor has no one to blame for his downfall but himself. The creature can be read as an extension of Victor in that he embodies Victor’s self-destructive pursuit of forbidden knowledge.  Not only is the creature a direct result of Victor’s pursuits, but he also dramatizes the self-destructive essence of Victor’s illicit research by preventing Victor from reintegrating into normal life. After the creature is brought to life and Victor sees the hideous results of his transgressions, Victor takes solace in the company of his family and friends, coming to appreciate the beauty of nature once again. However, the creature inevitably intrudes on Victor's attempts to return to his idyllic childhood by murdering his youngest brother and inadvertently causing the persecution and death of the family servant, Justine.

The tragedies that befall Victor after his creation of the “monster” symbolize the incompatibility of Victor’s newfound knowledge with the joys of companionship. On another level, the creature also comes to resemble Victor in his pursuit of knowledge. As he discovers his own capacity for destruction and his utter repugnance in the eyes of humanity, the creature descends into sin and evil, betraying his own conscience. He ultimately learns, much as Victor did, that guilt isolates him, even from himself.

During a trip to the glaciers of Mount Blanc, Victor is confronted by the creature, who requests that Victor create a female companion for him. The creature wishes to be released from his isolation, but Victor can only view his creation as a demon unworthy of compassion; he curses not only the creature but also himself, highlighting his inability to see past his own selfish actions.

By the end of the novel, Victor is miserable and isolated. As he tells his story to Walton, he cautions the young explorer against pursuing knowledge and claims that true happiness is best found in naivete. Though finally able to admit his own folly in attempting to defy nature and overcome death, he remains unwilling to acknowledge his role in the creature’s descent into evil. Victor never reconciles with the creature, nor does he express remorse for abandoning his creation. He dies unable to acknowledge the humanity of his creation nor the monstrousness within his own nature.

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