Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1
From Italy they visited Germany and France. I, their eldest child, was born in Naples, and as an infant accompanied them in their rambles. I remained for several years their only child. Much as they were attached to each other, they seemed to draw inexhaustible stores of affection from a very mine of love to bestow them upon me. My mother’s tender caresses, and my father’s smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me, are my first recollections. I was their plaything and their idol, and something better—their child, the innocent and helpless creature bestowed in them by Heaven, whom to bring up to good, and whose future lot fulfilled their duties towards me. With this deep consciousness of what they owed towards the being to which they had given life, added to the active spirit of tenderness that animated both, it may be imagined that while during every hour of my infant life I received a lesson of patience, of charity, and of self-control, I was so guided by a silken cord that all seemed but one train of enjoyment to me.
On board Robert Walton’s ship bound for the Arctic, an ill and tortured Victor Frankenstein tells Walton his life story. His father, Alphonse, was a gentleman, whose kindness of heart led him to marry the daughter of his best friend after her father’s death. Saved from poverty, she in her turn develops a compassion and charity to those in similar, desperate situations. Having the financial resources to travel, the couple journeys around Europe, settling for a time in Italy. When their firstborn son, Victor, arrives, they shower him with love. He is the center of their lives, and they hold of highest importance the duty they have in raising a loving and honorable son. Therefore Victor grows up with lessons of patience, charity, and self-control imprinted on his heart. The Frankensteins’ understanding of their roles as parents will be a sharp contrast to the role Victor assumes as a creator toward his creature.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 2
Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by such slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity or ruin. When I look back, it seems to me as if this almost miraculous change of inclination and will was the immediate suggest of the guardian angel of my life—the last effort made by the spirit of preservation to avert the storm that was even then hanging in the stars, and ready to envelope me. Her victory was announced by an unusual tranquility and gladness of soul, which followed the relinquishing of my ancient and latterly tormenting studies. It was thus that I was to be taught to associate evil with their prosecution, happiness with their disregard.It was a strong effort of the spirit of good; but it was ineffectual. Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction.
As a youth, Victor Frankenstein became interested in the study of alchemy and read all he could get his hands on about this proto-science that endeavored to change base metals to gold. Though his father warns him that such writings are “trash,” Victor continues his studies. One day, he observes lightning strike a tree. From that event his attentions turn to more “acceptable” studies, the causes of natural incidents, like lightning. On reflection, Victor believes that this is an opportunity presented him by Providence to turn away from the path that Destiny has chosen for him. If he had remained interested in pure natural science, his life would have been different, and the lives of...
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those he loved would have been saved from death. To Victor, this is the last chance that he has to refuse the call of Fate, which seems to want him to destroy himself and others.
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 9
...Sleep fled from my eyes; I wandered like an evil spirit, for I had committed deeds of mischief beyond description horrible, and more, much more (I persuaded myself), was yet behind. Yet my heart overflowed with kindness, and the love of virtue. I had begun life with benevolent intentions, and thirsted for the moment when I should put them in practice, and make myself useful to my fellow-beings. Now all was blasted: instead of that serenity of conscience, which allowed me to look back upon the past with self-satisfaction, and from thence to gather promise of new hopes, I was seized by remorse and the sense of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures, such as no language can describe.
Victor flees from his apartments, realizing the implications of what he has done in bringing his creature to life. He wanders the streets of Ingolstadt until Henry Clerval, his childhood friend from home, arrives and discovers him. Falling into a fever, Victor is ill for several months. During his studies and his subsequent illness, Victor does not return to his family in Geneva for six years. He has fallen into lack of communication while working on the creature. Now, Victor prepares to return home at some point when he receives word that his youngest brother, William, has been murdered. Returning home, he spots his creature in the countryside and becomes convinced that this monster he created is the killer. Victor is in a quandary when Justine, the beloved friend and servant of Elizabeth, is convicted and executed for the murder. Knowing that now he has the blood of two people on his hands, Victor departs from Geneva in order to find some peace.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Victor Frankenstein in many ways is a mirror image of his creature. Much like the protagonist in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Victor and the monster are the separate facets of the composite nature of the individual. The prospects of both good and evil are present in each person, much like both Victor and his creation enter into the world as good, and eventually choose the side of evil to pursue their own individual destinies.
Victor was born into a loving family, the parents of which held to the tabula rasa principle of education that was a staple of Enlightenment philosophy. A person is born good. It is society that turns him to evil. Thus, with their child-rearing methods, Alphonse and Caroline Frankenstein raised a child to be good, loving, and compassionate. By all interpretations of Enlightenment thinking, therefore, Victor should have been a noble character.
Yet Victor comes to a crossroads in his youth. He could continue with the education of his parents, or he could choose to follow his own hubris, placing himself in the role of God creating a man. Victor himself, not his upbringing or society, is responsible for his fall.
The turning point in Victor’s life is his interest in alchemy, especially in the prolongation or creation of life. Though long disproved as viable, this ancient science appealed to Victor, especially following the untimely death of his mother. In creating the monster Victor desires to create life. Afterwards, when the full realization of the consequences of his actions becomes apparent, Victor still desires to control life by destroying it.
Victor sees in hindsight that Fate has given him the opportunity to turn away from his so-called “Destiny of Destruction.” His interest in natural science is a way out of his obsession, yet he shuns it. When the creature comes to life, Victor Frankenstein has passed the point of no return.
By refusing to identify himself as the creator of the monster who causes the deaths of William and Justine, Victor identified himself instead as the equal of the monster. As the creature wanders “as an evil spirit,” so too does Victor. His description of himself as he wanders through the Alps could easily have been a description of the creature. Both have committed evil against the laws of nature. Both have put themselves in the place of God, by choosing who lives and who dies. Both are created in a condition of goodness, love, and virtue. Both follow their own wills at the expense of others.
It is perhaps for this reason that Victor lets slip through his fingers the numerous opportunities to destroy the creature. He submits to the creature’ plea that he create a mate for him. He cannot destroy him, but he is able to do his bidding in order that the monster will depart from Europe and thus out of his life. But to end the life he created seems to be beyond his power. It would be the same as committing suicide. In the end, it is the creature who most deeply realizes this; he truly grieves for the death of his creator. His justification for revenge is gone. Victor could not accept, though subconsciously he knew that it was he, and not his creature, who was the true monster.