At a Glance
- Both Victor Frankenstein and the Creature are victims of isolation. At first, Victor's isolation is self-imposed, a result of his intense scientific study. Later, the Creature's rage at being made an outcast leads him to isolate Victor by means of violence and intimidation.
- Nature and its subversion are important themes in Frankenstein. Victor breaks the laws of nature when he raises the Creature from the dead. His arrogance results in chaos and destruction.
- Nothing is quite what it seems in Frankenstein. Though the Creature may look monstrous, he is a thoughtful, sympathetic creature driven to violence by circumstance rather than nature.
Victor Frankenstein is a brilliant, rational, and self-centered man who comes to understand the importance of friendship, family, and love. His monster is brutal and destructive but also rational and eloquent and longs for affection and companionship. Although these two at times seem antithetical, their characters also complement one another.
Frankenstein's creation of the monster is a supreme rational and imaginative effort, as he himself explains: "My imagination was vivid, yet my powers of analysis and application were intense; by the union of these qualities I conceived the idea and executed the creation of a man." After the monster's creation, the union between Frankenstein's imagination and intellect disintegrates. Like Hamlet, he is plagued by doubt and inaction: he decides to destroy the monster yet pities him; he decides to make a female monster but destroys her; he knows the monster is plotting revenge, but mistakenly assumes he is the target.
The monster, too, is a strange combination of unbalanced intellect and emotion. As the product of Frankenstein's reason, he represents reason in isolation. Yet, he tells Walton, "my heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy." When first the De Laceys reject him in horror and then Frankenstein refuses him any kind of companionship, the monster's tender emotions turn to poisoned selfishness and envy. Even revenge brings him only frustration and misery, "wasting in impotent passions." While the monster destroys Frankenstein's hopes, he does not satisfy his own desires.
Besides the unresolvable clash between intellect and emotions, analysis and imagination, Shelley's Frankenstein bears other traces of Romantic thought, although questioned rather than wholly accepted. Nature with its variety for the Romantics provided a source of wonder and a source of healing for man. In his deepest distress Frankenstein seeks to draw vitality from his surroundings. His fiancee Elizabeth encourages him, "Observe . . . how the clouds . . . render this scene of beauty still more interesting. Look also at the innumerable fish that are swimming in the clear waters . . . What a divine day! How happy and serene all nature appears!" Yet nature's joys are impermanent. Just when the mountains cause Frankenstein's heart to swell with joy, the monster appears; just after Elizabeth has enjoyed the clouds and clear water, the fiend murders her. Nature is at best apathetic to man: It destroys as well as preserves, creates lightning as well as sunshine.
Alienation and Loneliness
Mary Shelley's emphasis on the Faust legend, or the quest to conquer the unknown at the cost of one's humanity, forms a central theme of the novel. The reader continually sees Victor favor his ambition above his friendships and family. Created by a German writer named Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Faust myth suggested that the superior individual could throw off the shackles of traditional conventions and alienate himself from society. English Romantic poets, who assumed the status of poet-prophets, believed that only in solitude could they produce great poetry. In Frankenstein , however, isolation only leads to despair. Readers get the distinct feeling that Victor's inquisitive nature causes his emotional and physical peril because he cannot balance his intellectual and social interactions....
(The entire section is 2,677 words.)