Isolation and Resentment in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, deals with two very distinct individuals: the young-but-foolish Victor Frankenstein and his creation, the “Monster”. Victor is the main focus of the novel for the beginning chapters, while the rest of the work focuses more on the development and actions of the Monster. The characters of Victor and the Monster are first brought together during the Monster’s creation in Chapter 4 (34).
It was Victor’s isolation from both his family and his peers that ultimately lead to his creation of the Monster, and it was the Monster’s feelings of isolation and resentment towards Victor that lead to his violent episodes.
While these feelings are evident in both characters’ actions throughout the majority of the novel, it was during the Monster’s statements to Captain Robert Walton towards the end of the story that drives home the fact that the Monster’s actions were products of his repeated rejections when he attempted to be accepted by society and as such are not indicative of his inherent nature.
It was these feelings of loneliness and resentment that drove both Victor and the Monster to their actions, and it is safe to assume that some of Shelley’s personal feelings of abandonment and resentment towards her mother bled through into her characters. These feelings are made evident by way of the diction of the characters, both elements of and deviations from the Gothic stereotype, the development of the characters throughout the story and the lack of any definite closure to the text.
Shelley’s use of eloquent and elaborate language by the main characters could be construed as ironic, in that such well-spoken characters have sunken into committing the most terrible of sins, namely those of murder and hubris. It is this irony that makes the isolation and resentment that Victor and the Monster feel stand out in the reader’s mind; two characters that are so articulate in their speech are reviled for their differences from the rest of society.
The sophisticated diction of the Monster in the final pages of the novel helps to lend a feeling of bitterness and remorse to the text. However, the Monster’s eloquent speech does not sway the Captain, as evidenced in the first line “I was at first touched…indignation was rekindled within me. ” (154). This shows that no matter how well-spoken an individual is and how sympathetic that person might be, normal society tends to shun those that are viewed as different, whether these differences are physical or in the way that they communicate.
Such eloquence, as evidenced in the Monster’s speech “Once I falsely hoped to meet…thoughts of honor and devotion” (154), is a direct product of how a person was raised; those that are raised in an environment where they are kept isolated, whether by choice or through the influence of society tend to develop such oratory skills as a way of hopefully being accepted by those around them. However, more often than not, such well-defined articulation of one’s thoughts leads to such a person being further isolated from society, and as such feeds feelings of isolation and resentment.
It was due to realistic depictions of societal reactions like these that helped to solidify Frankenstein’s place as a Gothic novel. Shelley uses many common elements of the Gothic novel in Frankenstein, and the themes of resentment and isolation can be connected to the characters through these elements. Victor is depicted as a “weak hero”, whose isolation from the world in the development of his creation leads him from an otherwise successful career as a scientist.
It could be inferred that Victor’s resentment towards his creation, whom he subsequently abandons, stems not only from his disgust with himself and what he has created, but also from the opportunities denied to him as a result of his irresponsible pursuit of bestowing life upon that which should remain lifeless. Although Victor knew that creating life through artificial means would be considered taboo by his peers, he decided to proceed with the project regardless, letting his scientific curiosity overtake his rational intellect.
After he brought the Monster to life, he was realized the irresponsibility of his actions. During this time, Victor had severe difficulties connecting to other people, and he gradually worked to further distance himself from the rest of society, which lead him into an extremely depressed state (. Although there were points in the novel where Victor was able to experience a very temporary reprieve from his mental torments, in his mind he would never be able to fully experience mental peace until one of them was dead.
In contrast to Victor’s rather weak characterization, the Monster could be depicted as the “hero” of the story, in that even while he is committing murders that should sicken the reader, he is still portrayed as a sympathetic character, whose actions are driven by his feelings of abandonment, betrayal and resentment that Victor engenders in him through his various actions, as well of those of human society in regards to the Monster [i. e. The Monster’s episode with Felix].
It is understandably unclear if any the characters can be definitively labeled as a hero or villain, for even though they both have committed acts worthy of abhorrence and disgust, in a sense, they could be considered to be victims of abuse and neglect as well. Due to this, it can be argued that both Victor and the Monster are accurate representatives of the Gothic hero/villain. A final example of Gothic elements that Shelley incorporates into her novel is that of the heroine in distress, in this case Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is a good example of a heroine because she is a strong female character who is independent and dedicated, especially to the Frankenstein family after Victor’s mother dies. However, she breaks the classic Gothic mold of a heroine by the fact that she is a patient woman who almost never takes action for herself, and it is for this reason as well as Victor’s negligence on their wedding night that she ends up being killed by the Monster in the novel.
Victor’s neglect towards Elizabeth on their wedding night could be due to his isolation during his developmental years, and as such was not comfortable in being tied down to Elizabeth. Victor appeared to have developed in a fairly normal manner, due to the fact that he had experienced a childhood that would be considered normal for the noble class in that time. This continues to be the case until he takes it upon himself match the power of God and attempt to bestow life.
From this point, his experiments and eventual creation become his only obsession, and he can no longer interact with other people, even those that he sees on a daily basis while at the college. Victor is unable to communicate with other in any meaningful way during this time, as his mind is always preoccupied with thoughts regarding the monster he is responsible for giving life to. Based on this behavior, it gives credence to the question if Victor ever matured any further as an individual once he arrived at the college.
In contrast, the Monster’s experiences during the period of his mental and emotional development were always abrupt and sometimes violent. This occurred when he realized that he would forever be rejected by the human race, as his physical appearance was so ghastly that all those that came in his presence were immediately stricken with fear as evidenced by Even his creator, Victor, who to the Monster’s understanding should love him even if others refused to, was so terrified of the Monster that he refused to fulfill his romise in making the Monster a companion. It is understandable that from that point on, “all joy was but a mockery” (116) to the Monster, and he decided that the sole purpose in his life was to destroy any and all the things that brought pleasure or comfort to his creator. These events are similar because they both represent periods in which these characters no longer are able to have significant social interactions with those around them. During his development, the monster was able to have many of the same experiences as a human would.
For example, he was able to feel a wide range of emotions, from pleasure to hate, even pride and remorse; he developed intellectually through both his learning from books and his [unpleasant] interactions with society; he learned [much in the way that a child does] to use his physical senses to tell him about his environment. However, because of his grotesque appearance, he was made to feel that he would never accepted as a member of human society, and many of his interactions with humans gave no reason to dissuade him from such a belief.
In Captain Walton’s final letter to his sister (154), he recounts the words that the monster speaks to him over Victor’s dead body. The eruption of angry self-pity the Monster displays brings into question the injustice of how he has been treated and compellingly captures and portrays the feelings of isolation and resentment he has experienced in regards to his interactions with society, providing both Walton and the reader a glimpse into the suffering that has motivated his actions.
It was these feelings that lead the Monster to disappear with Victor’s corpse, presumably to avoid contact with any others of mankind until he eventually dies; however, the ending of the text is rather ambiguous, so it is possible that the Monster decided to return to revenge himself upon mankind. At the closure of Frankenstein, Shelley does not provide a well-defined ending. The last line, reading “He sprung from the cabin-window…lost in darkness and distance” (156), leaves the reader responsible for deciding how they believe the story concluded.
The ending can be regarded as having been left open because although the story does provide a conclusion [in that it may be assumed that the creature took his own life after departing Walton’s ship], there is not enough concrete evidence provided in the text to prove beyond a doubt that this is indeed what occurred. It is entirely possible that the Monster would be unable to let go of his hatred of Victor, and by extension, mankind due to his isolation.
Just because his “creator” died does not necessarily mean that he could let his emotions go, and it is this possibility that shows just how differently people view things; the reader can make of the ending what they will, but they will never know for sure how Shelley would have ended it otherwise. Through the speech of the characters, the Gothic elements applied in the text, the characters’ developments and the rather obscure ending of Frankenstein, it is evidently clear that Mary Shelley believes that isolation and resentment play key roles in how people relate to others, and how they develop their own behaviors.
It is through the medium of her novel that allows her to express these beliefs, and she provides plenty of evidence in her text to back up these beliefs. The feelings of isolation and resentment that Victor and the Monster both felt towards society were key aspects of their personalities, and were the main driving forces behind their various actions made through the course of the text.
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