Responsibility as a Theme in Frankenstein Essay
The novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley appeared in 1818. It describes the problems of modern science and its consequences for humanity. The uniqueness of the novel is that Frankenstein has literary merits to ‘frighten and amaze’ (Mellor 45). There is much historical interest in the work as an example of various strains and aspects of Romanticism (Mellor 45).
Through the character of Victor, Mary Shelley portrays different stages of personal development. He underlines that real maturity is when the person accepts full responsibility for his actions, scientific discoveries, and their impact on humanity.
From the very beginning, Victor, the main character of the novel, is depicted as an immature personality, unable to accept responsibilities for his actions and researches. Only when the creature disappears, Victor jumps to the conclusion that his monster is the murderer of his brother. “I considered the being … nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave and forced to destroy all that was dear to me” (Shelley 2007).
At this point, the unfortunate Victor faces a moral dilemma: should he reveal to the authorities the existence of his dangerous creation? He decides not to and offers two reasons. First, he will be thought mad; second, the creature is too agile to admit capture.
It is worth considering whether these reasons seem adequate to explain Victor’s silence, which protects both the monster and himself (Peterfreund 79). “His position is rendered still more reprehensible when he returns to his family and discovers that the innocent Justine is accused of the murder, that she will be tried that very day and that the evidence against her looks damning” (Mellor 75). Still, Victor does nothing to save Justine and unveil his terrible secrets.
Fears and lack of courage are the main factors that prevent Victor from accepting responsibility for his actions and behavior. In general, a mature personality can answer for the consequences of his actions and behavior. In contrast, Victor finds his task increasingly revolting and begins to think of arguments against the responsibilities of a scientist. He fears that his creatures might breed and people the planet with monsters.
He speaks of the false but persuasive arguments. For instance, Justine is condemned to death, and after the trial, it is revealed that she has confessed her guilt (but she is not guilty) (Mellor 38). Victor explains: “I at once gave up my former occupations, set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation” (Shelley). When things go wrong, Victor understands that he cannot control his creation and is helpless to prevent his murders.
The turning point of the novel comes when Victor destroys his new creature, horrified by unpredictable consequences. When Victor feels ill, he confesses himself guilty of murdering William, Justine, and Clerval, thus associating himself yet again with the deeds of the monster.
He is in prison, but Mr. Kirwin is a good-natured and understanding man who does his best to help the sick man (Mellor 40). He brings Victor’s father to him, and Victor is at length acquitted of Clerval’s murder. “I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt. Soon these burning miseries will be extinct” (Shelley 2007). He speaks of his original benevolence and the miserable loneliness of his condition.
In sum, through the character of Victor, Shelley portrays that a person matures when he can accept responsibilities for his actions and their consequences. When Victor ‘matures’ and admits his guilt, he understands that freedom has no value to him, the world has no comforts for any unfortunate soul who bears guilt and remorse within him.
Mellor, Anne Mary Shelley: Her Life Her Fiction Her Monsters. New York: Routledge, 1989.
Peterfreund, S. Composing What May Not Be “Sad Trash”: A Reconsideration of Mary Shelley’s Use of Paracelsus in Frankenstein. Studies in Romanticism 43 (2004): 79.
Shelley, M. Frankenstein, 2007.
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