The message, merits, and moral implications of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein have been long debated and discussed. Many recurring themes which are apt to surface in these conversations are those such as the woes of artificial creation and the “man is not God” argument. These themes have been so thoroughly explored and exploited that this essay could not possibly generate and original thought within the realms covered by these topics.
In order to formulate something remotely fresh and at least relatively interesting, this essay seeks to shift the focus to the less explored dilemmas which Shelley may have purposely or subconsciously woven into the classic novel. The very fact that Mary Shelley is a woman casts the already remarkable tale in an entirely new light. To read it objectively is improbable, if not impossible, because stories like this are simply not written by women.
As a matter of fact, there are some things—focusing on a thrilling plot for the sake of the thrill, centralizing characters like monsters and ghosts, prominently showcasing a male to male bond—that are seen from female authors so infrequently, the appearance of one or multiple aspects in a story would be a true shock. This is certainly not a knock against female authors! It is not at all an insult, actually. It is simply an analysis of the female niche in literature at a glance.
The fact that Shelley annihilated this mold with Frankenstein is a testament to her creativity, uniqueness and skill, setting her apart from all authors, male or female, and elevating her to a position of respect and glory which spans generations and gender. When taking into account the female psychology, attempting to ascertain what a female would consciously or subconsciously attempt to prove with the novel is interesting. While several smaller points are made by Shelley in the text, the most important and overall message of the novel is this: no man or laboratory can replace the natural maternal nature of the human mother.
The nurturing provided by a mother is the most necessary and vital experience of a child’s life and directly affects the person he becomes. While this process can be imitated with foster homes, day cares, orphanages and the like, only the direct bond between creator and creation will suffice to produce the best of outcomes. The first step is to show that Shelley intended for Victor to be viewed as a mother to his creation. The point that Victor is not a woman seems to enhance the idea that he is incapable of undertaking the tasks of a primary caregiver.
Given Victor’s masculinity, she uses the characters to “experiment” with a creator-child relationship in the absence of the maternal nature of a woman. To do so she alludes to the strong parallels connecting the relationships. At the end of Volume 1, Victor’s thoughts turn to how he would “spend each vital drop of blood for [the family’s sake]” (Shelley 90). This quote is a reference to the womb and the “lifeblood” shared by a family.
Each drop of blood circulating in a pregnant woman is shared by the fetus living within her as she literally creates the child in her womb. That blood is then shared by the next infant as mother and children grow together into a family united by this blood. Shelley is showing that just as Victor is bonded to his mother by blood, so too is he bonded with his Monster. This is not the first time Shelley portrays Victor as a motherly figure. In the description of the creation process, Shelley draws connections between it and a pregnancy many times.
To begin with, the overall concept of the creation of an infant and the creation of a monster are nearly identical. Victor speaks of the “power placed within his hands” to “bestow animation” on “lifeless matter;” matter which will eventually become an incredible system with innumerable “intricacies of fibers, muscles, and veins” (Shelley 54). Is this not the same thing that can be said of a mother? For she, too, creates an intricate being from nothing with an “anxiety which almost amounts to agony” in the pains of pregnancy and labor (58).
Having shown that Shelley intended for Victor to play the role of ‘mother’ in her analogy, focus will now shift to the ultimate point of the novel: The nurturing provided by a mother (Victor), is the most necessary and vital experience of a child’s life and directly affects the person he becomes. From the very beginning, Victor shirks the responsibility of nurture and literally runs from it. As the creature awakes he exclaims: “breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created; I rushed out of the room” (Shelley 58).
The Monster then immediately assumes the role of infant in the relationship as Victor says, “His eyes were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks” (Shelley 59). In the normal human realm this situation would be met with a dozen tear-filled eyes seeking to hold and coddle the creation. Unfortunately for the Monster, no such treatment is offered by Victor. Frankenstein leaves the Monster to fend for himself. The horrible consequences of this lack of nurturing follow with intensity and frequency.
This is proven by the rapidly building sense of confusion and loneliness within the monster. Feelings which are only multiplied by society’s general rejection of him. The Monster laments to Victor upon their reunion on these feelings, “no distinct ideas occupied my mind: all was confused. I felt light, and hunger and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sound rang in my ears and on all sides various scents saluted me” (Shelley 106). The Monster needed a person to provide some context for these sensations, he needed a nurturer to steer him through the difficult path of modern urban existence.
He knew essentially nothing and suffered for it. The Monster recalls in a story to Victor his finding of huts, cottages and houses: “The whole village was roused; some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country” (Shelley 109). Had Victor been there to guide and coach his creation through life as a mother does for her child, the Monster would have experienced exponentially less pain and suffering, if any at all. It was not just any instruction and care that the Monster desired.
He yearned for the specific life-training that can only be offered by one’s creator. Although he learned language, work and more from the cottagers he observed, nothing could replace that which only Victor as the creator could offer. The Monster details this in conversation with Victor, “Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant” he then complains of other calamities he faced before saying, “I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me: I tried to dispel them but sorrow only increased with knowledge” (Shelley 123).
It was not the “knowledge” he desired—he was clearly receiving a more than satisfactory education from the cottage dwellers—it was the relationship with his creator that mattered most, from which the knowledge comes as a bi-product. To ask if Victor learns his lesson is not debatable. Shelley gives him a clear second chance to reevaluate his decision and he chooses correctly. The Monster asks, or more so, demands, point blank that Victor create him a counterpart: “You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.
This you alone can do; and I demand it of you as a right which you must not refuse to concede” (Shelley 147). Initially, Victor refuses, even under the threat of torture. Then, with the Monster’s convincing words and pleas for empathy, Victor agreed under the condition that the monster banish himself and his bride to South America. One night, however, in the midst of creating the second being, Victor suddenly came to the realization that the creation of a second female would not necessarily be for the better and “made a solemn vow in [his] own heart never to resume [his] labors” (Shelley 171).
This resolution to not repeat his mistake shows that Victor recognized the error in his first creation. It is not the creation that was the problem. He obviously was more than capable of producing a counterpart for the first Monster, but realized that he could not provide the appropriate nurturing. He understood, finally, the main requirement of creation: the education and nurture of the creature to become what one intended for it to become, in other words, one has to finish the job.
Just as with every human birth, one cannot just bring the creature into the world and let it fend for itself. Frankenstein saw the limitations he had as a creator and made the responsible decision to never repeat his mistake. While the original purpose of this essay was to elaborate on Shelley and the ideas she wrote about as a female, the themes of the novel are too universal to be pinned down as something only a female could create. Creation, it turns out, involves two parts: the first is the giving of life, and the second is the nurturing of life.
As a female both of these are very prevalent, more so than with males, but this work shows that males are very responsible for creation. Maybe this entire book is a more than simple commentary on the need for males to step up into the second creation role to support their wives, or maybe it is just a good story about a monster and a man. Either way, Shelley produced a novel with incredibly far reaching themes which contains solid, undeniable arguments which were never touched by male authors, thus making Frankenstein one of the greatest novels of all time.