Victor Frankenstein: Trodden Hero or Veiled Villain?

Victor Frankenstein: Trodden Hero or Veiled Villain?
Mary Shelley’s masterpiece analyzed. Essay by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-02-20 —
PDF version (80 KB).

Victor Frankenstein suffers decision paralysis in any time of crisis. While valiant in his struggles to create life, he immediately becomes the coward, assuming his creation to be a menace and running from it in terror: “one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs” (Shelley 51). It’s hard to trust Victor to be a reliable narrator, when he claims helplessness with such vigor, for example, in the second encounter with his monster, he recounts, “I thought of pursuing the devil, but it would have been in vain” (70). When the creature kills little William and frames Justine, Victor does nothing to save her from her unjust execution: “a declaration would have been considered as the ravings of a madman and would not have exculpated her who suffered through me” (76). He is merely pacifying his conscious with a shallow justification.

This aversion to action is a persistent theme throughout the novel. These examples just scratch the surface:
• “I could not answer” (83).
• “The being finished speaking and fixed his looks upon me in the expectation of a reply. But I was bewildered, perplexed, and unable to arrange my ideas sufficiently” (146).
• “I would have seized him, but he eluded me” (172).
• “I was unable to pursue the train of thought . . . and I wept bitterly” (189). Frankenstein finds solace in crying over his dilemma.

This is his flawed argument for destroying the female monster: “she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness” (169). Has Victor not already heard the monster’s lengthy tale of how he became soured on humanity? It is established that the monster’s malice is due to others mistreating him, so Victor’s argument seems merely an excuse to abandon his work.

Dr. Frankenstein continually underestimates the being’s malice and power. Even after two murders, he taunts, “you may torture me, but I will never consent” (146). Is he so blind to not see that he is condemning his friends and family to death, rather than himself? Further, he interprets “I shall be with you on your wedding-night” (172) to mean that Elizabeth is not in danger. He looks ahead: “in that hour I should die and at once satisfy and extinguish his malice,” the only negative being the “tears and endless sorrow, when [Elizabeth] should find her lover so barbarously snatched from her” (173). Victor justifies going forward with the wedding, purporting that the monster will do what he pleases anyway: “he did not consider that threat as binding him . . . he had murdered Clerval immediately” (194). Yet somehow, he is shocked and dismayed when it Elizabeth that is murdered (202). Did he not hear his creature’s pleas for a companion, or is he blind to both apportioned revenge, and the axiom, “misery loves company”? Is not the death of Victor’s wife the most logical revenge for the death of the monster’s would-be wife? The monster promises such revenge outright: “Shall each man . . . find a wife for his bosom . . . and I be alone? . . . Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness?” He goes on to say, “you shall repent of the injuries you inflict” (172), foreshadowing drawn out misery for the doctor, rather than a hasty death. Apparently, Mr. Frankenstein never learns.

Why did Shelley write Victor this way? First, we can identify a literary element: if Victor stops the monster before he commits murders, the book would not be interesting. But it is more—perhaps it is because we are so quick to trust and empathize with Victor, as he is the narrator throughout the tale, that we must come to see, through his indifference, he is actually more evil than his creation. When I first read the book, I pegged Frankenstein as good. Even though he admits to being the murderer several times, such as this lamentation: “I, not in deed, but in effect, was the true murderer” (88), to me, he is only crying for help, like Justine’s coerced confession (81-82). However, through the above analysis, we find that Frankenstein is apt to be an unreliable narrator, biased to support his inaction. His warning of the monster: “he is eloquent and persuasive; and once his words had even power over my heart: but trust him not” (216), may better describe himself. As in legal tort, he has a “duty to rescue” his family from his now malevolent creation, yet he continually ignores it; his best idea is repeatedly shouting “wretched devil!” and “abhorred monster!” (95), followed by promising to create a woman, only to “[tear it] to pieces” (170). For the monster, this is sadistic torment, but the doctor excuses himself again, claiming it to be preferable to “[inflicting] this curse upon everlasting generations” (170). In the words of Edmund Burke, “no passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear,” and I see that Frankenstein is crippled by fear, wavering on any decision. Shelley has written a subtle allegory between the lines: do not believe narration immediately, as even if it appears trustworthy, it is always written in the interests of the narrator. Frankenstein tells us many times that his fate is sealed: “destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction” (33), but he really is a man who loves misery—a murderer through negligence, who wishes for pity in his twisted account. He is the real devil.

Going further, there is a connection that suggests Frankenstein subconsciously desires William and Justine to be struck dead. As a youth, he thinks of Elizabeth as “[his] more than sister, since till death she was to be [his] only” (26). In her ominous letter, she writes to the newly homesick Victor, “Justine has returned to us, and I assure you I love her tenderly,” and “little darling William” has “sweet laughing blue eyes, dark eyelashes, and curling hair” (60). His reluctance to pursue the monster (70) or exonerate Justine (76) could be out of selfishness—he will now have Elizabeth’s love all to himself, despite her crushed spirit.

But wait—are you ready to take this to the next level? Maybe, just maybe, Frankenstein and his monster are one in the same. Frankenstein is Dr. Jekyll and the monster is Mr. Hyde, not through a scientific transformation, but dualistic personalities. Whenever the two appear together, be it in their discussions in the mountains, or encounters in the forest or arctic, there is no one around to see them. This quote is merely Frankenstein’s dark side overtaking him: “you are my creator, but I am your master; — obey!” (171). After Elizabeth’s murder, Frankenstein recollects, “I rushed towards the window, and drawing a pistol from my bosom, fired; but he eluded me” (202), followed by the monster vanishing, not to be found even after a search of several hours in and about the lake. Frankenstein himself admits, “we returned hopeless, most of my companions believing it to have been a form conjured up by my fancy” (202). Perhaps this is the truth? Afterwards, Victor mourns, “a fiend had snatched from me every hope of future happiness; no creature had ever been so miserable as I was” (203). Remaining “silent when [he] would have given the world to have confided the fatal secret” (191), I see that the secret is not that he created a monster; the secret is that he is the monster. This intensifies his guilt and seclusion, adds weight to his terrible illness and remorse, and gives truth to the statement he makes in his nightmarish haze: “Justine, poor unhappy Justine, was as innocent as I, and she suffered the same charge; she died for it; and I am the cause of this — I murdered her. William, Justine, Henry — they all died by my hands” (190). This is not the remorse of a moral but self-blaming man, but rather the admission of a bipolar assassin who is tortured by having no one with whom to share his monstrous deeds. When he says about the dæmon: “once his words even had power over my heart” (216), he is talking about the dark side of his conscious. The whole act of creating a woman is to satisfy Frankenstein himself; he realizes that Elizabeth would never be his wife if she knew he was a blood-thirsty murderer, and so he wants a monster so that “we shall be more attached to one another,” “cut off from all the world” (147). I propose that all the references to monstrousness are metaphors for Victor’s black heart, and that Shelley has created a work of art that is truly Romantic; the entire novel miserable and revolutionary, a battle of light versus dark, good versus evil, all wrapped up in one self-contradictory character. Shelley, by writing in such a complex undertone, has given her novel depth; it is infinitely more interesting than the standard good versus bad, white hat versus black hat, or even the edgier hubris (flaw of arrogance). The dualism is in the narrator’s very statements: “Justine . . . was as innocent as I,” yet “they all died by my hands” (190); the inactive reader skips right over it. Frankenstein is the veiled villain.

Work Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Random House, 1992.

28 thoughts on “Victor Frankenstein: Trodden Hero or Veiled Villain?

  1. First of all I wanted to say thank you for the upload, it has provided a very useful alternative perspective on Frankenstein. But I had a few questions for you. I understand how you have justified why Frankenstein wished Justine and William to be dead, but what about his father? Though the monster doesn’t kill Victor’s father, he still dies because of the grief regarding his children’s deaths. Also, could Frankenstein’s lack of action to protect Elizabeth equal an unconscious desire for her to die as well? So, if Frankenstein wanted Elizabeth all to himself, so to speak, why would he leave her for dead?
    Sorry for all the questions but your essay did spark some curiosity. :)

  2. I’ve got to admit, the only problem I can see with your logic is the fact that Victor is seen together with the Creature, in the same room, by Walton. I know it’s possible that Victor wrote the letters himself after killing Walton, but it’s highly unlikely considering he wouldn’t have been let on the ship in the first place, had it not been for Walton.
    Also, if Victor had killed Walton, there would have been a violent struggle with the crew members and the story/letters would likely have been left incomplete, perhaps in the middle of a word or sentence. Other than that, you have a unique outlook on Mary Shelley’s story and I wish I could reference this article in my essay, but we aren’t discussing the same things.

  3. Richard, what was your background when you wrote this? I have to do an evaluation of a critical analysis, and I’d like to use yours, but I have to have some credentials on the author in order to know who you are, possible bias’, etc.

    You can email me directly or answer on here, either way. You bring up some good points that I hadn’t thought about. Thanks.

  4. this is loads of help for my argumentative essay! thanks! :big-grin:

    • Hey,it would be awesome if i could see that back round information on Frakenstein,i have a pretty big essay to write too, anything would be a great help..

  5. Good analysis.. Thank you for sharing..

    I think it doesn’t matter whether or not Victor is the true monster, the bottom line is that he becomes the monster’s accomplice (willing or unwilling), which is just as bad as being the monster himself..

  6. in chapter 16 why does the creature feel justified in killling innocent people?

    • Because society rebukes him. Nobody loves him no matter what he dies. Just like what happened with the DeLacey’s. He bent over backwards to make their lives easier, but the second they saw him, they freaked out. To him, nobody could love him.

  7. Pingback: Heartless People

    • It’s not. After reading it a second time, there are countless flaws in the logic. I’m not trying to be a contrarian, I’m honestly not, but the gaps that Richard has skipped over negate the majority of this essay.

  8. Then how do you reconcile Walton seeing and interacting with the monster at the end of the story? Walton IS the narrator, even though Victor is the one telling the story. The brunt of the story, although admittedly recalled by Victor, was written down by Walton, who ended up seeing the monster interact with Victor at the end of the story. Although the Tyler Durden split personality seems to fit in with a great deal of the story, it is inherently flawed. However, if you were to say that Victor imposed his darkest wishes into the psyche of the monster or that the monster was merely an avenue for Victor to eliminate “those who were in his way,” it would hold much more weight.

    You definitely know your stuff, but I do have one more issue, which is when you state:
    “I propose that all the references to monstrousness are metaphors for Victor’s black heart, and that Shelley has created a work of art that is truly Romantic; the entire novel miserable and revolutionary, a battle of light versus dark, good versus evil, all wrapped up in one self-contradictory character.”
    Come on, you’re better than that.

    • Yes, but Victor stays stuck in his head the whole novel. Obviously the monster is real (in the terms of the fictional novel), but Victor creates it and is too afraid to stop it or do anything about it later. I know Walton sees Victor and the monster, but maybe he was just making up a story in his mind.

      • Victor does do something to stop it, which is chase it into the Arctic, knowing full well that the monster is just toying with him and can kill him any time it wants. Victor understands that by chasing it, he is simply playing a game and keeping the monster away from the rest of society. And I don’t understand what you are alluding to by stating that “Victor stays stuck in his head the whole novel.” There is no denying that this is true, but the reason is because he was dying, and as for your comment “Maybe he was just making up a story in his mind,” that can be said about a great deal of novels, however, if he is making this story up, he sort of makes himself out to be a kind of a prick, which doesn’t seem like something a man like Victor would do.

        On a side note, I really respect you for commenting back. I don’t want it to seem like I was attacking you, I am just trying to open a dialogue.

        • What if Victor Frankenstein was the monster, killed Walton, and wrote the letters himself. In his sickness he does say he is the murderer.

      • do you have a works cited for this web page? i would also like to study your words of wisdom!

        • Thanks! There’s only one source:

          Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Random House, 1992.

          Most of the essay is my interpretation of Victor the scientist with citations from the book.

          • i do not think that the essay was good because i dont understand how you would think that Frankenstein would have wanted elizabeth to be dead. They were destined for each other so to speak. because he said that he was “bestowed upon [his parents] by heaven and that Elizabeth appeared like an angel./ so no i do not agree with your work!!

          • You have to read my whole essay to understand it. Why didn’t Victor defend Elizabeth? When I was reading the book, it seemed pretty obvious that the monster was going to kill Elizabeth yet Victor Frankenstein acts surprised. He also refuses to tell the truth many times in the book out of social fear, even when someone is about to be executed for murder falsely. Victor is culpable for murder.

  9. o ya I didnt plagiarize any of your work but your literary analysis helped me see victor in a way I never considered before now I
    i decided to do my thesis statement as. (Is Victor Frankenstein a victim of circumstance, or is he responsible for his own
    distruction) thankyou again :!: :smile:

    • You’re welcome, and congratulations on passing! Whenever I’m writing essays I look up other peoples work to get different viewpoints too. :smile:

  10. Dude thanks to you i passed my eng.4 class for the year ty. :grin:

  11. this is a good website because im doing my home wrok which is ” who is the real villian in this novel ” and i had troulble with this task and you have answered all my questions

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