The Monster Inside of His Head
Mankind has had a troubled history with knowledge. From its humble origins in the biblical creation myths, the first humans are warned of the consequences of seeking too much truth. The consequences for betraying that command were unparalleled, leaving the early humans to wander the world regretting their sins. Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein falls into a similar situation. The young Victor is free to engage in human relationships and study his interests. He is, in short, allowed to be human. His goals are subservient, if not necessarily dependent upon, his intrinsic humanity. However, as his fascination with natural philosophy grows, he begins to sacrifice his humanity to reach his newfound ultimate end: the reanimation of a body. What was once a conquest into uncharted scientific territory becomes a maniacal journey to satisfy an unquenchable internal ambition. While forming his creature, Victor Frankenstein undergoes a transformation from a well-intentioned seeker of knowledge to a being far less human than his own creation.
Victor Frankenstein’s interest in natural philosophy, though certainly frowned upon, is largely responsible for the Creature’s creation. However, before rejecting the product of his endeavors, Frankenstein sees his efforts, particularly while at university, as part of a larger adventure into a realm not yet understood. He seeks to blaze a new trail for the world to follow, saying before his experimentation that “So much has been done, more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation,” (47). Before Victor recognizes the truly grim nature of his future undertakings, his labor is merely a means to an end. His discoveries and the knowledge gained from them are the ultimate goal. Despite the lofty and undeniably ambitious tone of his proclamation, Victor makes it clear that the end to which his actions direct themselves is the gathering of understanding, not selfish fame. As he states before, “The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember.” (22-23) His actions are a manifestation of an intrinsic curiosity with which all humans are imbued and his excitement at early successes are understandable. However, the natural curiosity seems to be slowly transforming into an inflated sense of purpose, the task overcoming the initial goals of the experiment.
Despite (relatively) humble beginnings, Frankenstein’s “project” begins to take upon a far more sinister bent. In what should be a self-expressive activity that represents a valid personal interest and a truly noble intent, Victor eventually sacrifices his humanity and curiosity to complete his task. His creation consumes him. He is a slave to an entity that does not yet exist. His only reason for living is no longer the seeking of truth by means of self-expression and friendships but the completion of the task. The means have become their own end. To reach his newfound, perhaps unknown, goal, Victor isolates himself. His body is no longer a manifestation of himself but merely a mistreated vehicle to complete a task. Victor himself admits that he “…had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” (42) As stated by Raymond Bradford, “…Victors process of creation parallels Marx’s doctrine…by suggesting that when individuals prostitute life activity for other ends….Victor alienates himself from…himself, and from his friends, family, and colleagues.” (2) Before his creature is even created, Victor is already under its influence. He has sacrificed his humanity at the twisted altar--- the operating table.
“Frankenstein wants to be creator, to become as a god….What is the goal for all of us: to become immortal for having done something, or to become immortal in the real sense, to stitch together the real fabric of life and create that life?”
The author of the above statement makes the interesting point that Frankenstein’s true intent was not to unleash a being set upon destroying his life but to bring forth a new creation upon the world—for good or for ill. Though certainly selfish, Victor’s goals are quite clear in that his primary aim is knowledge, not merely the completion of the task itself. It is important to note however, that the reasoning behind the experiment were far more important than the means to do so. The work is a manifestation of Victor’s humanity and intrinsic curiosity rather than a mindless form of servitude to a then-unborn master. This devotion also shows that Victor has a tendency to commit himself entirely to a cause, first to achieve figurative immortality and later to achieve its corporeal counterpart. But it is very possible that both the author and Victor fail to recognize that the “real fabric of life” is not of bodily origins. It is set of ideals, personal relationships and empathy that Victor ultimately forgoes as he progresses through the novel. His labor was not merely an action to be remembered by but also an abandonment of the true, if not understood or recognized by the doctor, virtues of the experiment: to replicate humanity in all its forms. He failed, just not where the reader may first think. Shelley makes a statement in her story that a person is more than the sum of its different parts, that independent thought and emotions are distinctly human qualities. Qualities that Victor failed to see in his creation and failed to understand upon its animation. He serves the creature before its birth, but his hatred towards it shows his lack of humanity, setting the stage for his eventual maniacal quest.
Victor’s curiosity gives way to a form of slavery. As mentioned above, what was once a study into the nature of human creation becomes a soulless form of unconscious suicide. Appalled by his “atrocity,” Victor isolates himself from his friends and family as he himself states that “I saw an insurmountable barrier between me and my fellow men,” (151). Much like the Creature, he lacks a fundamental part of what it truly means to be human: friendship. He also spurns distinctly human qualities of compassion, respect, and love, when addressing his “son,” simply because it is ugly. But he allows it to control him nonetheless, a process best described by Bradford when he states that “Workers fashion alien, independent powers in which they fail to see themselves.” Such a statement rings eerily true for Victor’s situation. He fails to see that his flaws are more clearly manifested in the creature. He finds a degraded moral compass in his “monster” but largely fails to find the same quality in himself. He laments the Creature’s propensity to violence, but never sees his own sins. He finds a gruesome exterior upon his creature, but cannot see how it represents the true nature of his own rejected humanity. The Creature is an outward manifestation of Victor Frankenstein’s inner world. And Frankenstein never gave it the compassion it deserved, nor even showed it the noble qualities humanity is known to have.
Upon its animation Victor has been consumed by his creation in thought and in action. Victor begins his journey, as stated above, seeking knowledge to replicate and sustain human life. His relationships fade away and the brilliance that made such creation possible gives way to a justified paranoia. His compassion for his progeny was stillborn. The fabric of humanity discussed above was torn apart by Victor’s blind ambition to a task; the same ambition would force him to chase after the Creature along a road to nowhere, causing one critic to state that “As a recognizable human world recedes and the Creature becomes a progressively more enthralling superpower, Frankenstein joins in the frenetic dance of death…by now wholly the Creature's creature…pursuing the naked form of his desire in a fantastic nowhere that is his own”
The wreckage of his past continues to haunt him. The Creature by then had begun controlling his creator in an effort to finally confront him.
Given his undeniably cruel treatment of the Creature, it certainly seems plausible that Victor would seek to destroy him. However, his reasoning to do so gradually changes from a desire for safety, though the Creature had as of then not yet presented an immediate threat, to a fearful and destructive psychosis forcing him to quite literally go to the end of the Earth. The quest to the North Pole is not the first time Victor allowed his ambition and the task to overcome his good judgment. Victor forgoes rational thinking first in even attempting to create the Creature and does so to an even greater extent in his immediate abandonment of it. Though his search for figurative and literal immortality was shrouded in a guise of knowledge and a search for scientific truth, by the end of Victor’s life he is quite clear in that his ultimate end is only the destruction of the Creature. There is no humanitarian aim in his final search. There was not a human to follow them either; only an object held hostage by hatred, a monster chasing a different form of himself.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a warning against putting the task above the means. It is a warning that individuals can and will sacrifice their humanity—personal friendships, bodily heath, and familial compassion—to reach a corrupted goal. It is a testament to the unintended consequences an uninhibited thirst for knowledge. Victor begins his journey as a well-intentioned man set upon solving the eternal mystery of creation. His curiosity and study are representations of his true interests and allow the man to better understand himself and his surroundings. He ends it as a slave to the product of that very journey. What was once a path to rebirth becomes a road to destruction. He willingly gives away his freedom, his will, and his very life to a gross distortion of his original goal. But most importantly, he spurns his chance at redemption. He fails to show human qualities to the most downtrodden and rejected member of society—if one could even refer to the Creature as a member. And in that, the final nail in the real Victor Frankenstein’s coffin is put in place. After that, all that remained was a monster left alone to wander the earth chasing a stillborn dream, with nobody by his side. The man he began the story as is by then long gone. And no procedure could ever bring him back.
It’s hard to honestly evaluate myself. It really is. I’d love to say how over the course of the year I’ve seen a change in my writing and my approach to it. A purely basic analysis of my writing “process,” or entire lack thereof, shows that I still bang out my ramblings on my bed despite my desk being two feet away, that I still do not use spellcheck on any of my papers (it forces me to get it right the first time), and that I still am relying upon the diagramming I learned four years ago to construct my sentences. I’m still not a fan of proofreading. But that isn’t to say I haven’t grown. I’m sure I’ve improved somewhere, somehow. Maybe that development is found in the way I tear myself apart after I print my drafts out, how I know I’ve done something wrong and store it in the proverbial bank to avoid in the future. These failures aren’t indictments of the class. They certainly aren’t meant to be. In this class, I’ve learned to not only use the text to form my argument but also to support it as well. I’ve moved from using quotes that purely sound “cool,’ to ones that advance my thesis and make the central tenets of my argument more clear.
First, I am a thinker. I open a vein and spill whatever spews out onto the keyboard. Then I see if it is coherent. Being a writer comes in at a distant second. I guess you could call me lazy in that way. It would be a fair description. I’ve always been a good writer. At least that’s what my teachers have always told me. Even in this class, I’ve gotten a chain of 19s broken at two links: 17s on Dorian and Beowulf, and weakened at a few 18s. But I’ve never seen myself as a writer in its most literal form. Writing is an art. I’m obviously not an artist. But that doesn’t mean I’m too afraid to try my shaky hand on the canvas.
But that doesn’t mean that all of my thoughts are purely my own. I have used and will continue to synthesize the thoughts and underlying themes of a novel in order to better write my papers. I’ll still struggle with using quotes, though. It certainly won’t be due to a lack of trying. Nonetheless, I’ve at least begun to use them, especially considering I rarely, if ever, used more than the minimum amount in essays from English I and II.
I can come up with a good conclusion but it’s the four paragraphs preceding it that trouble me. I’m wordy. I’m a big fan of dependent clauses and subordinating conjunctions. I jump around from idea to idea. I have a tendency to rant. I put my thoughts onto a page. And that’s it. Blame my ADD (yay for meta-humor and poorly ordered sentences!). I’ve always hoped that I would have an “aha moment,” a sudden influx of ability and prescience that allows me to pinpoint what I want to say and exactly how I want to say it. It hasn’t happened yet. Though, I sure as hell wish it did. I’m all too frequently left to dance around an idea that I understand but cannot express. It’s happening to me right now. I’m chasing a being of my own creation. And it’s taunting me with its own existence. The sentence is there. I just cannot reach it. I don’t want to tell myself “That sounds cool, go with that,” every time I write an essay. I don’t want to be staring at my mind through a window. I’ve been kicked out of my own Eden. Maybe it’s because my SAT scores between critical reading and writing, what I want to say and what I actually do end up saying, are 80 points apart. Maybe it’s because I have so much to and so few drafts—and even this one is drawing to an unfortunate close—to say it. I’m always thinking of things to write about: my own “Estella story,” my awkward mix of cockiness and self-doubt, and even my bouts with my own stupidity. But this class has helped me find ways to avoid that situation. I can theorize ideas and take stylistic and thematic precepts from other authors to help me reach my final destination.
It’s frustrating that I don’t get to share these experiences because writing, for me, has become more and more frequently a cathartic experience. To paraphrase myself, I find the sterile confines of my papers intoxicating. I can be who I want to be and say what I want to say, not necessarily be who I am or say what I actually can say. Nontheless, writing takes work. It’s not easy. Someday, as I venture onward to my last essays at this school, I will be defeated, probably because I’m lazy and don’t proofread much. Maybe I’ll find someone who helps me see another side of the process, helping me rebel against an entity I cannot beat alone, and improve that way. Maybe I’ll revert back to one of the mindless masses and thrive in my idiocy. I might even end up being the enemy to fight against. Will I chase myself to the bitter end? Probably. Right now, however, I’m chasing some beautiful fantasy that I probably wasn’t born to ever capture. I was never born to write. I wasn’t born into high-brow literary culture. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. That’s what I’ve learned this year. Literature has introduced me to characters that have each embodied a certain trait or ideal that most people can find in themselves. I am no different. From Lord Henry to Julia and Winston and certainly to Pip, I’ve learned a little bit about myself and from their respective creators, a little more about how to write. I’ve utilized their collective intelligence to help me better myself, something I didn’t know how to do a year ago. Thank you.
“Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations