Duality In

‘Frankenstein’ Essay, Research Paper

A man of two minds will end up with neither satisfied.

- Plato

Mary Shelley s novel, Frankenstein, tells the gothic tale of a curious scientist, Victor Frankenstein, yearning to mimic the life-giving act of Mother Nature. His creature does not turn out to be all that he expected, and the story deals with the conflict between Victor and his creature, and between the creature and society. But nowhere in the story does Victor (or Shelley) ever give his creature a name. This is an important aspect of the novel, to show the hatred Victor has for his own creation. In a sense, this lack of a name reinforces the notion that the creature is an abstract function of the novel, which draws the focus away from the creature itself, and to the interaction between it and Victor. Their perceptions of each other greatly effect the interpretation of the story, namely from the viewpoint that the creature is an alter-ego of Victor. This view brings the story from the superficial, physical level, and to one more philosophic. The creature represents all that Victor sees bad in himself and in that around him, and their coexistence is the dramatic aspect of their mutual destruction.

Victor Frankenstein, the central character in the novel, is an intense, motivated scientist, whose aspiration is to work out the secret to creating life. Eventually, through an unclear process, he does come to understand creation, and he brings to life his own monster, compiled from dead limbs and parts. Little scientific detail is given about this process of creation, but when the creature comes to life, Victor is not satisfied; he is horrified. He finds himself unwilling and unable to control it, and he flees, leaving his newborn man on his own. From this point on, the creature s life read, speak, form and articulate reasonable thoughts, and he shows human emotion. From his self-assumed humanity, he figures that he should be able to interact with the people in society: If, therefore, I could seize him, and educate him as my companion and friend, I should not be so desolate in this peopled earth (96). Though new to life and society, the creature seems to comprehend quite well the workings, emotions, and reason behind people. His encounters with Victor, his reviled maker, yield some of the deepest and most interesting dialogue in the novel, pitting Victor s reason against the creature s. The two, creature and creator, each come to see the other as something to be exterminated out of hate or dissatisfaction or fear. Victor s perception of the creature is as something evil and vile released into an unprepared society; the creature s perception of Victor is as a heartless, stubborn coward. They both view the other with hatred, and have intentions to destroy or ruin their counterpart.

The actual, physical progression of the process of creation is left abstract, and much is left for the reader to fill in. We know that Victor had an obsession with the creation of life, and toils very hard to get to the point where we see him create a new life out of reassembled, dead parts. On a superficial level of the story, this and the events following it simply function as the dramatic aspect of a good horror story. We can see from the text itself that Victor is quite obsessed with his creation, almost to the point of instability. He narrates his fervent labors of the past: I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; (34). And after his creature comes to life, Victor is afraid of his creation, both for what it could do to himself and to society: but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room (34). It is not so hard, then, to view the creature as Victor s alter-ego, brought out by his intensity in his work, and fear of what the results may be. On this level of the story, the creature is not another physical character in the story, therefore the story should not be taken as an actual, physical progression of events. The central conflict is an internal one, between what evil Victor sees in the world (represented by the creature), and Victor s reasonable, caring self. This separation of persona can be more easily understood by looking at Victor s character before, and then after the entrance of the creature into the world. Beforehand, Victor is almost mild-mannered, wrapped up in his work and the intelligent faction in town. He loves a family, and is happy, or at least satisfied with life. After, however, when the creature becomes more an independent entity, Victor is more edgy and hateful towards life and his creation. He lives his life solely to put an end to that which he has released into the world. He cannot stop thinking about how awful this creature is, but he is helpless to control it. In all instances in the story in which they encounter each other they are alone, with no one else around, giving credence to the idea that Victor and his creature are two in the same being.

The relationship outlined between Victor and his creation in the book is a complex one, and has many aspects. Their dialogue on pages 65 to 67 show this more clearly. In this, the creature is entreating Victor to understand his situation, and to not see him as a wretched outcast. Victor, enraged, cannot ever seem to view the creature as any more than a vile, destructive demon, whose sole purpose is to make life horrible. Since the introduction of the creature into society, both Victor and his creation have been worse off, and they become tied up in a mutual destruction. Most references to the creature by Victor are followed by a hating exclamation mark; and in turn, most to Victor by the creature are along the lines of my creator , and often are angered as well. This exclusive duality between creature and creator is a major theme throughout the story, and is an aspect that evokes much insight into the meaning of the narrative. This situation can say much on the nature of humanity, and I think a good example of this is given by Walton in one of his letters: Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit, that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures (16).

On a physical level, Mary Shelly s Frankenstein is a well-written tale of the perils of a man having tempered with creation. Victor s thought of giving artificial birth to a man engulfs him to the point where he loses touch of reality. Once this spawn is released, Victor is unable to control it, and the story finishes out with their mutual ruin. Taken off the superficial, Halloween reading, this story can be seen to involve Victor s development of an alter-ego, grown from his instability and loss of touch with reality. The creature in the novel, then, could represent the evil Victor sees in the world around him, separated of himself via stress. This said, the story takes on a new light, namely that [a] human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or transitory desire to disturb his tranquility (33), lest one s bad side be let loose.


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