Obligation or Pity?

The monster attempts to win Victor’s sympathies through his story by using emotional appeals, displaying his intelligence and capacity for good, and warning of his immense strength. Each of these had an effect on Frankenstein, but it seems to be the fact that he is the monster’s creator and is therefore indirectly responsible for each aspect of the story, the moves Frankenstein to compassion. In Volume II, Chapter IX, the monster tells his creator, “This passion is detrimental to me; for you do not reflect that you are the cause of its excess…What I ask of you is reasonable and moderate…” Thus the monster pulls at Victor’s sense of responsibility. As the creator, Victor is responsible for any pain, but he also has an opportunity to correct his creations experiences and prevent further death and damage. Doesn’t he have an obligation to rectify the situation he created? Immediately after this argument, we see compassion in Victor for the first time. He says, “I was moved…did I not, as his maker, owe him all the portion of happiness that it was in my power to bestow?” Though he returns to skepticism in the next paragraph, the seed planted by this sense of responsibility remains; we now see Victor attempt to resist his disgust, as he admits, “I tried to stifle these sensations; I thought, that as I could not sympathize with him, I had no right to withhold from him the small portion of happiness which was yet in my power to bestow.” Victor saw this argument exactly as the monster wanted him to, supporting its effectiveness. Although this sense of responsibility – to protect and facilitate happiness to the greatest extent in his power – also causes Victor to go back on his promise, this only further proves that moral obligation is the way to provoke him to action.

In contrast, I think the reader is more greatly affected by the monster’s emotional tale of rejection. Though we might agree with the argument of moral obligation that convicts Victor, we did not create the monster ourselves and therefore cannot feel that obligation as strongly. Our sympathies can also be captured with less resistance than Victor’s; the deaths of William and Justine may be tragic and unjust, but we didn’t suffer the bitterness of losing a brother and friend. Thus, as we watch the monster come to love the DeLacey’s and their goodness, we share in the monster’s pain when we read of their meeting: “Who can describe their horror and consternation on beholding me…[Felix] struck me violently with a stick. I could have torn him limb from limb…But my heart sunk within me as with bitter sickness, and I refrained” (Vol. II, Ch. VII). The monster had not fought against the villagers who stoned and chased him, and he did not hurt this family despite how easily he could have retaliated against them. This creates the sense that, rather than an angry, vengeful creature, the monster is the victim of prejudice and pain. We feel for him each time he cries, “Why did I live?” (Vol.I, Ch. VIII) and wish better for him as he begs Victor to “Let me see that I excite the sympathy of some existing thing!” (Vol. II, Ch. IX). As we pity this creature, we also see Victor’s capacity to provide him with a simple sense of acceptance, and the monster’s story therefore creates a compelling case, at least at first glance, for his creator’s help.

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