On trial?

Shelley uses different perspectives in Frankenstein to reveal different aspects of the story that would have been difficult or impossible to know without a change in narrator. The way Shelley frames the changes in point of view gives the whole book the feeling of a court case. One could say that Walton is the judge, hearing the story both from Victor’s perspective through his narrative, and from the monster’s point of view through Victor’s mouth. However, again at the end, Walton hears yet another point of view, that of the monster from his own mouth, unfiltered by Victor’s thoughts or designs. The two sides of the story told from two opposite perspectives is rather like two attorneys giving their different testimonies about the same events. Walton, also, we hear from in the first person perspective in the letters, and so we hear his thoughts on the matter, rather like a third party observer which gives us, the readers, yet another layer of perspective with which to see the story.

An important perspective that the reader does not get to see firsthand is Justine’s. She serves as a foil to the monster for she is unjustly punished for a crime she did not commit. However, whereas Justine accepted her sentence with an outward look of grace and “assumed an air of cheerfulness, while she with difficulty repressed her bitter tears” (109), the monster does not have it within him to act the same. Instead, he is full of bitterness and anger, “filled with rage” (147) at his treatment by mankind. Perhaps, were Justine’s inner thoughts known, we would have gotten a better perspective or understanding of how the monster was feeling. However, that may be Shelley’s reason for not writing anything from Justine’s perspective. Although Victor gets both his perspective and Walton’s perspective, whose story and actions mirror Victor’s closely, (the both pursue a scientific discovery with an avidity that shuts out all other reason and are fueled by a desire to make a breakthrough discovery), the monster relates only to Justine, whose thoughts we never hear. Perhaps Shelley was trying to further the idea of the monster never getting to fully explain himself to anyone- of his side of the story being flat and undeveloped because no one could understand or share in his experiences fully. To hear Justine’s inward thoughts would have made the reader possibly even more sympathetic or understanding towards the monster- or perhaps it would have ignited the reader against him, to see Justine handle her predicament with such grace and dignity while he roars about the countryside slaughtering people.

The framing of the story with Walton’s letters adds to the feeling of it being a court case, especially in the way he is telling the story to his sister, whose perspective is most similar to that of the reader. Walton lays everything out as though he were asking her, or us, to judge fairly between the two.

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