Fate and injustice in three parts

When looking back at the novels we’ve read this semester, I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness welling up from within.  It is possible that this sadness is sparked by a sense of finality in the closing of the semester, but it could also be the progressive downward, depressing spiral that we, as a group, have experienced through these readings.  It is unlikely that this emotional response was the intended result of the order in which these novels were assigned, but the order was indeed intentional.  The obvious comparison that one could draw between the novels we’ve read this semester, is their tragic endings.  These tragic endings come in different shapes and resolve themselves in different ways, but a strong element that runs like a blood red thread throughout is the cruel nature of fate.  For this final blog post, I will look at how this cruelty is made manifest in the endings of Frankenstein, Mill on the Floss and Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

 

The first novel we read for class was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  I struggled assigning blame to a single individual in this novel.  I think Shelley presents all the characters as flawed human beings, or in the case of Victor’s creation, an approximation of a human being.  Focusing on Victor’s creation, we find a being that was brought into a painful, certainly deformed existence without any consideration of how wretched his life would be.  There is no other place that this is more evident than in the quote from Paradise Lost on the title page of Frankenstein. “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mould me man? Did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?”  In this sense, the creation possessed zero free will and was fated for misery.  When he finally takes agency and performs actions driven by his desire, we find that those are, again, simply a response to some external stimuli of which he has no control over.  Victor refuses to provide his creation with basic human needs.  The creation’s only power is that of consequence.  Consequences can only be reactionary responses to actions that are out of our control.  With this, the creation strikes out like a rabid, helpless animal to inflict pain on anyone within striking range.

 

In George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss, Maggie’s fatal end is a result of multiple intersecting circumstances of fate conspiring to her and Tom’s death.  Eliot presents this death in peaceful terms, with brother and sister embraced in a final reconciliation.  “In death they were not divided (657).” We can choose to agree with this perspective, or we can look at the suffering of Maggie throughout the novel.  The poor girl, turned woman through the course of the novel, never finds her place in the world.  The apex of this life is a frustrating failed relationship with a fancy boy, Stephen, and the fallout created is the final insult to Maggie.  Her life was filled with a struggle against a forceful patriarchy that beat against her like the flood waters that finally freed her from her suffering.  A force of suffering to which she recognized would be a lifelong affliction.  “I will bear it, and bear it till death… (649)” This force requires Maggie to submit to powers that are greater than her will.  Her fate was to be born in a time and to a family that had certain expectations of her.  A set of expectations that were not like those whom her brother was able to enjoy.  These gifts, we find, were wasted on a man-child, undeserving of such. His development is stunted before we even reach the middle of the novel.  Maggie’s family, which stifled her development, remains a constant force that persistently draws her back, closer to a watery grave.

 

The final novel, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Tess’s tragic end is an almost sweet release from a life ripe with cruel suffering.  She grieves the most under the will of fate – “Tess was now carried along upon the wings of the hours, without the sense of a will (231).”  Her guilt and obligation further disconnect her from autonomy.  Self-denial leaves her unloved and penniless.  Tess’s life filled with suffering and grief caused by a willful violation perpetrated by a representative of fate.  The moment she takes agency, she damns herself to death.  The killing of Alec is met with swift “justice.”  A Justice which is only afforded to those in the good graces of fate.  Tess attempts to enact her own form of justice by murdering Alec.    Alec absolves himself of the sin, but the pain caused is not so easily washed away.

 

The sense of injustice grows with each novel.  The one thing that truly differentiates Tess of the d’Urbervilles from the other two novels is the sense of hopelessness.  In Frankenstein the characters are all so flawed that we are not blindsided by the tragic ending.  We expect that the people who behave in this way, or flawed creations are bound to end up on the wrong side of providence.  In Mill on the Floss, we feel for Maggie, but her potential was stunted by her parents from the point of her creation.  Her behavior is rash and reactive.  She has agency, but she chooses to rebel in a destructive manner. Her life is a tragedy which presents itself in a slow, protracted, struggle leading to a train wreck of an ending.  Tess of the d’Urbervilles presents a young woman with potential, even if it isn’t real or wouldn’t amount to much by some standards.  However, Tess truly exists in a hostile world.  All people and forces conspire against her and her womanly obligation only serves to rip away any last semblance of free will she may have had.  None of the authors give the reader a sense of hope in the end and there is no justice enjoyed.  Certainly not justice that isn’t the result of someone death.  Justice for Victor’s creation is the death of Elizabeth and Clerval.  Justice for Tess is Alec’s death.  Justice for Alec is Tess’s death.  It is hard to find hope in these works, but realism and naturalism doesn’t always want to give that to the reader.

Tess, Frankenstein, and Mill on the Floss: The Endings 

In modern storytelling, the ending is usually wrapped up in a pretty bow with loose ends being tied, generally leaving a satisfied and happy ending for the reader.  However, in Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Frankenstein, and Mill on the Floss, this is not necessarily the case.  All three authors included the tragic deaths of the main characters, with Tess being the only one who had just one protagonist die and not two of them, like Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss.  All the deaths throughout the three books (Tess, Dr. Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s creation, Maggie, and Tom) serve as the reason for the endings to contain themes of grief and injustice, as the main character usually lives to the end and has a happy ending, especially in modern works. 

 

In Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Tess is executed for stabbing Alec to death in the end of the novel.  This death can initially be viewed as a justified death, but because Tess is the main character of the book and subject of the title, the reader is inclined to observe her death as unjustified.  The author, Thomas Hardy, intentionally makes Tess the character that the reader focuses on to possibly affect this response to the ending specifically.  Her death, although technically justified because she murders Alec, can be seen as injustice because she is the protagonist, and this is essentially her story being told.  Tess herself is “almost glad – yes, glad” to die, which makes the reader feel sympathy for her because she thinks that dying would be an end to her suffering (580).  This might help pull the reader in the direction of Tess’s side of the story because it pulls on the emotion of sympathy from the reader.  This death in the end is the best ending in Tess’s mind, although it may not be the stereotypical happy ending for the protagonist.     

 

In Frankenstein, both Victor Frankenstein and the creature tragically die in the end, Victor succumbing to illness and the creature committing suicide after the death of Victor.  These untimely deaths serve as the loose ends being tied up in the novel, but this does not instantly mean that the ending is a happy one.  The gothic novel starts and ends with misery and dismal themes, with Victor feeling the “thirst of knowledge”, which resulted in him attempting to create life and then the dread that followed his success (Ch. 2).  This ending may have been created by Mary Shelley to correct the initial wrong done by Victor, creating an unnatural life, by forcing Victor to die a natural death and then killing off the creature to show the reader that it should not have been given life in the first place.  The reader might feel grief and sorrow for the two main characters because Victor is trying to correct the wrong that he made by creating the monster, and because the creature shows true love for his creator in the end by killing himself out of pain. 

 

Mill on the Floss, written by George Eliot, is similar to Frankenstein in regard to having two of the main characters dying tragic and untimely deaths in the end of the novel.  However, the reader feels the most sympathy for Maggie and Tom, as they die in a horrific flooding accident and were not executed for a crime, like Tess of the d’Ubervilles.  One reason for this ending would be that Maggie and Tom, who had been apart emotionally and physically, would be finally reunited by Maggie attempting to save Tom.  However, this reunion is cut short by the debris crashing into their small rowboat, effectively killing the two.  The reader, not expecting this ending, may be shocked by the deaths but could also take comfort in the possibility that Maggie and Tom “had gone down in an embrace never to be parted” (Ch. 5).  This is the only comfort that the reader can have regarding these deaths because the incident was so sudden and unjustified, and this theme of being together eternally shows that they at least were reunited in the end, both in life and in death.   

 

Tess of the d’Ubervilles is similar to these two novels, Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss, because all of the deaths were not fully expected by the reader and seemed to be very tragic events.  Tess’s death can be seen as unjustified to the reader because of the use of sympathy because of the rape, much like the deaths of Maggie and Tom pulling on the same emotion because they are finally reunited in order to convey the deaths as unfair.  While Frankenstein’s ending may have been more predictable than the others, all three novels did not explicitly hint at the turn of events at each ending, with both Victor and the creature dying, Tess being executed for the murder of her rapist, and Maggie and Tom being suddenly crushed by flood debris.  Tess is different in the sense that it is a more singular death in the end, even though Alec is killed somewhat close to the end.  The reader may not be inclined to include his death as a tragic one because of the rape and his overall character presentation in the novel.  Overall, the deaths in these three novels are similar in many ways, with a few exceptions.   

 

Victor Frankenstein and Responsibility

Victor Frankenstein, who is obsessed with biology and life itself, is the sole person who is responsible for the creature that he created.  When Victor finally completes his goal of creating life, he does not celebrate.  Rather, he “rushed out of the room” when he realized the monstrosity that he had put into the world (84).  He is plagued with disturbing nightmares that night and has one more encounter with his creation before running away once more.  He immediately refuses his responsibility as creator of the creature because he cannot mentally cope with the thought of what he had done.  However, he is still seen as the creator in the novel and therefore should have the sole responsibility of the creature and its actions. 

Victor is right in thinking that he should take the blame for the deaths of William and Justine.  After he realizes that it was his own creation that could have possibly murdered William, and will indirectly kill Justine, he states that, “the tortures of the accused did not equal [his]; she was sustained by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore [his] bosom” (106).  He, at the very least, assumes part of the blame in this statement because he realizes that he has indirectly caused this tragedy by attempting to create life.  While he is reveling in the fact that Justine will die because of his mistakes, he fails to do anything to save her.  This shows the reader that not only does Victor realize his guilt, but he refuses to tell the truth in order to save Justine because he is too selfish.  He ran away from this situation, quite like he ran away from his creation on its first night of life.  However, just because Victor does not immediately take on the responsibility, does not mean that the creature is not still his sole responsibility, much like a father is to his child.   

Mary Shelley criticizes the false security that is given to Justine and the Frankenstein family during the trial by letting everyone assume that because Justine was “guiltless of this murder”, that she will not be tried guilty and executed (102).  Victor and his father discuss how Justine will be freed simply because she must be innocent, which Shelley proves to be incorrect later in the story.  Victor seems to be calmed by his father’s statement that Justine will be okay because he did not realize at this point that his own creation had committed the murder.  Once he realizes this, he is filled with obvious guilt because he states that she is his “unhappy victim” that he has condemned (106).  The reader can readily assume that Victor not only has, but should have the full responsibility of his creation, even though he may not want that responsibility.  

The Monster as a Means to an End

Victor Frankenstein’s monster is the manifestation of his morbid fascination with death. When his mother dies, he emphasizes his difficulty realizing that “she, whom we saw every day, and whose very existence appeared a part of our own, can have departed for ever” (72). He shows a sense of communal identity through his pronoun usage despite the isolation he displays throughout the novel. He sees his mother as a part of himself, so when she dies, he loses his sense of self. The form of the sentence itself is drawn out, much like Victor’s grieving process, which covers several pages throughout the novel. In contrast, the reader learns about the mother’s death in one paragraph. The focus of the text is therefore his relationship to death rather than death as an event. One of Victor’s key flaws is his inability to death, which the monster forces him to confront.

At the culmination of his grieving process, Victor creates a living being out of dead bodies. When he sees his creation, he falls deathly ill. Clerval comes to visit Victor, who explains, “I was lifeless, and did not recover my senses for a long, long time. This was the commencement of a nervous fever, which confined me for several months” (87). After disrupting the boundary between life and death, he becomes “lifeless” just like the bodies he turned into a living being. He is “confined,” both to his illness and to his fear of death. He loses his “senses,” which the novel argues are key features of the human life. The “nervous fever” he experiences occurs throughout the novel as he blurs life and death through the monster.

As a result of Victor’s relationship to the monster, he believes death is a form of escape from the horrors of life, but he cannot submit to it until he avenges his lost loved ones. When he passes this burden to Walton, he sees death as a source of peace. Before he dies, he says, “That [the monster] should live to be an instrument of mischief disturbs me; in other respects this hour, when I momentarily expect my release, is the only happy one which I have enjoyed for several years” (216). Victor recognizes he has a responsibility to destroy his creation, but he realizes he can no longer cling to revenge as a source of life. The word “release” encapsulates his ultimate view of death. His death, rather than his wedding, is the one happy moment he experiences after he gives life to the monster. In the end, he joins his dead loves one and finds peace. While the monster pushes Victor toward death, he also allows Victor to accept death as a necessary part of life.

 

The Sublime and Victor: A “Relatable” Connection

The idea of the sublime is something that is new to me and I really connect with it. There has always been something about literature with a sublime setting that has fascinated me, and learning about it through Frankenstein has made me realize where that fascination comes from. I have always felt a connection with nature and have felt almost as if being immersed in nature “elevates” me in a way, just like the sublime settings do for Victor.

 

A couple quotes about the sublime stood out to me:

 

“Immense glaciers approached the road; we heard the rumbling thunder of the falling avalanche, and marked the smoke of its passage. Mont Blanc, the supreme and magnificent Mont Blanc, raised itself from the surrounding aiguilles, and its tremendous dome overlooked the valley” (Shelley 115).

 

“I remembered the effect that the view of the tremendous and ever-moving glacier had produced upon my mind when I first saw it. It had then filled me with a sublime ecstasy that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy. The sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed always had the effect of solemnizing my mind, and causing me to forget the passing cares of life” (Shelley 116).

 

I see both of these block quotes as perfect examples of the sublime in Frankenstein. The

first quote does a great job of describing a sublime setting. Words such as immense, supreme, magnificent, and tremendous all give the reader a feeling of being a part of something bigger and more powerful. I find it very interesting that this thought of Victor’s about the landscape he is in can make such a big impact on me as a reader. A lot of times, setting doesn’t stand out to me very much, but that is not the case here. I think Shelley definitely put a lot of effort into making Victor’s impression of the setting very clear and detailed so we as readers could feel what Victor was feeling in the moment.

While the first block quote is mainly a description of the sublime setting, the second one is Victor describing how this setting has made him feel. These larger-than-life scenes of nature seem to make Victor feel small and powerful at the same time. I find it really interesting how he pairs “the awful and the majestic” together here. I think these two words perfectly encompass what a sublime setting is and how it should make someone feel. I find Victor’s expression of emotion in this scene powerful and moving. It shows that nature has more power than a lot of readers of Frankenstein realize. In this novel, I see the sublime settings and the extended descriptions of them as a tool used by Shelley to increase the character development in Victor. The times I have felt most connected to Victor’s mind while reading this book are when he is in awe of these settings.

 

Sins of the Father

 

Shelley’s Frankenstein and her attempts to avoid the “amiableness of domestic affection,” portray, for the reader, many instances of domestic failure.  Shelley suffered the devastating loss of her mother, estrangement from her father and entered a marriage under questionable circumstances, all before she entered true adulthood.  Knowing this and gleaning bits of information from the footnotes, we can’t help but believe that this greatly influenced her work.  Shelley’s relationship with her mother would have been formed through her writings.  Unable or unwilling to speak with her father, she would again be forced to understand her father’s thinking by reading his written word.

Frankenstein presents the reader with a handbook of exactly what not to do as a parent.  From chapter one, Victor’s description of his “domestic circle” hints at a mother and father unwilling to allow their child to suffer any uncomfortable circumstance.  For Victor and his family, “care and pain seemed for ever banished.”  Even though Victor’s father attempted to discourage the study of alchemy by suggesting that Victor “not waste his time upon” this “sad trash,” he fails to recognize that this only sparked a deeper interest for his child.  Victor easily hid this continued study from his father and regretfully remarks that if his father simply explained that these were disproven theories, perhaps the arcane would have not taken residency in his psyche. The father’s inability or unwillingness to guide his child onto the safe path resulted in a perversion of knowledge.

Victor’s lifelong pursuit to create his creature filled him with purpose and drove a series of feverish attempts to fulfill his dream.  There is never mention of why he has chosen to do this other than for self-serving reasons.  The creation is about him and never about the spark of life that he, as a modern-day Prometheus, steals from the gods. Once the fruits of his labor are realized, he immediately becomes the prototypical absent father.  The ultimate sin of the father is irresponsibility and selfishness.  Victor’s creation yearns for companionship but is denied from the moment of creation.  The creature’s construction is not the genesis of his evil, it is Victor’s failure to fulfill his duty as a father.

Victor only dabbles in acknowledgement of his fatal flaw.  It isn’t until he is near-death that he finally acknowledges that he is ultimately responsible for all the death that resulted in his creation.

On the topic of responsibility and culpability

The topic of responsibility can be a difficult one to explore, because “responsibility” may heavily affect the view of one’s culpability for his or her actions – despite responsibility, one may be condemned or condoned. How deeply, therefore, must we take into account context and history when determining a sense of “blame” for these characters? Does an abusive childhood at all excuse, or at least contextualize, a serial killer’s actions? Does it lessen the blow of the gavel, and by extension, the punishment? If so – just how harshly should a reader judge the monster and his violent actions, and Victor Frankenstein for creating him?

Looking at their relationship in a family perspective, Victor holds as much responsibility for his creation as a parent does his child. This creature is a blank slate, confused and ignorant just as a newborn, and Victor plays the stereotypic role of absent father immediately by running away, “unable to endure the aspect of the being [he] created, [rushing] out of the room” (84). This instantaneous rejection is certainly not lost on the creature, who will be experiencing this rejection for the rest of his life. It is, after all, what spurns the creature into exacting revenge upon Victor. In this way, Victor is directly responsible for the creation of the monster – of course – as well as the monster’s desire for violence towards the Frankenstein family and friends. Responsibility for this creature, however, is not culpability for this creature’s actions. Frankenstein’s monster has the gift of free will, which means that ultimately, his actions are his own and therefore he himself is responsible for them. This son’s sins cannot be solely blamed on the father! Those in connection to Victor, after all, are not the only ones who receive the monster’s wrath.

When searching for responsibility, is the victim ever at fault? One may argue that the De Lacey family is responsible for the creature’s pyrophilic actions due to their reactions towards the monster. The women flee at the sight of him, while Felix “tore [the monster] from his father…[and] in a transport of fury, he dashed [the monster] to the ground, and struck [him] violently with a stick” (148). As the reader, we know that the creature’s intentions are pure and the humans misunderstand him, but how much does this context excuse their frightened and violent reactions, or the creature’s scorned one? The monster, when he “reflected that they had spurned and deserted [him], anger returned, a rage of anger…and [he] turned [his] fury toward inanimate objects” (151). Now, these occurrences can be laid out in a clear cause-and-effect manner. The humans cause the monster to be angry, and the effect is the monster burns down their cottage. How much “blame” can be put on those who caused the effect? While it is understandable that the effect occurred because of the cause, the family does not have responsibility for the monster’s actions. Causation, in this way, does not invoke responsibility. Instead, the creature must take full responsibility for the fire, although he is not responsible for the poor way he was treated. That responsibility, at least, goes to the De Lacey family.

A similar thought process can be applied to the murder of Victor’s brother William. In the end, William is not responsible for his own death in any legal or moral way, despite the fact that his death occurs because he accidentally causes it. The monster is at first only wanting to connect with the boy, thinking him unprejudiced. He is proven wrong when William shouts at him “‘monster! ugly wretch! you wish to eat me, and tear me to pieces…” (154). At these remarks, the creature is not violent, although perhaps irritated. It is only at the familial reveal that he turns to violence. During his taunts, William yells at the “‘hideous monster!” that his “papa is a Syndic – he is M. Frankenstein – he would punish you’” (154). Because it is William’s tie to Victor that he is murdered, Victor himself is somewhat responsible for his death. Of course, in the end, actions must not be severed from its actor – the only one truly responsible for killing William is the killer himself. No matter one’s lot in life, and to whom blame is thrown, responsibility for your actions always points directly back at you.

Storytelling in Frankenstein

Frankenstein involves many instances of storytelling and reading, most of which instigate a chain reaction of misfortunes within the story. One of the most obvious examples of reading influencing actions is Victor’s initial obsession with the works of Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus, which eventually leads to the creation of the monster. The monster’s reading of the literature he discovers gives him identity. He identifies with the protagonist of Sorrows of Werter and with Satan in Paradise Lost, saying “many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter fall of envy rose within me” (Vol 2, ch 7, p.144). This strengthens his sense of being an outcast, which eventually leads to his anger against humankind. The monster engages in storytelling as well, when he begs Victor to show pity for his state of isolation and create him a mate. Although Victor initially complies, his misgivings about the morality of the mate later stop him from going through with the creation—an incident which leads to the death of Victor’s wife.  Many of the terrible things that happen throughout the book result from poor reaction to stories.

There are two instances where the action as a result of a story is unclear.  The bulk of the narrative is Victor’s story to Walton, which builds up to Walton’s eventual confrontation of the monster and the ambiguity of what action Walton would take after hearing the tale. It is clear though that Frankenstein attempted to dissuade Walton from attempting another creation, “would you also create for yourself and the world a demoniacal enemy?…Peace, peace! Learn my miseries, and do not seek to increase your own” (Vol 3 ch 7, p. 209).  The novel is bookended by Walton’s letters to his sister. While we as the readers obviously do not know what Margaret’s actions will be, we do choose how we will respond to the story, outside the narrative.

Each instance of reading or storytelling provokes or is meant to provoke a specific reaction. The ancient philosophers provoke curiosity ambition in Victor, much like his story to Walton and the monster’s story provoke curiosity. Paradise Lost and Sorrows of Werter provide the monster with insight and identity. Nearly all of the stories provoke some feeling of compassion or identification. However, many of them also drive the characters to make choices they regret, like the creation of the monster, his mate, or the death of Frankenstein.

Walton is not necessarily driven to make choices he later regrets, though it is interesting that his response to Victor—that is, compassion and sympathy—are what the monster hoped to gain from Victor. Walton says of Victor, “I have longed for a friend; I have sought one who would sympathize with and love me” (vol 3 chapter 7, p.211). Because both the monster and Victor are, in some ways, to be pitied and both have done terrible things yet receive such different responses to their stories, Shelley may be trying to identify some issue of prejudice or flawed justice. However, she could also be pointing to how similar the man is to the monster in their choice of action.

The readers are audiences not just to Walton’s letters but to the entire narrative, so they have the choice not just to react to the letters, but to the stories of Frankenstein and the monster as well. Shelley allows us to determine our response to the characters, and to decide how we will be influenced by stories.

Learning to Deal with Hardship

There are many ways that Victor Frankenstein and his creation can be compared and contrasted, but one of the main similarities they have is their negative reaction to hardship. Both seem to try to be good and kind when things are easy, but the moment something bad happens to them they become sad or angry, and entirely convinced that their suffering is more than anyone else could comprehend.

Victor himself talks about how he was never made to endure hardship. When he and Henry Clerval are exploring Europe, Victor’s enjoyment of the sites is “embittered both by the memory of the past, and the anticipation of the future” (Volume 3, Chapter 2). He says that he was formed for “peaceful happiness” and was never discontented in his youth. This is key because it shows that as a child, Victor had an entirely happy life. He talks near the beginning of the novel about his indulgent parents who let him read what he wanted, his friends whom he’d known since childhood and always gotten along with, and the happy way he explored the world around him. Child Victor never had to contend with any difficulty.

This changed when Victor’s mother died. He had to go to school soon after this had happened, and even though his going was delayed by several weeks it meant that at least part of his grieving process was done alone. In fact he describes himself as being entirely alone in the new city, and not knowing how to make friends as all his friends from home had been made in childhood. Victor does not know how to overcome challenges such as these and therefore isolates himself to an extreme when he endeavors to make the creature or in other-words to discover the secret of life and death, something that one could argue he is interested in because of his recently deceased mother.

Victor’s ability to cope with bad events only gets worse from there. Every time the creature does something that upsets him, he says he is in anguish and that no one could conceive the pain he had to endure. It is an entirely selfish attitude, much like one a child would adopt upon being injured. Victor does not think anyone can feel the pain he does because he never felt any as a child and imagines all must be as happy as he was then. Pain makes him withdraw, thinking only of himself and discounting the pains of everyone else, including his family who suffer at the death of William and even Justine who has to die for a crime she did not commit.

The creature has a similar progression to that of Victor. He starts out life, as far as he can remember, in the woods and all alone. Here he survives by eating nuts and berries, but he does not seem to be in any major distress. He gets cold, or hungry, but he also is able to experience pleasure, stating that he “was delighted” when he heard the birds and awed at the sun rising in the sky (volume 2, chapter 3). He seems to have a fairly happy life, even if he does sometimes get cold or hungry. There is no major hardship he has to face.

This changes when he meets man. The creature is met with hostility, and then goes into hiding on instinct. He tries to learn, then, how to interact with humans, but when that results in failure he grows angry to the point of burning down a cottage and, upon later being shot while trying to help a little girl, swearing vengeance on all mankind. The creature here has the excuse of never having been taught how to behave at all, but the fact remains that he overreacted, perceiving himself as grievously injured when he failed for basically the first time in his life. After all, he had learned to read and speak and write, could find wood to help the cottagers, knew how to get food when he was hungry, and figured out how to keep warm. He had never yet met with any failure, and upon doing so he deemed himself grievously wronged, even by the end echoing Victor’s statement that his “suffering was superior” to Victor’s just as Victor claimed his suffering was unfathomable to others.

The main opposition to these two is Henry Clerval and Justine. Clerval was the son of a merchant, needing to work hard to succeed in what he did. When he has to convince his father to school and initially fails, he does not give up or despair. He keeps trying and eventually succeeds. When Clerval meets with hardship, he does his best to cope with it healthily, unlike Victor or his creature. Same with Justine. She is composed for her trial, and even when she is about to die because she is accused of killing a child who she loved, she finds it in herself to think of others. She tells Elizabeth “may heaven in its bounty bless and preserve you… live, and be happy and make others so” (volume 1 chapter 7). She is concerned for Elisabeth even when suffering herself, showing that the hardships she faced in being poor taught her how to think of others and stay kind even while in the mist of despair.

Victor and his creature both let the kind compassionate people they want to be die when they face difficult challenges. Victor draws into himself and is full of self-pity, making everyone around him more miserable and yet still being conceited enough to claim that he suffers the most. The creature reacts by getting angry and directly hurting others. One has to wonder how the novel would have been different if they had been taught how to deal with hardships, or learned to react to them in a better way. In the end though, they both deal rather selfishly with difficulties while those who had to deal with them earlier in life learn to do so in a better way, implying that learning how to cope with hardship is an extremely important lesson that must be learnt if one wants to be a virtuous member of society.

Are Justine and the monster contrasting reflections of justice?

Though at first glance they don’t seem to share any traits, Justine and the Frankenstein monster have a lot in common. By comparing them, I noticed they had similar relationships and they’re both subjected to a trial. However, the element that defines each as opposite reflections  is the attitude each assumes with the final outcome of the trial; one being submissive to the majority, the other taking justice into his own hands.

The first characteristic that struck me was that Justine and the Monster had both a parental figure that despised them and blamed them for their misfortunes. As Elizabeth tells Victor in her letter regarding Justine: “Her mother could not endure her, and after the death of M. Moritz, treated her very badly”(Vol.1 Ch.5) she continues by saying that though the woman later asked forgiveness for her bad behavior she “often accused her of having caused the death of her brothers and sisters”(Vol.1 Ch.5). Much like Victor, the monsters father by inference, who immediately accuses the monster for the death of his brother and Justine, though there is no clear evidence of that at first; and, like Justine’s mother, Victor feels compassion and “the duties of a creator towards his creatures”(Vol.2 Ch.3) though only for a moment in his case.

Another similarity is that they were both adopted by a family. As we know Justine was received in the Frankenstein family as Elizabeth writes. The monster was too part of a family, though said family did not know of his presence. We can infer that he felt like part of it when we read how he felt about the family: “The gentle manners and beauty of the cottagers greatly endeared them to me: when they were unhappy, I felt depressed; when they rejoiced, I sympathized in their joys”(Vol.2 Ch.4). Both of said families turned against them in a point. Thus, though their situation differs on certain details, Justine and the monster share a parallel in their relationships.

That parallelism continues furthermore with the topic of justice seen in Justine’s and the monster’s trials. Some might say that the monster did not have a trial at all, not compared to Justine’s, but he alludes to it in order to convince Victor into listening his story: “The guilty are allowed, by human laws, bloody as they may be, to speak in their own defense before they are condemned”(Vol.2 Ch.3). He even appoints Victor as the judge: “ Listen to my tale: when you have heard that, abandon or commiserate me, as you shall judge that I deserve”(Vol.2 Ch.3). What makes Justine and the Monster’s trial similar, is the attitude of the crowd in both cases. As described in the book, when Justine entered, the crowd felt a brief sense of compassion but “for all the kindness which her beauty might otherwise have excited, was obliterated in the minds of the spectators by the imagination of the enormity she was supposed to have committed”(Vol.1 Ch.7). This is also what Victor describes to be feeling after listening to the monster’s tale “I compassionated him, and sometimes felt a wish to console him; but when I looked upon him, when I saw the filthy mass that moved and talked, my heart sickened, and my feelings were altered to those of horror and hatred”(Vol.2 Ch.9) the fact that his feelings and those of the crowd were so similar speaks a lot about human behavior regarding forgiveness. We can also see here, a role that is being thrusted upon both Justine and the monster, despite their own inner identity. Justine confesses, after having declared herself guilty, that the priest that came to take her confession threatened her so much that she “almost began to think that I was the monster that he said I was”(Vol.1 Ch.7). The reasoning behind her pleading guilty perhaps meant an acceptance on her part which is equal to what the monster says and feels later on. As narrated by him he often believed himself to be an “Adam” a “creature of virtue” but because everybody abhors him, he feels that he is being forced into being the monster everybody thinks he is.

I believe there is a lot of reasons for these characters to have such close similarity (perhaps how the poor, because of their condition, were in a way, “monsters” to the upper class citizens; how humans are influenced into believing someone to be a monster based on what they appear, etc.) but just based on how similar their situation is, one can deduce that the author wanted us to pay attention to them and speculate on their comparisons. And, in those differences maybe we can see what the author is trying to teach us regarding human nature.

Which brings me to my next point, according to the story, Justine accepted her condemnation and submitted to the believes of both the crowd and the judges despite the fact that she was innocent. The Monster, on the other hand, promised vengeance if justice was not done for him, and so he did. He killed all of Victor’s family and friends to make his creator feel as lonely and wretched as he had been. We can then interpret that these different outcomes also represent different types of justice. Justine, alludes to the political system of justice of the 19th century, where friends and the judges themselves were influenced with fear indirectly by the mob. This is why I think the author named her Justine, which is so similar to the word justice, to make the reader see, in her opinion, the inner workings of their justice system. The Monster represents the ancient justice of “an eye for an eye” which I think, is a natural impulse in man when someone commits a grievance against him. It’s something most of us can control, but because the monster was plunged into existential despair and pain, vengeance was the only thing that could soothe him, for he knew nobody would give him justice but himself. The fact that on the second encounter with the monster and when the monster finishes his story, there are so many reference to human justice also concludes that the author was perhaps hoping that the reader would associate Justine’s case and that of the monster, with the desire for the reader to understand the both sides of what humans consider justices what sort of emotions control them and what faults lie in each

Victor’s Anagnorisis

In volume I, chapter IV, readers see the creation of the monster in two ways, externally and internally, that construct Victor’s anagnorisis. In the first paragraph, we get a very detailed description of the environment in which the monster was created. “A dreary night [in] November”, with “rain patter[ing] dismally”, and lightly lit by “half-extinguished light[s]”sets up a tone  and mood of dreadfulness and gothic elements for the readers. (83) I believe Shelley did this to MAKE us feel this way because Victor is feeling this way as well.

 In this first paragraph, not much is described of the monster just yet besides his “dull yellow eyes”. (83) The rest of the entire paragraph is exclusively written to describe the environment in which the monster is created in. This shows how important setting is, to not only this gothic scene, but the novel in its entirety as well. Shelley’s detailed descriptions of many other gothic and sublime scenes to the novel show how important these minuet details are also. This paragraph shows Victor’s external feelings during the creation. He can’t clearly see just how terrible his creation is, because the lighting is so dim, but once he is able to, he comes to terms with the faculties of his situation with the monster.

The second paragraph in Volume I, chapter IV, gives us a different approach on the monster’s creation, and Victor’s internal feelings. Victor realizes at this time that the creation of life is a “catastrophe”, in which he is not ready to come to terms with. (83) Readers get intensive details on the monster himself, instead of the environment in which he was created, which gives readers a chance to make judgments of the monster for themselves. The physical qualities of the monster are interesting themselves as well because there are many opposing details. For instance, we are told about the monster’s hair that is “lustrous black” and then get the description of his “white sockets.”(83) His descriptions are not of a positive connotation.

After both of these paragraphs, Victor’s anagnorisis comes to life. He comes to terms with the nature of the situation that he put himself in by creating life. Once Victor realizes the consequences that he will have to come to terms with, he is filled with “horror” and “disgust”. (84) “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.” (84) Victor ends up having to leave the dreadful space in which his creating the monster took place, and the monster himself lay because he just cannot deal with reality.

Wars in the Sky and the Soul

That nature should affect a person’s disposition is not an uncommon idea, and certainly not uncommon in Gothic literature. Mary Shelley’s famous protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, has an interesting connection to nature that is often overshadowed by his monster’s own… issues… with nature. Victor is at odds with his surroundings, having been somewhat different than his peers since his childhood, and it does not seem a stretch of the imagination to suppose that his fixation on messing with nature, culminating in his famous act of creation, would put him at increased odds with his natural surroundings. One scene in particular showcases this; in chapter six of the first volume, Victor’s journey to Geneva contains separate scenarios of natural imagery at almost direct conflict with each other, and instead of feeling what most people would feel at each given natural setting, Victor seems to invert the expected and what is “normal.”

First, Victor contemplates the lake at Lausanne, and initially, “the calm and heavenly scene” – the sublime – restores him to some degree, which one would normally expect at such a pretty sight, but this is Victor Frankenstein we’re talking about, and the reader already knows enough about the protagonist to know that this momentary calm can only be followed by a storm. As Victor nears Geneva, he looks upon the “bright summit of Mont Blanc,” and feels as though it is mocking at his unhappiness. Leave it to Victor Frankenstein to have his own King Lear moment and assume that all of nature is focused on him. He mentions that his beloved country at first fills him with delight (again, as one would expect) but this is soon overshadowed by “grief and fear” as he draws closer to his home (70, in my book). These scenes of serenity and light would be reflected in most people, but they make Victor only that much more aware of his woe.

Then follows the gloomy nature scene, distinctive of the Gothic, taking form in the coming night and arriving storm. Understandably, with nightfall Victor feels “still more gloomily” and foresees himself becoming “the most wretched of human beings.” Normal, right? However, when the storm finally hits, it is almost as if Victor draws strength from it, or at least comfort. He considers it a “noble war in the sky,” which is a beautiful way of characterizing the externalization of the war within his soul. How he feels in his heart and soul is finally mirrored in what he sees around him; the internal matches the external. Where most people would flee and find shelter, Victor, for a moment, finds that the storm “elevated [his] spirits,” and it is only the arrival of his creature that lowers them again (71).

This scene is important because of the fact that it emphasizes not only Victor’s separation from society, but also the warring emotions within himself. The first setting accentuates the disparity in its light beauty and Victor’s heavy heart, whereas the latter setting mirrors and emphasizes said heaviness. Victor feels out of place in the sublime, and at home in the Gothic.

By The River of Ingolstadt, He Sat Down and Wept

Soon after his creation, after Victor Frankenstein fled his apartment in horror, the monster himself wandered out into the cold woods. The monster recounts this moment to Victor saying: “feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept” (Shelly 121). In a novel filled with allusions, this particular reference to Psalm 127 struck me as an interesting insight to the monster’s predicament. The monster’s story had a few similarities to the Israelites’ in Psalm 137: both the monster and the Israelites sit near a running body of water when they “wept,” both parties felt despair at being outsiders in a foreign and inhospitable land, and both the Israelites and the monster desire violent revenge on their enemy.

Psalm 137 begins: “By the rivers of Babylon- there we sat and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Ps 137:1). In this Psalm, the Israelites, captives in a strange land, lament the loss of their land and the diaspora of their people.  In Frankenstein, the monster tells Victor that after he entered the “forest near Ingolstadt” he “lay by a brook resting from [his] fatigue” (Shelly 121). The monster, like the Israelites, has sat down at the side of a river and begins to lament his situation.

The Israelites thought that they were God’s chosen people, but the fall of Jerusalem led them towards feelings of isolation and doubt. Like the Israelites, the monster finds himself alone in an unknown place. The monster recounts his earliest memories by telling Victor, “It was dark when I awoke; I felt cold also, and half-frightened as it were instinctively, finding myself so desolate” (121). Throughout the novel, the monster seems to have no proper home. He lives with the DeLaceys for a while, but even then his lodgings are outside the house and in secret (125). Victor repeatedly tells his audience that he couldn’t access the deep recesses of wilderness where the monster lived, that the monster lived in the most inhospitable places. How similar then, must the monster have felt, to the Israelites who thought themselves snatched from the land of milk and honey and forced to wander the wilderness once again after the fall of their kingdom?

During the Babylonian captivity, the Israelites felt isolated from God and from the seat of his majesty- the Temple. In Frankenstein, the monster repeatedly bewails his feelings of loneliness and seclusion. The monster says that, “Increase of knowledge only discovered to me more clearly what a wretched outcast I was” and later asks Victor to create a female monster to keep him company (145, 156). The allusion to Psalm 137 shows how, like the isolation from God and the Temple felt by the Israelites, the monster’s separation from society has led him towards misery and hatred.

Psalm 137 ends with the Israelites looking forward to the children of their captors being “dashed upon the rocks” (Ps 137:9). In this aspect, the allusion to Psalm 137 seems to foreshadow the monsters own actions towards Victors family, including the murders of William, Clerval, and Elizabeth.

Walton’s Responsibility to Frankenstein’s Monster

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s critique of the criminal justice system’s consistency, her critique of retributive justice, and the death of Victor leave Walton with the responsibility to deliver justice to the monster. He is responsible for counseling the monster and restoring him to human society.

First, Walton must carry out some form of justice because the criminal justice system in Frankenstein lacks the ability to do so consistently. This system condemns Justine to death in the face of her own honest defense: “‘God knows,’ she said, ‘how entirely I am innocent…I rest my innocence on a plain and simple explanation of the facts which have been adduced against them; and I hope the character I have always borne will incline the judges to a favourable interpretation’” (104). In spite of her reasonable explanation and Elizabeth’s defense, she is found guilty and killed. Thus the law is not to be absolutely trusted in carrying out justice.

However, Walton is not responsible for killing or exiling the monster. The retributive system of punishment (matching punishment to crime) only results in more death and pointless suffering. Shelley emphasizes this through the monster’s murder of William, Elizabeth and Henry as he tries to retributively serve justice to Victor. Yet the monster reveals at Victor’s death that retribution is not satisfactory. The monster ends up wanting forgiveness; “what does it avail that I know ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst” (217). Retributive justice only destroys everyone involved; there is neither healing nor consolation. It only leads to more destruction and is therefore not just.

Walton instead has the responsibility to help the monster process his existence so he can best live for himself and for human society. The monster believes that his creator Victor is responsible for preparing him for a virtuous and happy life: “‘Remember, I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam…I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy and I shall again be virtuous” (118-119, 119). Victor did not befriend him nor guide him so the monster never learned how to live virtuously. It is fair to the monster that he be helped in this way and Walton is the last one who can help him.

However, this redemption would require detention. First, it would provide the opportunity for Walton to peacefully restore his feelings, for the monster lost some ability to empathize after killing Elizabeth: “then I was not miserable. I had cast off all feeling, subdued all anguish to riot in the excess of my despair” (218). Regardless if he lost all feeling or not, he would need guidance to learn how to feel sympathy, respect, and love. Second, it would help appease his fellow humans as they could see him “pay his debt to society,” helping them process his existence as well, though preferably in a monastery or small town where people could interact with him but stay away from large groups of people.

Lightning and Fire

The monster and Victor both have first memories in the natural world that shape them quite profoundly – Victor has his lightning storm, with the complete destruction of a tree, and the monster has his fire, which warms him while it destroys and burns. Victor’s lightning storm is sublime, for he is in awe of as much as he is terrified by its destructive power. It is beautiful, untamed nature. The monster’s fire is in contrast, for although nature can make fire, it is generally thought of as a tool of man. And like men, it is capable of both good and bad, life and death.

Victor’s lightning storm was first witnessed by him when he was fifteen years old (Vol. I, Ch. I). It ended in a tree’s ruin; “nothing remained but a blasted stump.” Victor was enraptured by this happening, that he went into the science field because of his wish to understand its complete destruction. He wanted to create something equal to the grandeur of the storm, which was why he valued alchemy over natural philosophy (Vol. I, Ch. II). In his mind’s eye Victor only saw that storm, and natural philosophy seemed to attempt to explain the realities of it when what he wanted was “boundless grandeur” to emulate. The next lightning storm Victor relates to us is in Vol. I, Ch. VI, when he sees the monster for the first time since the night he created him. Victor still sees the sublime in the storm, that it is “beautiful yet terrific,” but the destruction he sees this night comes from the creation he made in his dreams of majesty. His monster, a being himself created from other beings destroyed, is here at the scene of his first murder. Victor succeeded in his grand scheme – he made a monster amazing in its impossible life and terrifying in its complete destruction. And it will teach Victor the understanding of complete destruction, by killing all those who are dear to him (except brother Ernest, but that’s a different issue). Victor will become the “blasted tree” that first ignited him so (Vol. III, Ch. II), destroyed by his own inspiration.

The monster’s fire is a different matter, though it affects him similarly. He came upon his first fire during his wandering days, when he was discovering his senses and vulnerabilities. He came upon a fire “which had been left” by humans (Vol. II, Ch. III), so a human tool left in nature. He was “overcome with delight” and joy, but touching it brought him pain. “How strange, [he thinks], that the same cause could produce such opposite effects!” He has learned the dichotomy of flame – to save and to hurt. The same can be said of men, he later learns with the DeLaceys. Men could be “so virtuous, and magnificent, [and] yet so vicious and base” (Vol. II, Ch. V). He wondered at the DeLaceys virtue, and grew to loathe their vicious disgust at his appearance. He used his fire to destroy their cottage, where fire had once kept him and the family safe (Vol. II, Ch. VIII). He used man’s tool to destroy, which was the catalyst for his becoming destruction himself. We’ve already talked about he destroys Victor – he is Victor’s lightning bolt, glorious and fatal all at once – but the monster also destroys himself. Just like fire will eat and eat until it extinguishes itself, the monster continued to destroy and destroy, until by the end his “insatiable passion” of rage has left him tired and purposeless (Vol. III, Ch. VII). He resolves to end his life in fire, and will burn himself to ashes to rid the earth of him.

This is Victor and the monster’s relationship with their most defining memories, and I’d like to end with a quick comment on the adaptations of Frankenstein I am more familiar with. In all versions of Frankenstein that I know (since this is my first time reading the book), the monster was created with lightning, and the monster feared fire. While the actual science behind the monster’s creation was purposefully vague in the book, I think that film adaptations of it, which focus on the creation, are right in giving the monster life through lightning, because lightning was Victor’s original inspiration for his lofty goals, and the monster eventually became the lightning that destroyed Victor himself. Similarly, the films I have seen often have the monster as a far simpler creature, who would thus be scared of fire, which brings pain. In these versions I remember, the monster was no murderer, at least not on purpose. A fear of the tool that can be used to destroy fits a monster who is not the destruction his book-self is. The book and the film adaptations are vastly different, but these two big symbols, I think, are done justice.