How Does Mary Shelley Explore Suffering in Frankenstein
How does Shelley portray suffering in “Frakenstein”? Throughout the novel, suffering of not only an individual but also humanity, remains at the heart of the plot. Many critics today believe that this suffering comes from the troubled and tormented life Shelley had. For example from 1815 to mid 1819, Shelley was to lose the first three of her four children, for which she held herself responsible.
Therefore, it could be argued that the monster is the embodiment of Shelley’s suffering and guilt. Suffering in the novel becomes apparent through the narrator, Frankenstein. For example, from a psychoanalyst’s perception of
Victor, his suffering comes from his character. Victor is the very incarnation of the Byronic Hero. He represents a lonely, isolated and self-? destructive force vulnerable to his own over-? powering emotions of greed and fervid curiosity. This is perfectly depicted in Caspar David Friedrich’s painting (commonly associated with the image of the Byronic hero) “Wanderer above the sea of fog” whereby a man overlooks an untouched landscape (Byron’s poem The Corsair; “lone, wild and strange, he stood alike exempt from all affection and all contempt”) with the sole desire to explore and gain victory. This passionately intense nd over-? powering desire of knowledge is perfectly depicted in Book IV of Milton’s Paradise Lost ‘Satan’s address to the sun’ (An epic poem heavily influencing Shelley) whereby Satan must suffer for his “Pride and worse ambition”. It is therefore blatant that Frankenstein’s immense feelings of isolation (Byron; “That man of loneliness and mystery”) and fervid desire become the sole cause of Frankenstein’s loss of humanity and mental self-? destruction (the use of the phrase “infernal machinations” implying a man so susceptible to his own greed, curiosity and isolation that his own mental torment becomes almost an quivalent to Dante’s ‘Inferno’). Therefore, Victor becomes the “Satan” of this novel. Having had an intense yearning for victory (as his name suggests), he has attempted to assume the position of God, which has only caused mental decline and suffering. Aside from his mental torment, Victor’s physical deterioration mirrors his guilt. Frankenstein has held himself responsible for the deaths of his closest friends and family. For example, in Chapter IV-? “I felt the fiend’s grasp in my neck” a direct link is made to Coleridge’s (a close friend of William Godwin-? Shelley’s Father) ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ whereby, fter having shot the albatross (once a symbol of good luck), the course of time has been altered forever; “With my crossbow I shot the Albatross”. Consequently, the “[shooting] of the albatross” in this novel comes not from Victor’s creation of the monster but infact his crime of denying the monster of love. For example, Rousseau (a philosopher that inspired Shelley) suggested that a child deprived of a loving family becomes a monster. This act of depriving the monster of maternal love (thus, showing men’s incapability of love) caused the monster to kill those closest to Victor. This sparked immense feelings of guilt n Victor “I was overcome by gloom and misery” linking to Coleridge’s poem (“And I had done a hellish thing”), which inevitably becomes the cause of his physical decline “The human frame could not longer support the agonizing suffering that I endured”. It is therefore, through the “hellish” act of denying the monster of love, that “The Albatross about [Victor’s] neck was hung” and his supreme guilt lead to his suffering. Victor’s physical deterioration in this novel also confirms the idea of “The Double”. As many critics have suggested, the monster is merely a projection of Frankenstein’s innate corruption. It is hence ossible to assume that Frankenstein’s physical suffering and loss of humanity comes from the monster’s increased power thus showing how these two individuals are linked. The idea of such a double is backed up by the fact that the monster kills at moonlight and thus, the moon acts as an illuminating object shining into the heart of Victor only to reveal the monster. Such a theme is present in Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” whereby; the suppressed emotions of Dr, Jekyll are projected at night in the ultra-? ego of Mr. Hyde. However, a far greater suffering is observed within the monster. The suffering comes within
The Daemon’s rejection from his creator Frankenstein. The Daemon has lost any parental influence or more importantly, he has failed to achieve his “father figure”. Constant desire to be appreciated by a father is a theme in this novel. For example, Frankenstein felt safe and secure in the presence of his father (“Nothing, at this moment, could have given me greater pleasure than the arrival of my father”) and Shelley herself longed for the appreciation and love from her father (especially after, William Godwin cut off relations to Shelley after her marriage to Percy). However, the monster, much like Adam from Paradise
Lost, has failed to be appreciated by Victor (who he views as his father). In Paradise Lost, Adam had a constant desire to please God, but due to the temptation of Eve, he was outcast and rejected. This is similar to the monster, as purely to his appearance, the monster has been denied love from his father thus giving rise to an Oedipus complex. This Oedipus complex (also present in Shakespeare’s Macbeth) is shown through the monster as, when Frankenstein rejects the monster, the monster seemingly denounces him as a father and instead views his mother (possibly, nature) as the only love he will ever receive (“He was soon orne away by the waves”-? last sentence, Page 191). Therefore, this rejection of love from a paternal influence based on the monster’s appearance of “horror and disgust” (page 39) has lead to a loss of identity within the monster, and thus a mental anguish and suffering (“who am miserable beyond all living things-? page 77). This suffering the monster feels is extended by society’s further rejection of him based on his appearance. The fact that he is even rejected by the DeLaceys is Shelley’s view that everyone, however seemingly perfect, has an innate ability to judge based on appearance. This is why the monster s, at first, welcomed into the house of DeLacey. He is blind and therefore does not possess humanity’s evil ability to judge based on appearance-? he therefore is the very quintessence of purity and kindness at the heart of a judgmental society as he does not possess sight. Shelley therefore attempts to suggest that humanity’s most dangerous quality is sight. This allows The Monster to believe he really is “a daemon”/ “wretch”/ “foul being” and suffers due to it. However, despite the suffering of the individual, this novel seems to address a far greater suffering; the suffering of humanity. Linking once again to
Milton’s Paradise Lost, the ‘ultimate sin’ of Eve stealing the forbidden fruit leads to Adam and Eve (the first humans and thus, our ancestors) to be outcast to the wilderness. The suffering of humanity therefore comes from the fact that we, as descendants of Adam and Eve must be held responsible for Adam and Eve’s actions and temptation. Therefore, the human existence is based on the belief that we must continually repent for our ancestor’s sins and leads to the theory that the monster is merely the embodiment of God’s vengeance, warning the most corrupt humans who attempt to overcome nature (which is sublime and God-? ontrolled) that, God will prevail. This is however a use of irony. Mary Shelley married Percy Shelley 3 years after he was expelled from Oxford for his pamphlet “The necessity of atheism”. This therefore exposes Shelley’s cynicism of religion, whereas it should be based on glorifying existence, it is in fact, based on the suffering of humanity. Further suffering of humanity is observed through the treatment of sexuality in the novel. When Adam and Eve were cast out into the wilderness in Paradise Lost, they had to commit the ‘original sin’ of sexual reproduction as a means to produce offspring and ensure the survival f humanity. This act therefore undermines God’s power as it shows nature and science cannot be controlled by God (who is allegedly ‘the creator of all’). Therefore, within Victorian society a religiously backed suppression of sexuality meant men could not show any signs of sexual desire and that instead they must be kept secret. This leads to the idea that the monster is infact the depiction of Frankenstein’s sexual desire and that, much like the monster, it is locked away in the human body and allowed to ‘fester’ it will only be more ugly and violent (as shown in Elizabeth’s death and Frankenstein’s destruction of he female monster which seem to almost mirror an aggressive rape). Moreover, this leads to the development of what is more commonly known as “The Queer Theory”. This entails the idea that Frankenstein has a secretly oppressed homosexual desire which was shunned upon by Victorian society and that the only way to reveal this homo-? erotic desire was to create the “daemon” as a male Adonis “I selected his features a beautiful” in order to fulfil his suppressed sexuality. Therefore, humanity suffers as their sexuality is oppressed by society and religion meaning that when it is revealed only more suffering is unleashed.
Shelley in this novel also speaks from a seemingly feminist perspective. This may have been inspired by her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft’s book “A Vindication of the rights of woman” which placed stress on female independence and the importance of female education (women who succumb to sensuality will be “blown about by every momentary gust of feeling”); which links to the passive and generally ‘pathetic’ description of women in this novel. They’re suffering comes from the fact that Eve, the first woman committed the original sin thus damning society into a world far less sublime than the Garden of Eden. Therefore, Shelley esires show how women are forced into submission and general passiveness as a result of being the gender that committed the original sin. Their passiveness, perfectly depicted in Elizabeth and Justine, links well to Coventry Patmore’s poem, The Angel in the house. This poem states the power men possess over women and that, to remain included in society, women must remain tacit and pretty so to fulfil the expectations of society. This links to the monster; the monster fails to fulfil society’s expectations of appearance and therefore is outcast. However, this juxtaposes with women as they fulfil society’s expectations and