Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Human beings always tried to comprehend the mystery of creation, viewing themselves as the rulers of nature, who are able to control the corresponding forces. In fact, human science overlooks the fact that there are certain issues which cannot be studied completely due to the limited capacities of human reason. Artificial creation of a living being and intervention into the sacred sense of conception are among subconscious taboos, yet individuals always tried to evade this important rule of the global order.
Parental duties are usually attributed to moral responsibility, as individuals with underdeveloped morality show dissatisfactory parenting skills, as their psyche cannot move from infant level. In her novel entitled “Frankenstein” Mary Shelley puts forth the issue of parenting and states that such ‘eternal children’ are often quite interesting and smart personalities with rich inner world, but they work primarily on their cognitive progress instead of caring about their social adequacy and adjustment to current norms, including the norms of parental commitment, which appears to the author problematic given the relevant facts form her biography and the transformation of her own view on children from “killers of mothers” to “creatures which can be grown into balanced individuals with proper parenting” throughout the novel .
At the beginning, Victor Frankenstein is introduced as a talented scientist, who finds social norms tense and in spite of being honored and recognized, decides to alienate himself from the broader community (Moers, 1977, p. 156). He needs to express himself in an unusual way, as traditional science seems to him too ‘earthy’, so the protagonist creates an alter ego for himself , or, more precisely, an individual, who reflects his own personality just like a mirror. Victor in fact has no evil intentions, as he wills to create a supreme human and doesn’t necessarily want his ‘child’ to commit such horrible crimes.
The setting of laboratory was selected by Shelley not accidentally, as this specific setting influences the first encounter between Victor and his progeny. In fact, because the main character has turned his laboratory into a gate, through which a new soul comes into the world and thus abused the sacred meaning of birth as a solemn event, the creature, born in the realm of test-tubes and rejected by its parent (as scientists tend to abandon the issues, which have been already researched), plots the revenge.
Furthermore, the laboratory embodies the artificial emotions and false impulses Victor had at the very beginning of the experiment (Moers, 1977, p. 162). This chamber of tortures, which occur for the sake of science, points to the lack of humanity first and foremost in Victor, not actually in the monster, who in fact experiences very strong emotions and seeks merely to receive some parental love and care.
On the contrary, Victor seems ill-prepared for his new responsibilities: “I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; 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 and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep” (Shelley, 1993, Ch.4, at http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext93/frank15.txt).
Since the time the homunculus comes into being, Frankenstein does not express anything like parental care or love to the ‘child’: once the creature appears in this world, the scholar shows his disgust and runs out from the room, as the process of birth causes contradictory emotions in the man: on the one hand, he is delighted with his advancement, but also feels confused as he really doesn’t know what to do with his ‘scientific purchase’. “When the creature attempts to follow him, Victor continues his escape thus abandoning his child, his newborn.
The extent of Frankenstein’s lack of attention to his creature’s outward appearance is disturbing”. (Moers, 1977, p. 163). He is fully aware of the beast’s gigantic size, but does not try to safeguard others from the “newborn”, neither he wishes to protect the child from the cruel world. In addition, Frankenstein identifies his ‘newborn’ as a total mistake, an accident and thus shows no compassion to his deformed creature, which requires attention and Victor’s parental performance – but gains estrangement and rejection instead. The protagonist finally tears all parental bonds, thus the homunculus can only seek revenge and the satisfaction of his anger concerning the abuser. Shelley therefore emphasizes the significance of appropriate parenthood strategies and methods by demonstrating the outcomes of poor performance.
In the similar way, Victor neglects his commitment to society, to all those ordinary individuals who are not familiar with science, but really wish to survive in this world – just like the creature’s first victim, an innocent infant who should have been adapted by Victor, as the story narrates. As one can assume, the murder of Frankenstein’s prospective foster child is to symbolize the homunculus’s jealousy towards the individual who is likely to gain more parental attention. The creature therefore longs to take the girl’s place in the creator’s heart or at least manifest itself in terms of typical childish envy.
The creature perfectly realizes the absence of a parental figure in his life. His encounter with the De Laceys, displaces him from his “natural state”, displays to him the family unit, exposes him to education, and to the laws and customs of society. The creature understands his alienation form society. This embitters him and causes his subsequent vindictiveness towards society and Victor” (Moers, 1977, p. 63). So how can the child who hasn’t received any motherly warmth succeed in self-development, including its moral and social aspects? Victor Frankenstein is thus irresponsible primarily in terms of poor training given to his creature – the scholar only proves his ability to give birth to a child, and following incapacity of bringing up the homunculus.
However, such fathers like Victors are basically (cognitively) incapable of making satisfactory caregivers, as they are isolated from society with the wall of their scientific voraciousness. For instance, when his homunculus’s power begins to grow, he decides to flee England instead of marrying his fiancée, who has helped him a lot because of the horrifying circumstances of the creature’s growth. The only thing Frankenstein in concerned about is his chemical instruments, which he is not able to take with him when escaping (Moers, 1977, p. 164).
The hypertextual transition from parenting issues to social responsibility is realized through the thorough depiction of Frankenstein’s behavior in the situation of adversity: having heard about the monstrous being walking across London, he leaves his girlfriend as well as the huge threat to her health and life: the homunculus could have easily killed Elizabeth. Furthermore, instead of resolving his parental conflict in Geneva and handling the situation, Victor escapes further, to the North Pole, even though he could have given priceless information to an investigator and had the monster caught and executed. Victor thus exaggerates social danger, gradually aggravating the creature with his estrangement and encouraging persecution-related monstrous passion.
At first, the theme of artificial creation resembles the demonization of the sanctity of motherhood, which might have existed as Shelley’s own mental disorders. It is highly important to note some traumatic events in Shelley’s own life: in fact, around 1814-1815, she gave birth to a child, and her pregnancy resulted in a particularly strong physical and psychological deterioration so that she began to believe her son was likely to kill her. Furthermore, the baby suddenly died in march 1815 (Moers, 1977, p. 165), leaving her fully shattered and incapable of coping with the motherhood-related fears.
Therefore, the author’s vision of motherhood is biased by her personal tragedy, as the novel reveals all anxieties of pregnancy, integrating them into the male protagonist, probably because Shelley sought to sublime her longing for pay males back for the biological and social inequality. Notably, Victor appears lonely and forgotten by relatives at the most important moment of his life, when his nine-month scientific experiment turns out successfully. Given his shock and inability to cope with new emotions on his own (such situation was typical in the case of a 19th century young mother, who enjoyed little support from her spouse and relatives).
Further, when developing the plot and her characters, the writer gradually comes to conclusion that Frankenstein himself is a classic case of an abused child, who did not receive enough parental attention and thus has grown into a heartless abuser. This is probably the core of the bitter truth about the 19th century motherhood as depicted by Shelley in the Gothic style: mothers, who are not ready enough for their new roles, are not able to bring up psychologically healthy individuals and thus continue the “damned circle” of generations, imposed by societal morals. Therefore, the novel helps Shelley take the position of an abandoned child and depict this adverse circle of generations, composed of unhappy poorly reared child, who maturate into uncommitted adults. According to Moers, “The heart of the novel is the creature’s discussion of his own development.
The creatur, himself, realizes that a child that is deprived of loving family becomes a monster” (Moers, 1977, p. 165). This means, the novel can be categorized as the author’s attempt to resolve her inner conflict and eliminate the persistent view on children as killers of women; she finally decides that small individuals are not basically evil, but become violent and cruel under unfavorable family circumstances. However, for the purpose of finding consensus between the conflicting views, Shelley needed to incorporate the distorted sanctity of motherhood as the major “argument” in the novel.
In order to appeal to reader’s emotions, Shelley frames the novel with sentimental motifs, which reflect the pain of an abandoned infant. Sentimentalism is also well-developed in the work, particularly during the interactions between Victor and his progeny, when the latter normally expresses his wish to stay with Frankenstein as well as his striving for parental attention and support. The contrast between the monster’s overall rudeness and such childish and naïve requests is indeed striking. Finally, at the end of the novel, Captain Walton finds the creature crying over its master’s corpse and repenting: “But it is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept” (Shelley, 1993, Ch. 24). Therefore, human sentiments are fully familiar even to such violent individuals.
To sum up, Mary Shelley, affected by her own trauma, provides striking and shocking evidence about her contemporary society, where ill-prepared individuals become parents, but fail to pay attention to the younger generation, so the story recurs until one of the neglected children grows up into a mentally unhealthy personally, symbolically represented by the homunculus. In this sense, parental duties can be viewed as social responsibility, as they include the application of societal parenting standards (love, safety and care for a child), and those who fail to meet these criteria are considered negligent in the other spheres of life, regardless of the relation between these spheres and parenthood. The commonly shared stereotype about the low reliability of bad parents in fact contain social wisdom about an indicator of human morality, a litmus paper of one’s trustworthiness as well as determine the grade of common respect for the person.
Moers, E. Literary Women. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
Shelley, M. Frankenstein. Available online at: http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext93/frank15.txt, 1993.