The suffering in Frankenstein is undeservered
“The suffering in Frankenstein is undeserved” How far and in what ways do you agree with this view of Shelley’s presentation of suffering? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein presents suffering through a variety of different mediums, however whether or not that suffering is deserved varies depending on the construction of the character. The novel was written in 1818 in the latter stages of the Gothic literary genre; Shelley incorporates the gothic theme when enabling two types of character – those who are innocent victims and those which are responsible for their own predicament.
In creating and then running from his creation, Victor has behaved with culpable irresponsibility, and thus provoked the Creature’s revenge. Victor can therefore be seen as deserving of the suffering brought his way, due to his irreparable damage as a result of his initial neglect of ‘the monster’. Nonetheless, one could deduce that it is the responsibility of the Creature to recognise his own destructive actions. Shelley creates Victor’s first person recollecting narration to be arrogant and selfish in nature.
In chapters 1 through 3, Victor is shown to be overly content: “no human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself”, he has an “eager desire to learn” which fuels his satisfaction. Such contrast between his gratification before the creation of ‘the monster’, and his constant suffering which is imposed after, emphasises the mistake which was “trying to play god”: “When man tries to play God, he messes up the process…When Frankenstein made the daemon, he created something that only brought chaos upon his life” (Chris Jones).
Victor is the sole creator of all the anguish and thus holds undivided responsibility; this is ultimately presented when the monster refers to him as “my tyrant and tormenter”. Fred Botting writes that “[the monster’s] subsequent violence displays the equally human interrogation of human characteristics that revolted him” consequently it is apparent, that without Victor’s hubristic desires, all destruction could have been avoided. Moreover, Victor’s narcissistic manner restricts the reader from sympathising with him, due to his inability to take full responsibility for his actions: “I believed myself to possess a natural talent”.
Victor’s “impatient thirst for sympathy” makes it apparent that he is entirely ignorant to his accountability in the matter. “I am alone and miserable, only someone as ugly as I am could love me”, instead of accepting the monster’s plea, Victor tries to do right but preventing what he feels to be the potential for further danger which is encompassed with the creation of another. By doing so, Victor sacrifices his happiness alongside the lives of his dearest. In addition, his disregard for his own creation again highlights his narcissism: “I have endured toil and misery”.
We hear the monster’s voice through Victor’s narration, thus presenting to the reader that he is fully aware of the suffering he has caused however actively choses to abandon the request with compete disregard to the feelings of ‘the monster’: “a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth”. Instead of protecting and nurturing his creation Victor shies away from responsibility, presenting the superficial reasoning he has for inflicting incessant suffering on ‘the monster’. By leaving him in isolation, Victor’s own suffering is vindicated.
From a psychoanalytical perspective of the novel, ‘the monster’ can been seen as the ultimate representation of Frankenstein: “Victor Frankenstein’s evident longing for another, despite his close friendship with Henry Clerval and his betrothal to Elizabeth, leads to the creation of a being who becomes the inadequate other which is in reality Victor himself” (Kestner quoted in Botting, 1995: 69). This idea also relates to the narcissus complex, as Victor denies his flaws and instead projects them onto his creation.
From this it is evident that Victor’s suffering parallels with that of ‘the monster’, as in both cases it is the result of abandonment – the monster is refused into society and Victor loses all those dearest to him: “that I might remain alone”. Even so, it may be seen that the suffering of Victor’s is more justified due to his central role in creating “the offspring of solitude and delirium”. Conversely, it can be argued that ‘the monster’ is scientific research, and so was created to suffice Victor’s curiosity. He was unaware of what came to be and so cannot be blamed for society’s inability to accept such abnormality.
However, Mary Shelley places emphasis on Victor’s “fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature” in order to accentuate his violation of natural boundaries. She constructs this rape metaphor in order to depict a woman (representing nature), resisting his attempts to violate her. Victor is therefore presented as fully conscious of his attempt to “pour a torrent of light into our dark world”. From a feminist perspective it can be seen that the female characters are represented as passive, vulnerable and essentially in need of rescuing.
Their suffering may therefore be considered unwarranted due to their innocuous presentation. The lack of attention Victor pays Elizabeth causes her to suffer emotionally due to his distance, hence permitting her loneliness: “tortured as I have been by anxious suspense”, suggesting Elizabeth as innocently distressed due to Victor’s abandonment. Furthermore, this undeserved suffering due to the physical neglect Victor pays her – as a result of his egotistic manner – is further emphasised in Danny Boyle’s interpretation of Shelley’s novel.
The production portrays the obvious idea that Victor could have created life with Elizabeth “the usual way” (by having a child), however rejects this as he devotes himself to the creation of an artificial being. His hubristic qualities outline his obsession with equating to the level of god, through his avid cravings for biological discovery: “natural philosophy is the genius that has regulate my fate”. Such rejection of childbirth reflects that of the traumatic experiences Shelley underwent in her lifetime. She lost three of her children prematurely before giving birth to her only surviving son.
Indeed, the distressing loss she experienced first-hand may have been the drive behind Victor’s fervent desire for finding other ways to create life; in this case bestowing “animation upon lifeless matter”. Accordingly, the suffering of Elizabeth is therefore undeserved as it is the result of Victor’s narcissistic qualities and irrational zeal: “my passions vehement”. The construction of the minor characters that become the consequences of Victor’s creation, together present the undeserved suffering in Frankenstein. William, Justine, Clerval and Elizabeth all die at the hand of Victor’s creation.
Their combined suffering is undeserved as they are simply the repercussion of Victors “ultimate crime against God” [David Punter]. Their deaths could be seen to highlight Victor’s deserved suffering, as although the consequences of his “crime” are presented, he still rejects his accountability. “They were dead, and I lived; their murderer also lived”, Shelley uses the conjunctive “also” to separate “their murderer” from him. Victor describes both him and ‘the monster’ identically as living, however purposely differentiates between the two through removing himself from blame.
Shelley presents different types of suffering within the minor characters. Whilst subjects like Clerval and William suffer physical pain from a brutal murder, Justine on the other hand, suffers through injustice and false accusation; an unintended exile as a result of Victor’s narcissistic quality, which is the reason he cannot admit blame for the events at hand, “such declarations…would not have exculpated her who suffered through me”. His assertion of pity immediately relates back to himself, presenting his need for self-justification: “poor unhappy Justine, was as innocent as I”.
Still, Victor does recognise that the events were “a result of [his] curiosity and lawless devices” and describes the events as a “wretched mockery of justice”. Nonetheless, regardless of his internal confession: “I am the cause of this – I murdered her”, the containment of these thoughts is ultimately the cause of her death. The superficial neglect society has for the creature is pivotal to the suffering he endures, as well as that which circulates the novel. The reader’s first exposition of the ‘monster’s’ suffering in the initial stages of his narration, permit a sense of empathy: “I felt cold…half-frightened…finding myself so desolate”.
His suffering is undeserved due to his innocence. With the neglect of Victor, he had no mother figure to raise and nurture him, and as a result one must ask from an ethical perspective, is he then accountable for his unmonitored actions. Mary Shelley explores this debate most likely to reflect her primary experiences with a motherless childhood. In contrast, when the novel switches back to Victor’s narration, the monster’s suffering may begin to be seen as rational due to his vice acts of murder, permitting him to lose all sense of innocence and instead fulfil the stereotype set in motion of a “monster”.
“Traditionally monsters were interpreted as signs of divine anger or portents of impending disasters” [Yorknotes advanced, Frankenstein]. Shelley forces the reader to question what a “monster” really is when society’s leaders decide to exclude Justine, causing Elizabeth to declare how in their violence and cruelty, people appear to be “monsters thirsting for each other’s blood”. The significance of which allows the reader to deliberate whether ‘the monster’ is worthy of his title, and thus either permitting his suffering as deserved or proclaiming it as unjustified.
The suffering of the De Lacey family is somewhat deserved as a result of their responsibility for the unkind treatment of the Creature, “their horror and consternation on beholding me”. It could be argued that their rejection of the monster fuels his anger, thus enabling him to inflict pain on is creator – due to his resentment of him. Their suffering could be seen as justified as they are the foundation which drove ‘the monster’ to become vengeful: “I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn”.
Certainly, it can be argued that the monstrous acts underwent by the creature, and society’s unjust negligence for the being – as his sole rejection is based on his physical appearance alone (presented primarily through the De Lacey family) – are acts which are unlawful and thus deserving of the suffering they permit. However, in actuality, only the promethean endeavourer, Victor Frankenstein, can obtain fully deserved suffering due to the hubristic drive behind his prying. At the beginning of the novel, victor appears to be a brilliant young man with idealistic and somewhat naive ambitions.
“A new species would bless [him] as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to [him]”. However he becomes arrogant with his knowledge of life and death, “life and death appeared to [him] ideal bounds, which [he] should first break through”, and thus pays dearly for his carelessness in exercising this power. As summarised by the quote “not in deed, but in effect, was the true murder”, it is evident that Victor holds exclusive responsibility for all suffering inflicted.