Frankenstein's True Monster

Friday, October 23, 2015

by Rachel Gross

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a novel which symbolizes “remotely or unconsciously, the central tensions of an age of social liberation and political revolution” (Malchow 90). Eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain was a time of great turmoil. Machines and industries quickly overtook the working world while also taking away human emotion, empathy, and connection. Victor Frankenstein and his creation represent the idea that people feared during Industrialization: too much advancement in a society can self-destruct and reveal harsh consequences. Pushing morals and traditional decorum aside, Frankenstein loses himself to the pursuit of knowledge and recognition. The “wretch-the miserable monster” is left to face the world without basic human rights or companionship (Shelley 43). Shelley employs Frankenstein’s experimentation as a warning against the upheaval and isolation caused by mankind’s technological advancement.

The Industrial Revolution was an era of widespread shifts in the traditional economic structure as Britain rapidly advanced technology in agriculture and engineering. However, industrialization also led to loss of self-identity and human connection in a factory world. As a Romanticist, Shelley found the mechanization of life inhumane and unnatural. She fought against the isolation of this new world through her novel Frankenstein. Shelley wrote the character Frankenstein as one who learns “how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge… to become greater than his nature will allow” (Shelley 38). Frankenstein “becomes increasingly estranged and isolated” in his journey to transform nature itself, to learn of the world’s secrets (Stock 336). In removing himself from human society, Frankenstein loses his humanity to the notion of progress, neither contemplating emotions nor morals to reanimate life. Shelley portrays how Frankenstein’s “original and daring triumphs rapidly disintegrate into disappointment and self-destruction,” alluding to the bedlam she saw in a rapidly changing world (Stock 336).

While Frankenstein represents the society engaged with Industrialization, his experimentation portrays the unforeseen consequences of such advancement. “After so much time spent in painful labour,” society saw only the progress made through mechanizing the economic and agricultural structure as “the most gratifying consummation” of their toils (Shelley 37). They did not pause to consider the negative aspects of rash actions, simply believing in the betterment of the future. Human connection rapidly disintegrated at the hands of accelerated advancements. Just as Victor locked himself away from society so to was the industrialized nation isolating itself to work on its own monster. Shelley uses the creature as a warning against too much advancement in society and introduces the idea that isolation for the sake of invention could include physical and emotional penalties. The creature, as a product of ruthless studies, creates havoc and chaos in Frankenstein’s life. This mirrors the rising chaos Shelley observed as she “witnessed humanity seizing responsibility” and developing into the unknown (Malchow 91). Just as Frankenstein’s triumphs concluded in violence so too did the Romantics believe Industrialization could only end in fire.

The “savage inhabitant of some undiscovered land” symbolizes not only physical chaos but also emotional ruin in the pursuit of knowledge (Shelley 9). Shelley considered Industrialization harsh to the human spirit and numbing to the senses. In a society where factories and machines overtook human work, humanity began to grow isolated and indifferent. The creature, with his discrepancies from society, parallels this theme as he felt “alone and miserable; man will not associate with me… deformed and horrible as myself” (Shelley 123). His own creator feels the creature was not worthy nor had the rights to live amongst the humans, further isolating itself from human compassion. However, the monster fully feels the weight of isolation when his plea for a mate is rejected. Frankenstein tears apart his second creature in revulsion, far too consumed with his own feelings to meet the needs of his creation. In turn, the monster tears apart Frankenstein’s happiness so he too will feel a lifetime of loneliness. Shelley portrays Frankenstein as fearing “of the non-European outsider… yet, as his obsession grows, he becomes an outsider himself” (Stock 336). Industrialization separated society from emotional life as it became obsessed with learning nature’s mysteries. Frankenstein, much like society, desired to advance the world to new heights. The creature became detached and “desolate in this peopled earth” from the whims of one too far focused on progression (Shelley 122).    

Frankenstein’s creature was not the monster of the novel. Progression was not the monster of the new world. As Shelley depicts in the novel, isolation was the true evil of both worlds. Victor estranges himself from all human kind at the university which in turn is the cause of all tragedy and despair felt. The creature is excluded from society and loving companionship, seeing only a lifetime of isolation ahead and ultimately causing destruction. Through these vivid characters, Shelley portrays the world she views in an advancing society: a breakdown of civilization, an innumerable amount of tragedy, and an isolation caging one away from the world.

Works Cited

Malchow, H.L. “Frankenstein’s Monster and Images of Race in Nineteenth Century Britain.”

Past and Present: 139 (1993): 90-130. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. New York: Penguin Group (USA),Inc., 1963. Print.

Stock, Paul. “The Shelleys and the idea of ‘Europe’.” European Romantic Review: 19.4 (2008):

335-349. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.

« return