Frankenstein's creature, or monster, first appeared in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or The Modern
Prometheus. It has been said that "no written work of the Romantic school of literature has been of greater interest to 20th century scholarship than Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." In popular culture the creature is frequently referred to as Frankenstein, after his creator Victor Frankenstein. However, in the novel the creature has no name. Throughout different adaptations, the creature has become known by several different names. He might also frequently be called the wretch, demon, or monster. The creature is assembled by limbs from corpses and the brain has been acquired from the University of Ingolstadt. He is an unsightly, gigantic monster. Due to his appearance, he is rejected and feared. Upon his creation he is immediately violent and eventually seeks his revenge on anyone who has wronged him. However, he is rarely violent until frightened or crossed. Victor Frankenstein is immediately repulsed and frightened of the creature’s existence. He wishes he never conducted the experiment, or created the monster. Throughout Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it can be conceived that the creature’s sole desire is to be accepted by others. He has a desire to learn and to have a mate. He has an innocence like that of a child, and he does not understand his own strength. One might be able to sympathize with him. The creature does not rely on complex meals for survival like a normal human does. Instead, he can live merely off of nuts and berries, and various nutrients found in the wilderness (Shelley, 81). Here in the wilderness he comes in contact with the DeLacey family, and appears more human like than he ever has. It is during this time that one may comprehend the creature’s desire to have friends or a family.
Once the creature comes to life he is confused and soon becomes violent. His violence and appearance cause him to become feared and alienated. Even his creator Victor Frankenstein referred to him as the “miserable monster whom I had created” (Shelley, 41). It can be perceived that Victor was playing God by trying to control the creation of life. He wished to produce his own type of creatures. He desired to infuse life into an inanimate body (Shelley, 41). That is, until “Frankenstein” comes in to existence. Being cast aside by whom had brought him to life, the creature becomes angry. He sets out on his own possibly looking for a friend. Almost every individual he comes across fears him because of his frightening appearance. While in the wilderness he meets the DeLacey family. He spends time with them and feels as if he is a part of a family. Some time goes by and eventually the family parts ways. Again, he is left feeling isolated and alone. The creature has a sense of innocence about him and he does not know his own strength. In the movie, "Frankenstein" (1931), the creature comes in contact with a young girl. She asks him to play, and they head down to the water. There, the child shows him how her boat made out of flowers floats. He copies her actions, and tosses his flowers in the water as well. Seeing that both sets of flowers seem to float, the creature proceeds to throw the little girl in to the water thinking she will float. She in turn drowns. The creature may not have intentionally drowned her because he was unaware that she would not float like the flowers. In Mary Shelley’s novel, the creature returns to Victor Frankenstein and tries to convince him to create him a friend. The monster promises to leave Victor’s land and not commit any more crimes as long as Victor gives him a mate. This shows the creatures longing to feel accepted, and have a companion.
Once the creature comes to life, he is like an infant. He does not know the world around him; he is easily frightened, and is unable to speak. However, he can understand what others are saying. After being cast out by his own creator he wanders into the woods. At this time he is unaware of what the light is called and where it comes from (Shelley, 80). The creature begins to distinguish his sensations from each other. He knows that he eats berries, and has realized that he drinks water from the stream (Shelley, 80). He is frightened by fire at the beginning of his existence, until it is explained to him that fire is good. He realizes that fire may sometimes provide warmth for an individual. The creature then begins to figure out how one goes about making a fire. He soon discovers that fire plays an important role not only in providing warmth, but it also is useful in preparing his food (Shelley, 81). The monster seeks knowledge and understanding. In the "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) when he first met the blind Mr. DeLacey he is frightened when he lights a match for a smoke. Mr. DeLacey educates the creature on what is good and what is bad. He also teaches the creature how to speak. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, while spending time with the DeLacey family the creature begins to read and learn about language from books he found in the woods. He admits that he was puzzled at first when Mr. DeLacey was reading, but he soon discovered the papers from which Mr. DeLacey was saying the words (Shelley, 89). He states that he has a desire to understand the family (Shelley, 93). With this desire to gain knowledge and a better understanding of the world around him, the creature has the opportunity to function alongside humans.
Over the duration of time the creature spent with the DeLacey’s he began to understand the concept of sympathy. He enjoyed watching them and he learned how to feel sorry for them. The creature realizes a sense of sadness among them and is curious about what is causing their grief. He states, “A considerable period elapsed before I discovered one of the causes of the uneasiness of the amiable family; it was poverty” (Shelley, 87). During this time the creature also began to understand the concept of class. He recalled how kind the younger ones were to the old man and how they placed food in front of him even if that meant there would be none left for them. He finally realized how much they were suffering. The creature soon came to the decision that the food he had been stealing from them during the night in order to remain nourished needed to be attained in different ways. He no longer wanted to take food from the struggling family. Instead of taking sustenance from the DeLacey’s, he gathered berries, nuts, and roots from the neighboring wood (Shelley, 87). The creature also chose to assist the family in their labors. Since he was originally taking their tools before he found out about their financial situation, he opted to help the family by gathering wood and other means to assist them. This is one of the first times in the novel that the creature shows human like emotions. Before he realized their financial condition he took items from them, being unaware of the troubles they were going through. He merely saw what he needed or wanted and took from the family to ensure his survival. Once he sees how he is aiding to the troubles of the family, he decides to play a different role in their lives. This shows that he is capable of understanding the emotions of others.
Impact in/for Frankenstein
The major themes in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus played an important role in her novel and its adaption history. Education plays an important role throughout the text. Victor Frankenstein has the opportunity to get an education, but in turn chooses to leave the University of Ingolstadt and creates the monstrous creature. The creature has a desire to learn and be accepted. He reads and learns how to interact with others. His relationship with the DeLacey’s helps him gain a better vocabulary and an understanding of those around him. Mr. DeLacey also educates the creature on his verbal skills. The books the creature found in the woods were used to help self-educate him. The creature learns how to speak and distinguish his feelings and emotions. He tries to convince Victor to create him a mate, and in return he will harm no one else. Victor does not comply with the creature’s request, which causes him to become violent. It can be perceived that the creature’s main desire is to be accepted and loved. He is incredibly ecstatic when Victor agrees to construct a mate for him, but that thrill later diminishes when Victor changes his mind. He refuses to create another monster like “Frankenstein.” Throughout the many adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein several themes stay the same. Due to the creatures appearance he is cast aside and treated as an abomination, even by the man who created him. The creature always has a desire to be accepted. Whether he wishes for a mate or a friend, the desire for a sense of community is strong. The desire for knowledge does not disappear in adaptations either. “Frankenstein” comes to life with the inability to speak and the longing to learn. Lastly, as in most horror films and texts, the monster never dies. The monster always prevails.
References and Suggestions for Further Reading
Britton, Ronald. "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: What Made The Monster Monstrous?." The Journal Of Analytical Psychology 60.1 (2015): 1-11. PsycINFO. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. New York: Pearson Education, 2003. Print.
Bride of Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perf. Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Colin Clive, and Ernest Lanchester. Universal Pictures, 1935. Film.
Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perf. Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Boris Karloff, Dwight Frye, and Edward van Sloan. Universal Pictures, 1931. Film.