The DeLacey Family can be found in Volume 2 of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Though the family and the monster have minimum interaction, they play a major role in the monster's development as a character. As the monster wanders the countryside to escape the wrath of the first town he discovers, he builds a small dwelling to view the outside world from a distance. He comes to study a poor, peasant family. The first member of the family the monster observes is a young woman named Agatha. The monster notes her plain way of dressing and her "patient, yet sad" countenance as she does her chores (Shelley, 79). The monster later sees a young man named Felix and recalls his countenance as one of "a deeper despondence" (Shelley, 79). During his observation, the monster realizes that part of the "dwelling" he created allows him to see into the house of the brother and sister he had been watching. As he peers through the cottage, he observes "an old man, leaning with his head on his hands in a disconsolate attitude" (Shelley, 80). The monster learns that this is the leader of the family, a blind man named DeLacey. The monster begins to admire the family’s nights of music-playing and story-telling. Despite the family’s love for one another, the monster observes the continuation of their collective sadness until the arrival of an Arabian woman. The monster shares that the new addition to the family is Felix’s love, Safie. He learns that Safie and Felix were separated after Safie’s father “became obnoxious to the government”, which led to the family’s sadness (Shelley, 92). After witnessing their joyful reunion, the monster begins his self-education through observation of Felix's teaching lessons for Safie and books he finds in the woods. One night, when DeLacey is home alone, the monster finds the courage to finally meet him. Their seemingly successful conversation comes to a screeching halt when DeLacey’s family enters the cottage and attacks the monster out of fear. This encounter fuels the monster’s anger for his creator, Frankenstein.
The monster’s observation of the DeLacey family teaches him the concept of sympathy. He becomes aware of the family’s financial situation through close observation of their behavior. The monster recalls, “A considerable period elapsed before I discovered one of the causes of the uneasiness of this amiable family; it was poverty: and they suffered that evil in a very distressing degree”(Shelley, 82). Not long into the monster’s development, he begins to understand the concept of class. This understanding allows him to see the battle the family is facing with their ability to produce their own means of survival.
Initially, the monster steals the family's food and firewood as a way to ensure his own survival. The monster shares, “I had been accustomed, during the night, to steal a part of their store for my own consumption; but when I found that in doing this I inflicted pain on the cottagers, I abstained, and satisfied myself with berries, nuts, and roots, which I gathered from a neighboring wood” (Shelley, 82). After close observation, the monster comes to the realization that the family he is stealing from is one of meager means. Seeing how this affects the family, which he refers to as the infliction of pain, shows the monster’s comprehension of the emotions of others.
The family’s suffering causes the monster to change his behavior from a thief to a giver as he becomes the family's secret supplier of firewood. The monster shares, “I found that the youth spent a great part of each day in collecting wood for the family fire; and, during the night, I often took his tools, the use of which I quickly discovered, and brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days” (Shelley, 82). The monster’s sympathy and adoration for the DeLaceys is captured with this gesture. Sympathizing with their condition of poverty and realizing his contribution to their limited resources, results in his aid with gathering wood to help the DeLaceys survive the cold weather.
Through his observation of the DeLaceys, the monster learns the theme of family. This comes under family values. The monster learns that DeLacey is a blind man and his children, Felix and Agatha have to compensate for this loss of labor by each doing more than their fair share of work around the cottage. The monster becomes fascinated by the relationship between the father and his two children. He observes, “Nothing could exceed the love and respect which the younger cottagers exhibited towards their venerable companion. They performed towards him every little office of affection and duty with gentleness; and he rewarded them with his benevolent smiles” (Shelley, 82). The monster’s understanding of family begins with his analysis of the relationship between the three family members. He sees the kind treatment that is reciprocated from parent to child. Felix and Agatha serve their father through their work around the house, and they are rewarded by the affection and appreciation of their father, which is shown through his “benevolent smiles”.
The monster is able to see the love behind the actions of each family member that serve the greater good of the family. The monster recalls memories of Felix’s kindness towards Agatha. He remembers, “In the midst of poverty and want, Felix carried with pleasure to his sister the first little white flower that peeped out from beneath the snowy ground” (Shelley, 84). With this gesture, the monster learns that the DeLacey family, despite limited means and distress, still place an incredible value on sharing their love for one another. The monster also recalls Felix waking up before his father and sister to clear paths through the snow for Agatha’s chores, gathering wood for the family’s fire and drawing water for the family to drink. Felix’s actions put him in a fatherly role, as he is the one to take the responsibility of caring for his family because of his father’s inability to do so. His ability to put his family’s needs before his own, shows the love that has been engrained in the DeLaceys.
The monster’s observation of the love the family members have for one another is both a benefit to the monster's understanding of family life, as he comes to crave such a tight-knit relationship, as well as a detriment, as he comes to the realization that he will never be a part of such a unit.
After close observation of the family, the monster is able to become familiar with their language, as he is able to understand a certain amount of their words and produce some of his own. When Safie arrives, the monster reports her use of a language unfamiliar to him. To break down this language barrier, Felix uses his mastery of language to teach Safie. The monster observes these lessons and uses the instruction for the continuation of his own skills. The monster remembers, “Presently I found, by the frequent recurrence of one sound which the stranger repeated after them, that she was endeavouring to learn their language; and the idea instantly occurred to me, that I should make use of the same instructions to the same end”(Shelley, 88). The education of Safie runs parallel with the education of the monster. Safie and the monster both learn the science of letters, as well as their meanings when combined in various ways.
This education is conducted through basic instruction and the use of C.F. Volney's Ruins of Empires. Once the monster reaches a high level of literacy, he continues his self-education through John Milton's Paradise Lost, Plutarch’s Lives and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Sorrows of Werter, all of which he finds in a bag in the woods. The books not only assist the monster in obtaining a greater understanding of language, but open his eyes to a world of emotion, feeling and experience. The monster shares, “I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me and infinity of new images and feelings, that sometimes raised me to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection” (Shelley, 96). The written word causes the monster to question his existence. This questioning breeds more hate for his creator as he grows to despise his hated and feared condition.
Impact in Frankenstein
The theme of sympathy encourages the monster’s growth as a character. Sympathy allows him to understand right from wrong and good from bad. Through close observation of the family, the monster becomes aware of the DeLacey's poverty and develops feelings of remorse for his actions, so he becomes the silent supplier of the family’s firewood. The monster’s sympathetic nature contributes to his development as complex character with the conscience of a human but the appearance of a monster.
The DeLaceys represent a unit of love and togetherness that has been absent from the monster’s life from his creation. Through the monster’s constant observation of the DeLaceys, he begins to desperately yearn to become a part of their family. He witnesses the simple yet incredibly meaningful gestures of Felix for his father and sister—picking the first flower of the season for Agatha, shoveling a path so Agatha can perform her chores with ease, and waking up before the rest of his family to gather firewood and draw water. He also sees the love behind Agatha’s labor, as she also completes daily tasks around their cottage to compensate for their father’s inability to help due to his blindness. This concept of supporting one another simply out of love, is a theme that is most easily found through examination of family relationships. The monster observes their genuine appreciation for one another as he sees that even in their struggles with poverty and the separation of Felix and Safie, they still treat each other with the utmost kindness and love. Understanding the love that serves as the backbone for the DeLaceys success as a family opens the monster’s eyes to the absence of love in his creation and throughout his existence.
The theme of education inspired by the monster’s observation of the DeLaceys proves to be both a blessing and a detriment to his development as a character. Initially, the monster is satisfied with achieving a basic understanding of the family’s communication, but this small taste of knowledge drives the monster to continue the expansion of his education. After observing Felix's education of Safie, the monster desires to become even more aware of the outside world. He conducts this self-education through Paradise Lost, Plutarch’s Lives, and Sorrows of Werter. These books improve his comprehension of written language, but bring to his attention the realities of his condition. He begins to question his existence—who he is and what meaning his life has. These questions ultimately cause his ruin as he comes to the understanding that he is a creature without a distinct place in society. This realization contributes to his swelling anger towards his creator, Frankenstein.
References and Suggestions for Further Reading
Buchen, Irving H. "Frankenstein and the Alchemy of Creation and Evolution." JSTOR. Marilyn Gaull, Spring 1977. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
"The Family of De Lacey." The Life and Times of The Creation. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
"Romantic Circles." Wollstonecraft Shelley, Mary. Ed. Neil Fraistat. University of Maryland, May 2009. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
Shelley, Mary W. Frankenstein. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2007. Print.