Victor Frankenstein: The Disappointed Father
Admittedly, Frankenstein could be read and interpreted in any number of ways. Some read the novel and think that the creature is a horrible villain who should be despised and disdained; others feel no pity at all for Victor, his creator and have exceeding sympathy for the creature. Some say the myth is a hero myth while others say it is a creation myth. All of these readings have validity and arguments can be made that Frankenstein and its characters fit all these options. I found, as I read this tale, that I had complete compassion for the monster and perhaps this speaks more to my highly empathetic personality then it does to the quality of the creature itself. This compassion became even stronger at the end of the novel when the creature was conversing with Walton after the death of Victor and he recounted the lack of pleasure he felt when killing his victims: “Think you that the groans of Clerval were music to my ears? My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy; and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change, without torture such as you cannot even imagine.” Here, you feel the struggle of the creature who wants to embrace his humanity yet has a monstrous urge, which he at one point says he wants to ignore but feels unable too, to do these horrific things that bring him no pleasure. I think this is a very relatable aspect in humanity and it’s even mentioned in one of the Pauline epistles in the Holy Bible. To paraphrase, the letter, Paul says that he doesn’t do what he wants to do and wishes he would not do what he wishes to do. It’s a question of self-control and the will of the carnal animal traits of humans and the morality within each of us. This is what leads me to conclude that this novel is actually a creation myth and one that specifically refers to the fall of creation out of favor with the creator, though in this case, unlike in other myths, the creation “falls” through no fault of its own but is simply rejected at birth.
The primary theme of the novel is the abandonment of the creature by his creator. The instant the creature comes to life he is abandoned by his maker who says: “The beauty of the dream vanished and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” Just imagine, this creature, designed to be beautiful and loved, is rejected through no fault of its own by the man who gave it life. This is patently unfair to the creature and very tragic. It also allows me to feel no sympathy at all for Victor, though he is indeed horrified by his actions.
In this story, Victor Frankenstein takes the role of both father and mother, since he creates this life all on his own. Furthermore, he becomes a parent whom abandons his child who is, at the moment of conception, innocent and has done nothing to warrant his rejection except for being made in a hideous fashion. This recalls to me the Mayan flood myth of the Popul-Vuh.
In the Popul-Vuh, the creator god makes mankind three times, and destroys it twice, each time because of flaws in their design. The first batch of men are created from mud and they are found to be “very soft and limp” in addition to being blind and unable to stand up when wet. God destroys them and tries again. God then creates men out of wood but also finds these beings imperfect. They don’t have souls or hearts and are quite stupid. He destroys them with a flood. Finally, he makes mankind as we now know it out of dough and he’s satisfied. God’s mistakes, not mans, lead to their destruction. This resembles Frankenstein very strongly.
Unlike in the Popol-Vuh, however, Frankenstein does not destroy his creation—as perhaps he should have, but instead flees from it in fear and revulsion. He tells us that, “Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created; I rushed out of the room, and continued a long time traversing my bedchamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep.” We see here that he eventually flees, leaving the creature to fend for himself. At this point, the only crime the creature has the created is the crime of hideousness which, of course, is not a crime the creature chose to commit. It is not the creatures’ fault that he is composed of cadaver parts or that he has black lips and has skin that barely covers his muscles and joints. These things are the fault of his maker, yet his maker does not own up to these crimes. Instead, he denies the existence of this creature and abandons it, even allowing someone he knows is innocent of a crime to be convicted of and put to death for a crime actually committed by his creation. It is no wonder at this point-- when he was abandoned and left to fend for himself-- that the creature went on a murderous rampage destroying all those whom his creator held dear.
Due to my Christian upbringing and familiarity with the story, another story that came to mind was the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were lovingly created for God’s pleasure and in His image. In fact, at the conclusion of their creation, God calls them “Very good.” It is clear that He loves the beings He has created and provides for them food and shelter and everything else they need in an earthly paradise referred to as the Garden of Eden. Like the creature in Frankenstein, they were given a freewill and this freewill lead them to sin against God who then responded by cursing them to an eventual death and banishing them. The sin they committed was willful and deliberate and, while some would argue they were tricked into committing this sin, it was nonetheless an act of freewill by thinking, created beings. Unlike the creature that Victor Frankenstein creates, Adam and Eve did something to earn their creators’ wrath but they were not shunned entirely, just punished and banished from the Garden of Eden. They still had communion with God, it was just not as open as before and they had a gulf between them and God to go along with the shame of sin and the disappointment of their creator. They also had each other as companions.
Whereas in the Bible we see God look at Adam, whom He created first, and lament Adam’s loneliness and create a companion for him, we see the opposite actions in Frankenstein. The creature gets the chance to meet his father (Victor) and have a conversation with him, where he laments his loneliness. He tells Victor that if he were to create a companion for him that he would leave Europe forever with her and he would never be seen from again. At first Frankenstein agrees to create a companion for his creature but, upon completing the new creature-- but before bringing it to life-- he destroys it, and the first creature actually witnesses this destruction of his potential mate. This had to have fueled a stronger sense of abandonment for the creature: abandoned at birth and now abandoned by a mate before he even had a chance to interact with his mate. Again, the creature is punished for a sin he did not commit but, worse, the creature being created for him is also destroyed, this time before it even has a chance at life. We see another instance of the “fall” without any actions by the creature (this also brings to mind the idea of abortion which, some would argue, is another theme of this story.).
I also wanted to make a brief mention of Frankenstein in reference to the Mesopotamian flood myth, Utnapishtim. This myth may have the most striking resemblance to the novel. In this story, the creation is destroyed simply because the creatures are annoying the gods. The Mesopotamian god Enlil laments: “The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer possible by reason of the babel.” Enlil then does what any annoyed god would do, he destroys them, again using a flood. This strikes me again as similar to Victor Frankenstein. He is annoyed at his creation even though his creation is simply doing what it was created to do. Enlil created mankind with a penchant for war and babel, Frankenstein created his creation out of cadavers and expected a beautiful creature. When this didn’t occur, he rejected it and this rejection came with it a wave of destruction that resulted directly in the death of all those who were close to him and, eventually in his Victor’s own demise.
The questions remain. Was abandoning the creature and letting it live a greater crime then destroying a creature that, while innocent, was hideous? Should we hold Victor culpable for the deaths that ensued as a direct result of his creation? How much culpability should fall on the creature itself? The creature essentially raised itself and developed its own morals and killed with a purpose-- vengeance. His creator, however, selfishly created him and left him to fend for himself because the creature did not live up to his expectations. But is it really the creature’s fault he did not live up to his creators expectations? I certainly think not.
For additional information on the subject:
Some Good Books on Mythology
Leeming, David Adams. The World of Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. Print
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publications Inc, 1994. Print