Thursday, September 22, 2011


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A Tale of Destructive Parenting

There are many issues prevalent in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly’s gothic tale Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. These issues range anywhere from mythological to satanic to cultural to parental. When studying this novel, I couldn’t help but link many of the issues faced by Victor Frankenstein and his creation to a lack of parental involvement in their lives, whether this is intentionally or unintentionally. Many obstacles these characters face came to be by their irresponsible actions, which can be linked back to the amount of attention, love and discipline bestowed on them by their parent(s).

In order for a child to grow up with good morals, a high self-esteem and a positive outlook on life, it takes a positive role model dedicating lots of time and energy into helping him or her overcome the many obstacles they will face. According to the book “The Rollercoaster Years” by Charlene C. Gianetti, there are seven basic needs that must constantly be met in order for a child to grow up happy and healthy. These are bodily needs; the need to feel safe and secure; the need for affection; the need for self-esteem; the need for knowledge and understanding; the need for beauty and harmony; and eventually the need to develop and pursue personal goals (5). The most important need is the need for guidance. This is the main need that was not provided for Victor Frankenstein and therefore caused his downfall.

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Within the first few pages of the novel Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, Robert Walton is introduced to Victor while his ship is stranded in the great ice of the Arctic. Upon his meeting Victor, Walton stated the following of his appearance

“[…] His eyes have generally an expression of wildness, and even madness; but there are moments when, if any one performs an act of kindness towards him, or does him any the most trifling service, his whole countenance is lighted up, as it were, with a beam of benevolence and sweetness that I never saw equaled.” (18)

One can only continue reading the novel wondering what could have caused this man to become what modern psychologists would call “mentally unstable.” The truth of the circumstances of his downfall can be seen early on in the story.

During his youth, Victor’s family was a constant in his life. His father relinquished many of his duties so he could concentrate more on being a good father. Very little is mentioned about his mother aside from the fact that he states “No youth could have passed more happily than mine. My parents were indulgent, and my companions amiable.” Victor relied heavily on the relationships between both he and his parents and he and his friends. These people fulfilled all of his needs.

As Victor grew in maturity, his father slowly became lenient with his guidance. At one point, he noticed that Victor was reading the studies of Cornelius Agrippa which at that time and still today is considered preposterous. At this point, his father stated “my dear Victor, do not waste your time up with this; it is sad trash.” This is the point where his father made a fatal mistake; he gave the book back to Victor instead of condemning it and taking it away. Even Victor realizes this mistake and acknowledges it when he states

“If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me, that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded, and that a modern system of science had been introduced . . . I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside, and, with my imagination warmed as it was, should probably have applied myself to the more rational theory of chemistry which has resulted from modern discoveries.” (4)

This circumstance can be compared to one of your child experimenting with marijuana. If you catch him or her with marijuana and they tell you they like it, would you simply tell him/her that it’s bad and return it to them? Or would you take action to make sure it never happens again? Simple parental guidance could have made this young man a completely different person at the end of the novel, not a “mad man.” Due to the lack of guidance, he continued his studies “undisturbed by reality” (Shelly 05).

A child’s needs increase during adolescence. Outside forces, like illness or death of a loved one, also magnify their needs along the way (Gianetti 14). Early on in his life, Victor encountered an obstacle of great significance, one that succeeded in making him pursue his studies with even more intensity. This obstacle was the death of his mother. He was never asked to talk about his feelings after this tragedy and his father became more distant. Into his studies he bounded with the hope of finding what some call the “elixir of life”. If he found a way to bring the dead back to life, he could maybe succeed in reincarnating his beloved mother. His studies were no longer out of want; they were out of need.

Eventually, Victor decided to go to college so he could learn more about the sciences. There he had access to any equipment he needed and was exalted on several occasions for finding ways to better the equipment used in laboratories. Due to the lack of guidance as a result of him being so far from home, Victor slowly became engulfed by his studies. He eventually starting fantasizing that if he could succeed in creating life in his laboratory, he would be like one of the Gods. “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs” (Shelly ). He was now like a child, learning things for the first time and not having anyone there to guide him in the right direction.

He started to assemble a creature much like a human by collecting material from a charnel house, the dissecting room and the slaughterhouse. He had no one there to inform him of the possible outcomes of his work. He was like a child discovering a dog for the first time. Even though it looks mean and ugly, the child is amazed by something they haven’t seen or a situation they haven’t experienced before. Naturally being curious, the child goes to touch it. Without a parental figure present, this situation could be disastrous. Much like this child, Victor is amazed at what he sees and what he can accomplish and is incapable of thinking of the possible results of his actions.

As he pieces together his masterpiece, he slowly starts deteriorating physically, mentally, and spiritually. Not until the day that life was brought upon his creation did Victor realize in part what he had done

“His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! �Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriance’s only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same color as the dun white sockets in which they set, his shriveled complexion, and straight black lips.” (5)

Appalled by his creation, Victor fled, disowning the very creature�the very child he created. His first experience of Victor, his parent and maker is one of rejection, and this sets the pattern for his life. This was also the final step in Victor’s downfall. Any child brought into life cannot survive and become a respected member of society without, as I mentioned before, having the basic needs provided for them. When a child is brought to life only to be condemned by his creator, he is doomed to a difficult and unhappy life. This is the fate Victor bestowed upon his creation. In the article “Creator and Created in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” by Naomi Hetherington, it states that “in recalling his own childhood, Frankenstein stresses the love and constant attention that he received from his parents. Yet it occurs to him only fleetingly that his own creature may require some of the same affection” (15-16).

When returning to his house and finding the monster gone, Victor was not at all saddened by the fact. Instead he was relieved. A good friend of his, Henry Clerval, had come for a visit and Victor hadn’t known the happiness he experienced at that moment since the day he left for school. He at last had a friend he could talk to � someone to be there for him. The image of his creation was pushed into the back of his mind while he continued to enjoy life again. He hides his secret from society so they will not disown him. “Victor is able to work his way back into society though still isolated from it after creating the creature, but the creature is never able to integrate into society” (Franco 85).

Victor’s creation is forced into society with no knowledge of right and wrong. Due to his ghastly appearance, he learns quickly that he is not like everyone else. Whenever he tries to enter society, he is beaten and chased away. With no one to love or care for him, Victor spends his first days in the forest near the town. Eventually he learns that drinking from the stream will quench his thirst and nuts and berries will ease his hunger. These sooth his bodily needs, but he has no one to provide his remaining needs. He has to learn everything on his own with little guidance.

He eventually finds a hovel in the barn of the De Laceys. He learns language by watching and listening to the De Laceys teach Safie who could barely speak the English language. The creature also managed to get his hands on a few books so he could learn to read and read more about the world. According to the essay “Frankenstein � a Cautionary Tale of Bad Parenting” by Susan Coulter “In the same way that Frankenstein is self educated, the creature is also and, like his creator, he is learning in a vacuum, with no other influences to balance his views” (). If he had only an active parental figure in his life, he could have grown up quite happily. Yet if all of his basic needs were met and Victor, who gave him life, would have gradually introduced him to society and been proud of him, the creature could have grown to be a very loving and generous individual.

Instead, the creature was given life and forced to lead it alone. All his interactions with society proved fatal to his self-esteem. After being expelled from the De Lacey’s, the creature tries yet again to live in loneliness, constantly cursing his creator for giving him existence. There are several instances throughout the novel in which the creature unknowingly placed individuals in danger, and even took others lives. For instance, he did not know the destructive nature of fire, only that it helped him survive by keeping him warm and cooking his food. One evening he lit a dry branch and was dancing around, exulted, when the flame came into contact with some straw and an entire village was destroyed (8). Following this incident, he came into contact with a little child playing. She was playfully running from her father when she slipped and fell into a raging river. The creature instinctively jumped in and saved her. When she was recovered from the water, she was not breathing and the creature knew not how to help her. At this point, her father came running and grabbed her from him and ran away (85). During another part of the story, the creature came into contact with a child. He though that something so young could never turn against him, so he grabbed him. The young child reacted by screaming and the creature tried snuffling his cries, not knowing that by covering his face, the child could not breathe (86). The child he accidentally killed turned out to be Victor’s brother. Had the creature had a father who had introduced him to society and taught him everything he needed to know, none of these incidents would have had the negative outcome they did; and many of them would have never happened.

He never manages to interact positively with others or find friendship, and gradually his self-esteem sinks lower and lower, the more he is rejected, and he becomes lonelier and more alienated from society. It is this that eventually changes him from a kind, affectionate, and reasonable being, to a bitter murderer. During one of the few intercourses between he and Victor, he states “I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? [. . . ] Let him (man) live with me in an interchange of kindness; and, instead of injury I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance” (84). He wants nothing more than to simply be accepted by society. Victor can help him with that but has no intention of doing so. He cannot face the fact that he was wrong in giving him life and even more so in abandoning him.

The monster learns, after the death of Victor’s brother, William, that family is very important to Victor. Expectedly, the creature feels that if he has someone to be with that is just like him, then he, too, would be happy. He proceeds in tracking down Victor and asking him to grant this one wish (86). Victor agrees, but after beginning the project, he realizes that what he is doing is wrong and quits the task, destroying it in front of the creature. This, in turn, enrages the creature. He feels that no one could ever love him, and therefore there is no reason for him to live aside from making Victor’s life miserable, much like his own.

The monster, having nothing left to hope for, proceeds to kill Victor’s wife on their wedding night. This causes his father to die due to a nervous break down. Left with nothing, Victor spends the remainder of his life chasing his creation. After a long chase in the Arctic, Victor becomes ill. Eventually, due to the harsh climate and exhaustion, he dies. “When he succeeds in killing his creator through mental and physical exhaustion in the final chase across the Arctic, he feels only the grief and repentance of an abused child” (Hetherington 1). The final words of the monster, upon seeing his creator dead were the following

“That is also my victim! […] In his murder my crimes are consummated; the miserable series of my being is wound to a close! Oh, Frankenstein generous and self-devoted being! What does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst.” (101)

The monster, having nothing left, then leaves to end his own life.

You see, had Victor’s father actively sought to keep him from studying Agrippa and had been a constant in Victor’s life, the events named in this essay could have never been made possible. That failure of one parent led to the creation of another child who was also failed by his father. Coulter sums it up best in her article when she states that “an unloved creation is driven to wreck revenge on an indifferent creator. Herein is the warning love what you create or be utterly destroyed by it” (10).

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