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Character Analysis of Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein (1818), captivated readers, who were fascinated by the gothic. Mary and others were on holiday in the Alps when they decided to compete to write the best ghost story (which young Mary ‘won’).

Victor Frankenstein

The main protagonist of the story is Victor Frankenstein; a scientist drawn to the idea of creating ‘life’. Through first-person narration, he informs readers that he has had “a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature” (chapter two) and wants to “unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation” (chapter three). However, the sections narrated through Victor are biased and at times unreliable, making the reader sometimes doubt the character. This creates tension, a feature associated with gothic literature.

Frankenstein becomes haunted by the outcomes of creating the monster, and has to deal with guilt, violence and torment when he does so. The scientist begins to have nightmares, showing his disturbed mind even subconsciously. The story serves as a warning about experimental, unchecked science. When Victor Frankenstein finally learns his lesson, he advises Walton:

“Seek happiness in tranquillity and avoid ambition.”

The Creature (Frankenstein’s monster)

The most recognisable and timeless part of this novel is the awakening of Frankenstein’s monster. Remember, Frankenstein is the scientist’s name!

The creature was constructed with body parts in aesthetically pleasing condition (“selected his features as beautiful”; “lustrous hair”; “teeth of a pearly whiteness”). This is juxtaposed with the monstrous elements that emerge: “yellow skin scarcely [covering]… muscles and arteries”, “straight black lips” and “watery eyes”. Even though the creature has been brought to life, his image is symbolically suggesting decay and death.

After being brought to life and soon experiencing rejection, the monster wishes for companionship and identity. After repeated rejection, the creature turns to violence, which represents the detriment of isolation and social prejudice, and the consequence of marginalisation. In dialogue, the creature uses persuasive rhetorical devices towards Victor Frankenstein, asking interrogatives such as:

“Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? …why I should pity man more than he pities me? …Shall I respect man when he condemns me?”

In the creature’s final speech, he uses another interrogative:

“Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me?”

Perhaps Shelley is rhetorically posing a question about responsibility, and the consequences of lack of responsibility, especially when it comes to the suffering of others.

Elizabeth Lavenza

Elizabeth Lavenza is portrayed as a beacon of beauty and grace. She is described by Victor as “the beautiful and adored companion of all my occupations and my pleasures.” Victor’s feelings towards her, from childhood, were always a mix of sibling affection and romantic admiration, leading to their eventual engagement. Throughout the novel, Elizabeth remains a constant figure of stability and compassion, contrasting sharply with the turbulent events surrounding Victor and his creation.

Her virtuous and gentle nature is evident in the way she interacts with her family, especially Victor. Her attachment and care for him is real, as highlighted when Victor reflects:

“She was the living spirit of love to soften and attract; I might have become sullen in my study, rough through the ardour of my nature, but that she was there to subdue me to a semblance of her own gentleness.”

The universal love and respect that characters in the novel have for Elizabeth only heighten the tension and tragedy of her untimely demise. Elizabeth’s involvement in the novel’s catastrophic events serves as a powerful testament to the far-reaching consequences of one’s actions. Also, her tragic death is a reminder of how innocent people can be harmed in the path of ambition and obsession.

Robert Walton

Walton is the frame narrator of the story, this means that he shares his experiences by writing letters to his sister. Victor Frankenstein’s pursuit of creating life runs parallel to Walton’s journey to the North Pole. When Walton’s ship is in ice, his crew spots Frankenstein’s monster passing by, and they witness an exhausted Frankenstein following behind. They take Victor on board, where he and Walton become friends. This is how the story of the monster is disclosed.

At first, Walton admires Frankenstein’s relentless pursuit, but when Walton witnesses some of the consequences, he becomes very concerned. We see how Walton’s ambition, which is responsible and regulated, is in stark contrast with Victor’s ambition, which is unruly and selfish. We see this, especially in the way that Walton makes a wise decision to halt his trip:

“I cannot lead [the crew] unwillingly to danger, and I must return”.

Alphonse Frankenstein

This character also contrasts with Victor’s way of life. As Victor’s father, Alphonse is presented as protective and caring for the most part, and represents family values. Meanwhile, his son, his son, despite claiming he had a fortunate childhood, fails to protect his family.

Shelley does hint, however, that Victor perhaps felt “let down” by his father, who saw his son’s interest in alchemy as “sad trash”. In Victor’s dialogue, he declares he was left to “struggle with a child’s blindness”. Readers are led to question whether Alphonse is at all to blame for his son’s unrestrained pursuits.

Justine Moritz

Justine faces tragedy in two ways:

  • She is accused of a crime she did not commit
  • She has a tragic fate

Victor describes her, saying: “she was sustained by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore my bosom”, metaphorically stating his guilt in chapter eight. The noun “fangs” indicates the depth and heartfelt weight of carrying such secrets and guilt. Justine’s death highlights the injustice people could face when society made quick assumptions, especially if the person was lower class or female (of which Justine Moritz was both).

Henry Clerval

Henry, a minor character, contrasts with Victor in demeanour and intentions. Whilst Victor is intense and perhaps erratic, Henry is nurturing and seeks knowledge.

De Lacey

Living in exile with his family, it is ironic that Delacey – a blind, elderly gentleman – is the only one who is kind to the monster (unable to see him). Perhaps Shelley is commenting on how society is often quick to judge based on appearances.

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