The novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley appeared in 1818 and describes the problems of modern science and its consequences for humanity. The uniqueness of the novel is that Frankenstein has literary merits to ‘frighten and amaze’ (Mellor 45). There is much historical interest in the work as an example of various strains and aspects of Romanticism (Mellor 45). Through the character of Victor, Mary Shelley portrays different stages of personal development and underlines that true maturity is when the person accepts full responsibility for his actions, scientific discoveries and their impact on humanity.
From the very beginning, Mary Shelley portrays Victor, the main character of the novel, as an immature personality unable to accept responsibility for his actions and researches. Only when the creature disappears, Victor jumps to the conclusion that his monster is the murderer of his brother. “I considered the being… nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave and forced to destroy all that was dear to me” (Shelley 2007). At this point the unfortunate Victor faces a moral dilemma: should he reveal to the authorities the existence of his dangerous creation? He decides not to, and offers two reasons. First, he will be thought mad; second, the creature is too agile to admit capture. It is worth considering whether these reasons seem adequate to explain Victor’s silence, which protects both the monster and himself (Peterfreund 79). “His position is rendered still more reprehensible when he returns to his family and discovers that the innocent Justine is accused of the murder, that she will be tried that very day and that the evidence against her looks damning” (Mellor 75). Still, Victor does nothing to save Justine and unveil his terrible secrets.
Fears and lack of courage are the main factors that prevent Victor to accept responsibility for his actions and behavior. In general, a mature personality is able to answer for the consequences of his actions and behavior. In contrast, Victor finds his task increasingly revolting and begins to think of arguments against the responsibilities of a scientist. He fears that his creatures might breed and people the planet with monsters. He speaks of the false but persuasive arguments. For instance, Justine faces death, and after the trial it becomes evident that she has confessed her guilt (but she is not guilty) (Mellor 38). Victor explains: “I at once gave up my former occupations, set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation” (Shelley). When things go wrong, Victor understands that he cannot control his creation and is helpless to prevent his murders.
The turning point of the novel comes when Victor destroys his new creature horrified by unpredictable consequences. When Victor feels ill, he confesses himself guilty of murdering William, Justine and Clerval, thus associating himself yet again with the deeds of the monster. He is kept in prison, but Mr Kirwin is a good-natured and understanding man who does his best to help the sick man (Mellor 40). He brings Victor’s father to him and Victor is at length acquitted of Clerval’s murder. “I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt. Soon these burning miseries will be extinct” (Shelley 2007). He speaks of his original benevolence and of the miserable loneliness of his condition.
Mary Shelley uses themes of science and knowledge as a background of the novel and constructs the navel around these topics. Science in this novel is speculative rather than an articulation of current science. In other words, this novel is really about the world of the scientist who creates new reality. For Shelley, science is a unique theme and setting which helps the author to underline threats and dangers of human ignorance. Victor, the main character of the novel and devoted scientist, explains that “the theory of medicine, and those branches of physical science from which a naval adventurer might derive the greatest practical advantage” (Shelley). The opening sentence speaks of an enterprise “regarded with… evil forebodings” and this sets the tone for the novel as a whole perfectly. Shelley brings science to the forefront as part of the issues in question. It seems that the author relinquishes the mystery associated with scientific and biological solutions. The change must not have come altogether easily, however, as the plot and structure of this remarkable novel reveal.
Science and knowledge support Victor in his attempts to discover and study the secret of life. Victor explains: “I at once gave up my former occupations, set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation, and entertained the greatest disdain for a would-be science which could never even step within the threshold of real knowledge” (Shelley). The novel is mysterious even though secrecy equals the scientific desire to understand the human life. Through the characters of the monster, Shelley portrays that science and knowledge are difficult to control and direct. Mary Shelley is here dissociating her story from the superstitious, backward-looking terrors of most novels. The horror of Victor’s tale is forward-looking; it springs from the progress of science, not from a willing return to belief in ghosts and demons. “Remember’, Victor insists, ‘I am not recording the vision of a madman” (Shelley). What remains, though, is something equally incapable of being controlled by science. Even though science and medicine can often harness the forces of nature, they have not yet been proven effective in matters involving the human heart. As it is clearly evident from the rest of the novel, Victor never leaves behind his faith in science, medicine and knowledge.
In sum, through the character of Victor, Shelley portrays that a person matures when he is able to accept responsibilities for his actions and their consequences. When Victor ‘matures’ and accepts his guilt, he understands that freedom has no value to him, the world has no comforts for any unfortunate soul who bears a guilt and remorse within him.
Mellor, Anne Mary Shelley: Her Life Her Fiction Her Monsters. New York: Routledge, 1989.
Peterfreund, S. Composing What May Not Be “Sad Trash”: A Reconsideration of Mary Shelley’s Use of Paracelsus in Frankenstein. Studies in Romanticism 43 (2004): 79.
Shelley, M. Frankenstein, 2007. Web.