Mary language allows Shelley to maintain Victor’s
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein tells the story of two figures, Frankenstein and his monster, each trying in vain to achieve knowledge and understanding. Victor’s “pursuit of knowledge” is his desire to become a revered hero and a god in his own right (Shelley 56). He believes that, by creating a new race of beings, he can achieve this goal. The monster, on the other hand, wishes only to acquire the “tranquility of… domestic affections,” and to be accepted as equally human by those around him (Shelley 56). However, while they have opposite goals, neither can be achieved. At the same time, neither figure preserves “a calm and peaceful mind,” in their occupations, showing them not to be “human beings in perfection” (Shelley 56).
Both Frankenstein and his monster are united by their pursuits, but they search for opposite and unattainable results, contrasting the desire for humanity with the desire for its transcendence. When discussing the “pursuit of knowledge,” Victor makes a deeply impassioned warning to Walton, all the while using neutral words. In retelling his story, Victor has realized the mistake he made, and is imploring Walton to turn back on his journey. The unadorned language allows Shelley to maintain Victor’s scientific air of objectivity while retaining descriptive depth. Shelley turns the adjective ‘unalloyed’ into a metaphor, describing “simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix” ( 56).
This strengthens the concept of the purity of the “pleasures,” showing the idea’s importance to Victor. Shelley uses longer sentences in this passage, interjecting a simple sentence to qualify the statement about a human being in perfection. The passage culminates in a periodic sentence followed by a cumulative sentence. This pattern gives the excerpt a sense of increasing urgency, matching Victor’s growing insistence on the importance of his newfound belief in “preserving a calm and peaceful mind” (56). In the climax of the excerpt, Shelley repeats “tranquility” and “affections,” although with slightly different meanings. This allows Shelley to call back to ideas from earlier in the passage while maintaining separation from them.
Victor attempts to transcend humanity, either through the creation of a perfect being or by becoming a god himself. In creating the monster, he says, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (55). Victor wishes to use his illicit knowledge to surpass nature and become recognized for his achievements, and relishes the idea that this goal is within his reach. To be the “creator” of a species is to bypass the role of God, and by forming the creature, Victor believes that role will be his. At the same time, he also attempts to make the monster superior to any person, saying, “His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful” (Shelley 58). Victor goes into further detail regarding the “work of muscles and arteries,” the creature’s “lustrous black” hair and “pearly” white teeth, all “luxuriances” which he has selected and toiled to make perfect (58).
Victor is not working to replicate humanity, but to exceed it by creating a creature larger and stronger than any man, once again proving his intention to ignore the confines of nature. However, he quickly realizes that this pursuit has instead left him a “demoniacal corpse” that would become a scourge rather than a being to bless him (59). In this way, his attempt to achieve this goal instead becomes his downfall, and his pursuit remains unobtainable. While Victor’s desires are difficult for any man to achieve, the creature desires what seems to be a far easier objective: “domestic affections” (Shelley 58). He carefully attempts to learn human language, culture, and society through patient observation and listening.
However, as he continues to learn about himself and the surrounding world, he begins to understand that he does not fit in. While exploring near his hovel, he discovers a transparent pool and views his reflection. He is at first “unable to believe” that he was really “who was reflected in the mirror,” but when he comes to the understanding, he is “filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification” (116).
As he continues to learn about the world around him, he discovers that he has no property or money, both things important to survival in human society. Upon this realization, he exclaims, “Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock” (123). The monster realizes that even bad knowledge cannot be scrubbed away, and finds out the painful truth that no matter what he does, he cannot fit in with society. Both the good memories he has created through observation of the cottagers and the difficult reality that he has now encountered are true, and he cannot escape either one of them. With this understanding that he will not be able to join society, the creature instead pursues a path of destruction, seeking revenge on Victor for the misery he caused.
Victor’s ambition to be become a part of history also appears subconsciously. He admits to having let “passion and transitory desire” take control of him in creating the monster, leading him to warn Walton not to do the same (56). Had he been more calm, he never would have built the monster, just as “Greece would have not been enslaved,” and “America would have been discovered more gradually” (56).
Although Victor does not directly reference himself in the passage, he compares his own discovery to two of history’s most monumental occurrences, thereby believing himself on some level to be equally tremendous. He does not do this consciously; Victor immediately after realizes that he is “moralising in this most interesting part of his tale,” (57) and makes no further mention of this belief. By only revealing the scope of his achievement a single time and by doing so in an indirect manner, Victor does not overtly take pride in it, while maintaining the idea subtly.By the end of the novel, Victor’s true colors begin to show: a man who refuses to admit that he was wrong, and who created his own problems. In losing his “calm and peaceful mind,” he became enamored with creating the creature before losing everything to its wrath (58).
The monster instead works to gain language and become like every man, learning. In the end, however, he still finds his humanity. Some goals cannot be obtained, no matter how much effort is put in, while others are achieved just by living.