Frankenstein: Family and Education
Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, is a masterpiece of great themes regarding issues common not just in societies in the past, but even today. One major theme that she focuses on in her novel is the theme of family and intimacy accompanied by that of education. She aims to portray just how important true intimacy is and what may happen to people that are deprived of this human necessity. He uses several characters to show what the lack of proper family and love can lead to. His two major characters however, best illustrate this theme for the readers. Victor and his monster may have had more in common than we may all like to admit. They both lack proper parental understanding. Had victor’s dad taken the time to explain to him why reading Agrippa was a bad idea, then the problem of the murderous monster would have been averted. At least that is what his character tells the reader. However, it is the cottage scenes that open the reader up to just how important intimate relations are. The interactions of the De Lacey family give the reader a feeling of what true family interactions are like. This is of course done through the eyes of Frankenstein’s monster. The love between the De Lacey family members reveal a side of the monster that both he and the readers have not seen before. It reminds the reader of the importance of family, something we often take for granted. It is this interaction that begins his quest for intimacy and love, creating with it a path of chaos when he is faced with the fact that he will forever remain rejected.
The reader must recognize that since the monster was created with a variety of human beings, he is closer to humans than he is to any animal or monster. His need for human interaction is as essential to him as it would be to any other human being. Yet he is faced with rejection from the moment he opens his eyes for the first time. Victor stares at him in horror and even takes flight. “Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep” (55). He is then rejected by the villagers and even the De Lacey family, to whom he had secretly offered his kindest services in an attempt to win them over. When he realizes that his hideous physical form will forever hinder him from being accepted and loved by human beings, he comes up with a great idea that he presents to his creator, Victor. He suggests that Victor should create for him a partner and promises that if his wish is fulfilled, he will go off to live in the deepest parts of the Amazonian jungles. Upon much thinking, Victor refuses to fulfill the monster’s wishes, spurring in it great anger that leads to the death of those that Victor is close to. It is clear from this situation that what the monster has lacked, just as much as love and intimacy; is proper education. He is clearly an intelligent creature that is able to observe the differences between the De Lacey family and Frankenstein’s family. After observing these differences, he manages to come to a conclusion that the differences hail from differences in love and intimacy. His already existent need for love and affection is further heightened. However, since his education has only resulted from limited observation, he does not realize that love is a hard chore that is not always easy to give. His frustrations are the cause of Victor’s on alienation in the future.
Victor’s story begins with love and affection from both his parents. He explains his first memories as those of love from his mother and father who clearly adore him as their child. Soon, his parents’ desire for a daughter leads them to adopt a girl, Elizabeth. Victor adores the child and forms a possessive sort of attitude towards her. It is at this point that the reader begins to learn of Victor’s curiosities towards nature and knowledge. Soon after, another son is born of his parents who then choose to settle in their isolated home in Belrive. It is at this point that we start to see his experiences with being alienated and secluded. Even as a child, we learn that he often enclosed himself in a room to study. He, Victor states that, “I was indifferent, therefore, to my school fellows in general.”(28-29). However, he does manage to make close acquaintance with a friend named Henry Clerval. Even his family and those that were closest to him failed to understand his ambitions. He, however, does not even try to let them in. for most part of his life, his alienation stems from his ambition and his massive ego. Victor’s inability to form proper intimate relations is further heightened when his mother dies. Unable to cope with the concept of life and death, he begins to look into harnessing the powers of life. Of course, had his relationship with his family and friends been more fulfilled, he would have had a shoulder to cry on. He speaks of how he went to the university, got consumed by his need for knowledge and the new wonders the place offered, that he sometimes forgot to travel back home. These events further led to his isolation from his family. Although he received great education of the mind, his knowledge of emotions and their application in life continued to remain unattended to. Just like the monster he would later create, he was to remain immature in one aspect of his life no matter how intelligent he appeared to be in his education. During his time in school, we begin to see just how selfish he is in his ambitions. He is not willing to listen to the advice of scholars who disagree with him and neither is he willing to realize that the loss of his mother and brother is a loss for his entire family and not just him. We later earn that his further passes on as well, as he picks up on the misery of his own son.
Soon, he manages to put all the knowledge he has gained in his isolation to practical use. Thus, the monster is finally born through Victor’s actions. However, an incomparable sense of isolation soon floods him. He realizes that he has violated the laws of nature by creating a living thing. He is not ashamed by his work, however, he is sufficiently afraid of what those he loves will think when they find out about his creation. He shuts up from his friends and family realizing that his actions are too diabolical and that no one would understand him. His secret soon begins to eat him up. He is further alienated by the guilt of the death of William and the blame that is cast on an innocent person. The monster manages to kill more people that he loves, managing to completely rid him of all love and intimacy.
Critics have hailed Shelley’s work as a masterpiece because she manages to present her monster in a manner that many have not. He is not an incoherent creature out to destroy everything in his path. Despite his physical shortcomings, he has powerful command of language, making him more human than monsters in traditional literature. His use of speech is crucial as it gives him a chance to explain to the reader and the rest of the characters what his intentions are, and why they come about. Baldick, (45), explains it best by stating “the monster’s most convincingly human characteristic is of course his power of speech.” This character gives him an aspect of humanity that the reader can identify with. This aspect is of course most heightened when he hides out at the De Lacey cottage. The creature begins to understand just how empty his life is due to the lack of family or friends. He begins to long for a feeling of acceptance by a family that is as loving as the De Lacey’s. The creature has human emotions and a human need to be loved. However, he does not fit into the human society. The cottage scene is a representation of the creature’s first educational experience on human nature. In that lesson, he learns of his needs and then quickly learns that he does not fit in (Smith, 45).
In conclusion, the theme of family is without a doubt the most important in the novel Frankenstein. It presents a balance to education and intellect and shows how even in situations when all else is missing, love and intimacy always fill the gap. Family is essential for all characters in the novel. Those who are alienated; forcefully or by choice, end up making the worst of decisions, creating monsters of themselves and those around them. Shelley makes it clear that education without the context of love is essentially useless and more often than not, dangerous.
Shelley, M. (1994). Frankenstein. 1818 Berkshire: Cox & Wyman Ltd.
Smith, J. (1996). Mary Shelley Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers.
Baldick, C. (1996). In Frankenstein’s Shadow. Myth Monstrosity and Nineteenth-Century Writing. 1987 New York: Oxford University Press Inc.
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