Frankenstein: The Power of Fire and Familial Bonds

Power is a defining feature of oneself for it provides meaning or substance to one’s internal being. Power allows a person to have control of his/her destiny; but without this spark of control one becomes lost in the sublime and unknown realities of life. In the novel Frankenstein, Victor defies the confinements of his restricted power and uses sublime nature as an extension of himself to regain control. With a "spark of electricity" he creates life from raw, uninhibited nature. Ironically, his desperate attempt to regain control through his creation ultimately creates chaos. Both "the creature" and Victor’s power become characterized by a tension between nature and nurture; therefore identifying each of their chaotic existence. The types of power which are represented by metaphors of fire in the novel, shed light on the nurturing power of familial bonds (hearth) and the uninhibited power of nature (wild chaotic fire). Therefore the presence of power as the existence of fire and the "domestic circle" represents the creation of an identity as the conflict between uncontrollable power and bounded/constrained power.

In the beginning Victor creates the creature to decipher his identity and gain a sense of power within the family circle. He struggles for a flame of power that is masked by the enclosed "domestic circle" that he has been accustomed to. This is demonstrated by the passage "Such was our domestic circle, from which care and pain seemed for ever banished" (24); the circle bounded Victor in a safe and secure domain. His carefully structured and secure reality was enclosed in a reciprocal nature prohibiting Victor from exploring the sublime qualities of life. His personal identity became hidden and could not be separated from the circular motion of the domestic circle. His life in the family circle was filled with affection, warmth, and equality, which constrained his power making Victor yearning for more. His drive to gain power within the democratic circle of familial bonds propelled him to construct the creature. As Victor assimilates his newly found sense of power he is liberated, and "for an instant [he] dared to shake off [his] chains, and look around [himself] with a free and lofty spirit" (111). Clearly Victor views his circular familial bonds as constraints chaining him down, keeping him from experiencing the unbridled passion and adventures of life. He views his life as a destined pathway filled with certainty. Therefore by using the unbounded laws of science in conjunction with his knowledge and desperation he is able to cut through the thick, bound, iron clad chains, which canvassed his lost hidden identity.

Victor creates the creature through raw, uninhibited science and nature, a symbolic vision of how he internally yearns for a life with uncontrolled power. "A spark of being" (34) destroys the circular boundaries of Victor’s power, resulting in a wild and uninhibited fire of authority destroying his every known comfort. The strength and power of electrical life becomes the governing factor, which begins to control Victor’s existence. His quest to gain sublime power slowly disintegrates from his hands into the hands of the creature. The power in the hands of the creature become dominant and result in "this noble war in the sky" (48). The pure sight of the natural phenomenon of fire in the sky reveals to Victor that his scientific experiment parallels the magnificent power of electricity. He has harnessed the fire, controlling it for a brief moment in time to create a living creature. The significance of fire, which is uncontrollable, wreaks havoc on its predecessors like the creature who was created from fire. The creature begins to metamorphosize into the uninhibited features of nature resulting in the destruction and abuse of his unknown abilities of power. The dynamic energy created from the interplay of the different types of power leads to warfare between Victor and the creature leaving each to discover their own individual identity. Victor reinforces the animosity that allowed him to create the creature thus generating a chaotic battle of power.

In the power struggle between the two forces of authority Victor and the creature begin to mirror each other, reflecting their desires to obtain opposite types of power. The creature begins to view fire as a domestic power where fire is used as a comfort rather than a means of chaos. In the following passage fire becomes part of the "domestic circle" for the creature, "the girl met him at the door, helped to relive him of his burden, and, taking some of the fuel into the cottage, placed it on the fire" (72). Through the experiences of the Delacy family the creature realizes that his wretched birth from a "spark of being" can result in an identity gained by the power of family bondage. He then tries to complete the circle by bringing wood to the family while taking pleasure in his reciprocal labor because it contributes to the "domestic circle" of the family. The circular motion of placing the wood on the fire not only holds the family together but installs a sense of power in the creature resulting in the formation of an identity. The symbol of fire allows comfort for the creature, and brings warmth to his inner soul, thus completing the rotation of the "domestic circle" in which he desperately wants to be a part of.

In the power struggle between the creature and Victor the small and enclosed "domestic circle" begins to slowly break and fade; and Victor comes to the realization that the power which he was looking for was already tightly bounded within his own family. Through his experience with the DeLacy family, the creature realizes the importance of the need for a family in order to gain a sense of identity. To solve his need for an identity the creature turns to revenge to receive this domestic power. By killing Victor’s close family his goal is to break the "domestic circle" and install a sense of helplessness in Victor. Through the fiery wrath of the creature’s chaotic revenge, Elizabeth states "Our circle will be small, but bound close by the ties of affection and mutual misfortunes" (132). This tight reign of the creature forms a fixed hand upon Victor’s identity. The roles become reversed as the creature begins to encompass Victor with his power of raw natural electricity, encompassing him in a circle of fear. The ties of misfortune become handcuffs of slavery as the creature dictates the power over Victor. His reminiscence of a "domestic circle" becomes lost in the raging brush fire of power. Thus resulting in isolation, which in the end slowly strips away Victor’s former identity to become an unidentified slave.

The mutual bonds between the creature and Victor powerfully demonstrate that the two men are not able to break away from each other because they each lust for control of each other. Their reciprocal bond becomes a slave to master relationship when the creature states, "Slave, remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!" (116). In order to have power over Victor, the creature realizes that he must strip away Victor’s "domestic circle" which identifies him. The creature’s wrath of destruction becomes the opposite power of control, which he learned from the DeLacy family, but results in the uncontrolled power of nature originating from his birth-"the spark of being." The metaphors of fire, which represent warmth and hearth, become darkened by vengeance and result in a savage fire of dictatorship over Victor. His creator who created him from a "spark of being" in the end will be distinguished by his own creation. However, throughout the novel the creature and Victor condemn themselves to misery by yearning for the opposite power which they do not posses. Because of this desire for more, their identity can never be discovered, leaving them bonded in a state of powerless limbo.

The identities of Victor and the creature become tangled and twisted in the final battle of domination between the raw power of nature and the reciprocal power of nurture. They begin to exchange hierarchical roles of power as the fire of revenge sweeps across their identities. The creature says, "my reign is not yet over, you live and my power is complete….. Come on, my enemy; we have yet to wrestle for our lives" (142); this passage identifies the capabilities of Victor’s sublime creation which will reduce him to the same state of utter wretchedness and misidentification. This passage represents the way which the creature, through the experience of revenge, metamorphosizes into the second being of Victor. It dives into the masculine nature of Victor suggesting that the creature and Victor are each other’s second self, sharing the same quest for an identity. Even to the final moment of life, the sublime nature of fire reveals a sense of comfort to the creature in a world of misguided identities. As he states in the final chapter of the novel, "Until the final moment that I shall ascend on my funeral pile triumphantly, and exult in the agony of the torturing flames" (156). The spark of fire which brought life, comfort, and power to the creature in the end would be its demise.

Throughout the novel, it is apparent that Victor and the creature struggle to gain a sense of power and control in order to understand their chaotic existence. Power, which can take many shapes and forms, becomes the defining characteristics of the creature and Victor. Through the creature’s understanding and desire for the reciprocal power of familial bonds he aspires to destroy and diminish the power his creator possesses. In the "spark of being" from his creation, the creature becomes an uncontrollable fire exhibiting revenge and hatred. The creature’s misguided mission becomes fueled with a desire to destroy Victor’s "domestic circle." Ironically, the creature’s desire for a bounded domestic power leads him to his creator, Victor, which in the end the creature destroys leaving him powerless.