"The Nature of Power and Bonds of Relations"

In the first volume of Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein describes with sweet reverence the happiness that characterized the years of his childhood. Almost as if alluding to the torment that was to drastically change his life, Victor states that, "Such was our domestic circle, from which care and pain seemed for ever banished" (24). Throughout the novel, Victor continues to make reference to the "domestic circle" or the close-knit social organization characterized by feminine qualities. Victor goes on to describe this "domestic circle" saying that, "Neither of us possessed the slightest pre-eminence over the other; the voice of command was never heard amongst us; but mutual affection engaged us all to comply with and obey the slightest desire of each other" (25). Victor’s description likens the domestic circle to a political structure that operates through equality and mutual respect. Likewise, this description of the mutual relationships composing the family allows for the interpretation of the domestic circle as a microcosm of the republican institutions that separated Geneva from the surrounding monarchies. Continuing the register of political structures, Victor represents the significance of the domestic circle by saying:

A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never allow passion or transitory desire to disturb his tranquility… if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed. (33)

In these lines, not only does Victor suggest that the "passions and transitory desires" of man are responsible for the destruction of cultures, but he proposes that if mankind refused to let its ambitions interfere with the "tranquility of domestic affections," that the downfall of major civilizations could have been avoided. The fall of the ancient civilizations in many ways symbolized the downfall of two tragic figures in the novel, Victor, and the Creature. In Frankenstein, the absence of the mutual bonds within the feminine realm of domestic affections perpetuates the masculine passion for the sublime attributes of power. In pursuing their ambitions for power, both Victor and the Creature become slaves to impulse, perpetually binding themselves to one another in their hatred and vengeance.

By removing himself from the domestic circle of his family, Victor is driven by the appealing prospects of power that would accompany his discovery of the secret of life. Upon indulging himself in his studies at Ingolstadt, Victor clearly removes himself from the influences of the domestic circle. In fact, at one point Victor recalls that:

I wished, as it were, to procrastinate all that related to my feelings of affection until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature, should be completed. (33)

Victor’s need to abandon all his ties to the same domestic affections that were previously so very important exemplifies the allure of the "great object." Victor reveals the underlying purpose for the his toils when he says:

A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve their’s. (et.al 32)

The initial conclusion would be to assume that Victor, as the creator, desires the domestic affections becoming of a father. But neither of these sentences describes the mutual affections of individuals "complying with the slightest desire of the other"; the relationships described merely benefit the creator. Victor says that the new species would bless him, that they’d owe him, and that he would be the benefactor of their gratitude. Thus, what Victor hopes to establish is not a relationship of mutual affection, but a relationship where the never-ending gratitude of his creation would heighten him to new power as "master." Thus, by removing himself of the mutual relationships of the domestic circle, Victor is drawn to the prospect of the power associated with being the master of a new human species.

The same impulse that attracts Victor to the power associated with being the master of his new creation, however, leads Victor to embrace the impulse of revenge that binds him to the Creature. As mentioned previously, Victor hopes to abandon his domestic affections until "the great object, which swallows up every bit of my nature, should be completed" (33). Thus, Victor assumes that upon completion, his focus will shift from his creation, back to his family. Later in the novel, however, Victor’s preoccupation with the creature once again becomes apparent when he says:

My present situation was one in which all voluntary thought was swallowed up and lost. I was hurried away by fury; revenge alone endowed me with strength and composure… (140)

This passage reiterates the way in which "voluntary thought" is completely dominated by the delusions of one’s ambitions, and that specifies that Victor’s preoccupation has taken the form of revenge. Victor goes on to confirm the madness with which he devotes his existence to the revenge of his creation when he proclaims:

O Night, and by the spirits that preside over thee, I swear to pursue the demon, who caused this misery, until he or I shall perish in mortal conflict. For this purpose I will preserve my life… (140)

In these lines, Victor reveals that he is willing to commit his life, in its entirety to the destruction of his creation. At one point Victor is drawn to the power afforded to him as master of the new creature, however, his preoccupation with revenge now binds him to his pursuit of the demon. Thus, the impulse that drives Victor to pursue the sublime attributes of power becomes the impulses of hate and revenge, which bind Victor to his enemy.

Likewise, Victor’s adversary, the Creature, is perpetuated to pursue a power-based relationship in the absence of mutual affections. Upon Victor’s first confrontation with the Creature he says, "I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn" (116). Not only is the Creature detested by the cottagers whose domestic circle he desperately wishes to enter, but he is essentially denied an affectionate relationship from his own creator from the moment he is conceived. The Creature attempts to pursue an affectionate relationship one last time, not with a human, but with another creature like himself. It is upon Victor’s denial of the creature’s request that the creature threatens to pursue a relationship of power saying:

Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. 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 you master—obey! (116)

The change that occurs in their relationship is in the way that the monster refers to Victor as "slave" and to himself as "master." Moreover, the monster points out that he has the power to make Victor’s life miserable, thus establishing his authority over Victor. The way in which the dynamics of their relationship changes as soon as Victor eliminates the Creature’s last chance at mutual affections shows that the Creature’s pursuit of a relationship of power is clearly the result of the absence of an affectionate relationship.

In pursing a relationship of power, the Creature aspires to be the master of his creator, but becomes the slave of his own ambitious impulse, and sufficiently binds himself to his creator through his own vengeance. Upon vowing to be with him on his wedding night, the Creature attempts to become master of his creator by inspiring Victor’s hatred. He accomplishes this by murdering those who are still close to Victor. Even after he murders Victor’s wife on their wedding night, the creature appears to control Victor by making himself the unreachable object of Victor’s pursuit, and the focus of Victor’s hate. But as is the nature of power, the Creature admits that he is not the master of his vengeance when he says, "…I was the slave, not the master of an impulse, which I detested, yet could not disobey" (153). Being absolutely controlled by his vengeance for Victor, the creature is inevitably bound to his creator. Such is their inevitable connection, that the creature is drawn to the beside of the cold body of his creator, and says, "Farewell! I leave you, an in you the last of human kind whom these eyes will ever behold. Farewell, Frankenstein!" (155). It is clear by this dramatic farewell that there is no longer any purpose for the Creature to live. Thus, as the life Victor Frankenstein is extinguished, so is the vengeance that controls the life of the Creature, leaving him no purpose but that of death.

Therefore, in pursuing their ambitions for power, both Victor and the Creature foster relationships of power and become slaves to their own impulses, binding themselves to each other in their antagonism. Likewise, one can only imagine how the tragic fall of both characters might have been avoided had they established mutual affections for each other within the domestic context. As the creature stands looking over the still body of his dead creator he says, "If thou wert yet alive, and yet cherished a desire of revenge against me, it would be better satiated in my life than in my destruction" (155). Essentially, the Creature suggests that indeed their precarious fates might have been avoided. If no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, however, then one must wonder whether the creator would have pursued the life of his creature in the first place.


Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: Norton, 1996.

Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, the Pennsylvania Electronic Edition. Ed. Stuart Curran. U of Penn. 30 Apr. 2000 <http://www.english.upenn.edu/knarf/frank.html>.