To Be a Monster

"Abhorred monster," "filthy daemon," "devil," these are but a few of the terms used to name Victor Frankenstein’s creation in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Throughout the novel, despite changes in narration, the creation is referred to as an "evil being." From the very first time his creator set eyes on him until Walton talks to him on the ship, no human who sees the creation treats him kindly. According to Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, monster is defined as "something horrible for mischief, deformity, or wickedness." Through his contact with humans the creature "[becomes] fully convinced that [he is] in reality the monster that [he is]" (Shelley 76) but endeavors to change his status as a monster to that of a human.

As the creature becomes more educated, he realizes the consequences of his actions and begins to act more responsibly to atone for the mischief he had unknowingly caused when he was younger. Upon leaving the forest, which he inhabited for a while after his creation, he first came to a shepherds hut. Because he had previously lacked contact with humans, the creation enters the hut with out realizing the reaction his appearance would cause. Inadvertently, the creation causes harm to the flock the shepherd was tending, as well as to the shepherd himself, by causing the man to flee in terror. Not realizing the harm he had already inflicted the creation continues in his wondering and runs across a village. "How miraculous did this appear!" (Shelley 70) exclaims the creature retelling the events to Victor. The creation’s enthusiasm and curiosity shows he is still in an age of innocence, he does not yet realize the reactions he causes by just being seen. By entering the village, he creates a mass hysteria and a mob forms to chase him out of the village. It is at this point that the creature realizes that his very appearance causes trouble around humans.

In order to avoid future confrontations with humans the creature begins to hide in the De Lacey house, take their food to feed himself, and watch them to learn about humans. After watching them for some time the creature begins to realize that by stealing their food he "inflicted pain on the cottagers" (Shelley 74). He makes a conscious decision to end the suffering he was inadvertently causing, even though it means extra work for himself, and begins to "satisfy [himself] with berries, nuts, and roots, which [he] gathered from a neighboring wood" (Shelley 74). In fact he even takes it one step further and begins to help the cottagers for no reason other than good will. By cutting firewood for them he allowed them to do significantly more work around the cottage that needed to be done. Because he never shows himself to the cottagers, he knows he would not receive praise for is services. In fact there are no direct benefits for helping the cottagers, besides witnessing their happiness. As soon as the creature became educated enough to do so he began to help people instead of causing trouble. Unfortunately, the cause of most of the mischief he instigated was something he had no control over, the way he looked.

The creation, being horribly deformed in appearance, realizes he can not change the way he looks nor the way humans treat him because of it, and therefore searches for ways around his appearance. From the instant of his creation the creature caused reactions of horror even in his creator. Victor recoils in horror as he describes his creation:

  • His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same color as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion, and strait black lips. (Shelley 34)
  • With his contrasting features on an eight-foot tall body, it is no wonder people ran from him. Even the creature himself was "terrified, when [he] viewed [himself] in a transparent pool" (Shelley 76). He is filled with mortification when he compares his form to "the perfect form" (Shelley 76) of the cottagers. He was able to change his actions to mimic the good will of the cottagers, but he is unable to change his physical appearance. With this realization the creature realized why from the instant he took his first breath until he took his last, the creature never found a human who could look past his appearance and hear him out. Because of his inability to change his veneer the creature tries to work around the impediment. He soon devises a scheme to get around this obstacle: "My voice, although harsh, had nothing terrible in it; I thought, therefore, that if, in the absence of his children, I could gain the good-will and meditation of the old De Lacey, I might, by this means, be tolerated by my younger protectors." (Shelley 89) By talking to the old man, who is blind, the creature is able to bypass the cause of his previous persecution. With out the aid of visual prejudice the old man accepts the creature as a good man. However, when the children return they misconstrue the scene and chase off the creature like so many people before them. The natural human reaction of fear to his appearance leads the creature to feel the need for revenge against humanity, after being rejected time and time again.

    The solitude created by the creature’s appearance transforms his anger and disappointment into violent wickedness; however, because he is not a wicked being he later regrets his actions. He first conceives the thought of a violent revenge as he runs from the De Lacey house with rage. He states he could "have destroyed the cottage and inhabitants" (Shelley 92), he could but he does not. In his heart he is not an evil creature of revenge, instead of destroying the cottage he runs through the forest venting his anger in more acceptable ways. It is not until the creature finds out that the De Laceys have moved away in fear that he finally turns to violence. The only people he had felt connected to had moved away, he was left "in a state of utter and stupid despair" (Shelley 93).

    It is no wonder that at this point he loses control and destroys the site of his abandonment. Once the cottage was destroyed the creature decided to seek out the only other human that had any connection to him. To Victor he "felt no sentiment but that of hatred," (Shelley 94) he blames Victor for the misery that is now his life. Upon reaching Geneva the creature attempts one final time to gain the trust of a human as a companion. Again trying to avoid the problems caused by his appearance he tries to contact a young boy, whom he assumes to be unprejudiced because of his age. His assumption proves to be wrong and the rejection by the boy pushes the creature over the edge. Consumed by misery and hatred the creature now begins to act like a monster. He begins to kill the innocent in order to get to Victor. The creature exhibits no sense of right and wrong, he is acting on instinct with no self-control. This is when the creature begins a killing spree as revenge for Victor’s refusal to create him a female companion. When all is over, Victor lies dead. The creature visits the corpse of Victor and declares the remorse he feels for the evil he has committed. He reveals that "a frightful selfishness hurried [him] on, while [his] heart was poisoned with remorse" (Shelley 153). He had lost his self-control not his feelings; and now that Victor is dead, the target of his anger is dead and his self-control returns. The feelings of guilt now fill the whole in his being that the rage had previously filled and so he resolves to end his life. The good nature of his soul could not live with the monstrous nature of his actions and so he declares "where can I find rest but in death?" (Shelley 155)

    Through out the novel the creation is told he is a monster both directly and through his observations of people’s reactions to him. However, the creature knows he has a good heart and tries many times to be a good person. The prejudice caused by his appearance is too strong; humans were never able to accept him as a person. Despite the creature’s harmless or good intentions, people treated him like a monster based solely on his appearance. The inability of the human mind to look past appearances forced the creature into a life style he could not live with. A good natured heart does not want to live in solitude, it wants companionship. The stress of being forced into solitude caused the creature to lose his control over his emotions and he became a monster in actions as well as in appearances. The heartfelt remorse shown by the creature at the end of the novel proves he is not what everyone believes him to be. In contrast with the way people treat the creation, he grows to love humans and can not hold a grudge against them. Truly at heart the creation is nothing but a loving creature and was forced into the role of a monster that everyone assumed him to be.