When considering this question one must first take note of the discrepancy between the literal presentation of the relationship between Frankenstein and his creature, and the figurative presentation of that. Are Shelley’s intentions predominantly to bring our attention to the fixed sequence of events – to perceive the story in a literal manner – or to a more implicit message; an analogy of bodily union between the two antagonists?
Of course, today, when one utters the name ‘Frankenstein’ the first image thought up is that of a detestable, monstrous, green entity with bolts through the neck. This is indeed erroneous when taking Shelley’s novel into account, yet it still offers us an allusion to the idea of the double. It has frequently been suggested that the creature assumes the role of a doppelgi??nger – or alter-ego – to Frankenstein. That he is merely an extension, or reflection of his creator (indeed ‘creature’ implies ‘creator’).
They both assume various synonymous roles throughout the novel; for example, their corresponding isolation, the omission of female influence in their matters, their juxtaposed intentions to take revenge, and of course the simple fact that Victor is presented as a solitary ‘parent’ to the creature – the only person with whom the creature has an emotional bond. So, let us first look at this issue of Victor’s and the creature’s ‘father-son’ relationship. Of course, the common interpretation of this matter is that Frankenstein manages to usurp the roles of both God and the female.
Indeed, ‘like father like son’ has a profound meaning here, and the creature is, in effect Victor’s “own vampire” – his child. The most indicative portrayal of this usurping of the female (the mother) follows immediately after the creature’s ‘awakening’, with Frankenstein’s horrifically symbolic dream of Elizabeth – his potential and prearranged partner – being degraded into the corpse of his dead mother. This does seem to provide an implicit metaphor for sexual depravity – that Victor’s exploits lead him to isolate himself from both the world’s populace and, in turn, any form of carnal satisfaction.
Let us, then, look further into this issue of isolation. The reasons for both Victor’s and the creature’s solitude differ markedly, but are nevertheless explicably connected. Victor is essentially isolated by his ‘Promethean’ strive for knowledge: “… how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” This – Victor’s own claim – provides us with an allusion to a man ‘punching above his weight’ (to put it facetiously).
As with Prometheus – the Greek Titan – Victor, in the early parts of the novel, contemplates the power of fire (this trek into the unknown – when taking into account Walton’s ominous expedition to the Arctic – has also led critics to propose a Frankenstein-Walton double). This knowledge is then utilised by him in the creation of his creature – in parallel with Prometheus, striking discontent with godly authority. As the 1931 film version of Frankenstein adequately made out, “… Now I know what it’s like to be God”. Frankenstein is an introvert – departing the archetypal family life to take up his place at Ingolstadt.
He concedes vast quantities of his own life to create life – the monster being his Adam. It is therefore rather ironic that this concession of life is seemingly deemed worthless – and a waste – after Victor abandons his creature. The reason for this abandonment is essentially predicated on the creature’s repulsive physical appearance – his ominous manifestations striking fear into his creator. This now brings us onto the creature’s reasons for isolation. He is an outcast from the world to the extent that even those he thought to be well-natured and understanding – the De Lacey family – callously repel him.
He is excluded from domestic life, albeit involuntarily, i?? la his creator. Looking at one interpretation, we might view this rebuttal of oddities as an attack by Shelley on societal conditioning (displayed effectively by the young, innocent William’s preconceptions of the monster as an “ogre” and a “fiend”) and the corrupt narrow-minded outlook of society towards what, on the surface, appears to be evil, but is in fact benevolent (the creature being a ‘noble savage’). The monster’s situation arouses a poignant sense of pity in the reader.
His solitude – a common theme throughout Gothic literature – forces him into “malignity” (this word having been repeated frequently throughout the novel by Victor as narrator). The creature is, therefore, not just a reflection of Adam, but also of Satan – an outcast from heaven (of course, the monster’s ‘heaven’ can possibly be interpreted to be the respect and understanding of man towards him). Furthermore, the creature strikes similarities with John Milton’s representation of Satan in Paradise Lost (“Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven”).
The monster’s murderous exploits cast an ominous light over him – he is now the villain. What we can see, then, is a complex matrix of doubles – the creature and Adam, the creature and Satan, Frankenstein and God, Frankenstein as the parental dichotomy and, of course, the creature and Frankenstein. Another pointer to there being a bodily union between the two antagonists comes in the form of their intentions – namely, that of revenge. The creature intends to take revenge on his creator and conversely the creator intends to take revenge on his creature.
One interpretation is that this is an embodied symbol of one man – Frankenstein (this introvert) – attempting to suppress the ugly, odious side of his nature. One can draw parallels with Robert Louis Stephenson’s 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – the split personality indicating a doppelgi??nger motif holding weight throughout the Gothic genre. The creature’s and the creator’s intentions, their natures and, of course, their purpose are all intertwined. The monster is Victor’s “own spirit let loose from the grave, and forced to destroy all that was dear to [him]”.
Indeed, Frankenstein feels equally culpable for the deaths of William, Justine, Elizabeth and Clerval. Like the monster, Victor: “… had begun life with benevolent intentions and thirsted for the moment when [he] should put them in practice and make myself useful to my fellow beings” But progressively they both – as an interrelation – decline into being feeble, ‘malignant’ characters. These intentions and emotional attachments do continue to intricately link both the creator and his creature (God and Adam, father and son).
Other literally presented occurrences in the novel, for example, the arrest of Frankenstein in Ireland for the murder of Henry continue to supply evidence of Shelley’s overriding intention. This detainment was no mistake. It was simply a figurative portrayal of Victor’s arrest at the expense of his darker side – both he and the creature are equally culpable and both are one and the same. Also, Aya Yatsugi offers the notion of a ‘mirror stage’. Frankenstein and the creature’s perception of each other through the window in the Orkneys comparable to a ‘reflection’.
This being supplemented by Victor’s destruction of the creature’s mate and the subsequent murder of Elizabeth by the creature – again, the sequence of events is too intricate and precise for us to rule out the possibility for Shelley’s intentions to have been for that of the double (this dichotomous murder of partners also continues to support the omission of the female). To summarise, then, it is of great import that there is nothing to rule out the possibility of Shelley delivering this work as a purposeful analogy; pointing to a bodily union of Frankenstein with his monster.
Of course, we must understand that if one is to perceive the novel in this manner it will always be subjective and never constant. Yet, the evidence is there, as a supplement, for those who harbour this view. The creature and creator are spiritually one and the same. Their positions in the narrative and corresponding actions are crucially paralleled. Victor is the creature’s father, Victor is the creature’s God, Victor is the creature’s focus of vengeance, and Victor is the only entity with which (possibly with the exception of the De Laceys) the creature has a poignantly governed relationship.
Yet, to say that these two characters are ‘the same person’ is possibly stretching this idea to an unaccountable degree. Indeed, they may just be separate characters with strong parallels – Shelley’s narrative simply outlining their synonymy and corresponding situations. Maybe Shelley’s message is essentially bringing our attention to the fact that these two characters, despite being at each other’s throats throughout, still maintain such a powerful understanding and spiritual bond. Nevertheless, this issue will forever be open to argument.
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