What defines a monster? Is it the outer appearance: grotesque features, inhuman size and strength, and unnatural roars and cries? Or is a monster found on a deeper level, perhaps even in the heart and soul of a normal human being? There is a reason Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is considered a classic. A man believes he can play God, wanting to bring what was once dead back to life. He succeeds, but instead of resurrecting a man, he creates a monster; a monster that learns how to think for itself and acts out of rage because it wants to be loved. Shelley’s classic makes readers ponder: is the monster truly a monster or is man the real monster?
Young and curious Victor Frankenstein leaves his family to pursue the knowledge of science. What he discovers is an obsession that consumes him mind, body, and soul: the reanimation of dead tissue. His obsession leads him to a dreary night in November where he succeeds in resurrecting a human made of various body parts from various dead bodies. However, his delight turns to terror as instead of a beautiful creation, he sees a hideous monster. Abandoning his creation to the cruelties of the world, Frankenstein’s monster wanders alone, longing to make his creator pay for denying him what every human being longs for: love.
Many monster books have been written that are now considered classics: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame are a few of the more well-known stories. Each monster from each story has its own story to tell; however, the monster from Frankenstein can be a tricky one for readers to figure out. Throughout Shelley’s story, readers will struggle to decide who they feel more sympathetic towards: Victor or his monster? This inner struggle of the readers’ is what makes the story so morbidly beautiful.
One may feel more sympathetic for Victor at the start for he is human, therefore, he must be the hero of the story, right? Fighting to destroy the monster he has created? And one does feel sympathetic towards him when the monster begins to kill the people he loves; however, one must look to the beginning of the book. If Victor had not been so consumed by his desire to play God and to accomplish what should never even be attempted by mortal man, Frankenstein’s monster would have never existed and, therefore, Victor’s loved ones would never have been killed.
The monsters of stories begin with a disadvantage: monsters are seen as evil creatures that do nothing but kill the innocent and thus, they are the villains and unloved by the readers. However, readers can feel sympathy for the creature because all it wants is what Victor denied it on the night it was created: love. It travels the country looking for and longing to be accepted, but due to its appearance, humans are cruel to it and chase it away. It acts out of rage because no one will show it love and even when it learns to talk and seeks out Victor for some form of happiness, Victor denies it this happiness.
Shelley was brilliant when writing her characters, making Victor and his monster likeable and unlikable at the same time. This is what makes it so hard for the readers to decide who to feel more sympathy towards. She made her characters the opposite of what they should be: the creator, who delights and longs to teach what he has created, cannot stand the sight of his creation and the creation that is seen as a monster, but longs for a feeling monsters are not know to long for.
Along with her characters, Shelley’s voice carries readers through the story using beautiful words to form flowing sentences one does not read often in books nowadays. She hits many thoughts about life and death on the bull’s eye, making readers really question what it truly means to be human. Do humans just enjoy life until the final hour comes? Should humans try to discover what is in store for everyone after death? Should humans dare to tamper with a power only God is capable of to try to bring what was once dead back to life? Granted, bringing a drowned person or someone who has had a stroke back to life who has perhaps been dead for two minutes is one thing, but bringing someone who has been dead for days, possibly even weeks is another thing entirely.
Frankenstein’s monster has changed since Shelley’s publication in 1818. Thanks to the advancement in motion pictures in the early 20th century and director James Whale in 1931, the monster has an image everyone today knows. Throughout the years, the monster also took on the name “Frankenstein,” the real Victor Frankenstein seemingly disappearing into the background. Even with all of the popular culture surrounding “Frankenstein” and other well-known monsters, viewers must know where all of the monsters originated from. Frankenstein is a beautifully written classic that shows the creator and his creation in a new light. Morbid as it may be, Shelley reveals that monsters may be the grotesque creatures lurking in the dark, but real monsters may be closer than one thinks, lurking in the shadows of the human soul.