The sudden and drastic change in the creature arises with the discovery of Frankenstein’s journal. Upon learning of his “creator” and the foul circumstances surrounding his creation, the creature proclaims in one of the important quotes from Frankenstein, “Everything is related in them which bears reference to my accursed origin; the whole detail of that series of disgusting circumstances which produced it is set in view; the minutest description of my odious and loathsome person is given, in language which painted your own horrors and rendered mine indelible. I sickened as I read. ‘Hateful day when I received life’”(126)! This is a strong departure from the hopeful and optimistic creature that arose earlier in the text. When confronted with the sordid details of his own creation, as well as the flatly horrific comments of Frankenstein, the creature regresses quickly into a negative and self-deprecating appraisal of himself.
Confronted with proof of a higher power, a “creator”, the creature begins to doubt his own values and instead adapts those of Frankenstein. From this moment forth, the creature abandons his sense of morality that was so carefully developed over time and becomes fixated instead upon the beliefs of his creator. On the other hand, there is the issue of the creator himself, Victor. Once critic observes that, “Frankenstein is a product of a period in which the secularization of society placed human beings at the center of the universe. The freedom to pursue independent thought and action however also shifted the responsibility for life’s outcomes away from God and Satan. And onto the shoulders of human beings. Victor’s “monster” is thus not a form of heavenly retribution for daring to “play God.” as many have suggested. The text indicates that whether there is a God or not, Victor is responsible for his own behavior, and ultimately for the deaths of those he loves. His struggle is not with his Creator, but with his own ego. Out of this first assumption comes the primary theme of the novel: With knowledge comes personal responsibility; the denial of responsibility leads to tragic outcomes” (Nocks 138).
The creature becomes more obsessed with Frankenstein as time passes. He questions the values he has learned up until then, doubting and reworking his opinions of himself that contradict those of Frankenstein. The constant reflection on himself and the opinions of his creator drive the creature into a deep state of self-loathing. The creature becomes more and more angered as his creator, resulting in a grim obsession of revenge, continuously rebuffs him. This reaction is a furtherance of the creature’s frustration at being seemingly incapable of gaining any reaction from Frankenstein other than through the use of violence. The creature is “taught” that rage is his only tool to attract his creator’s attention. He is an unformed child in his emotional and psychological reactions to both stress and fear and he uses his anger as a means to draw responses from his creator.
The creature’s obsession is fully realized in the last chapter of Frankenstein. Upon the death of Frankenstein, the creature exclaims, “That is also my victim! In his murder my crimes are consummated; the miserable series of my being is wound to its close”(211)! In this statement, the creature expresses his final release from the cycle of death and revenge that had dominated his pursuit of Frankenstein. In the eyes of the creature, the creator is truly dead and only with the death of the creator is the creature free to once again determine his own fate. Even in choosing death for himself, an end left open to the reader’s own discretion, the creature has finally realized a freedom from uncontrollable forces and his ability to decide his own destiny without the limitations of unattainable spiritual dogma.
When posed with the question of whether or not morality can exist without knowledge of a creator and a reason to “behave” according to divine dictates, the reader must undertake a “Frankensteinian” quest of their own. It becomes necessary to for us to create out own creature—not a physical one, but one of the psyche. Such a frankensteinian quest involves a careful reassessment of the questions posed in this study, whether or not, in this complex modern world we can construct morality separated from the institutions that dictate what it should be. Perhaps in modern times, outside of the Gothic/romantic context of the novel, we also must question how modes of religious and secular belief change over time. According to one scholar, this is what “What Isaac Asimov termed ‘the Frankenstein complex’ the over-reacher’s conviction that his creation will turn on him and exact retribution for his contravention of natural law-is always fashionable, in the sense that it can be fashioned and refashioned to suit changing cultural anxieties. Whether or not Frankenstein was written as a cautionary tale, this is undoubtedly the status it has acquired in popular culture, scientific debate and feminist critique” (Goodall 26).
The question becomes whether or not modern readers who have been blinded to Shelley’s meaning through a barrage of bad film representations of the novel are ever going to be able to see past the malformed monster itself to the deeper issues at the core of our very being. Are we, in an age of increasing secularism, reverting to the childlike innocence of the monster in a turn away from faith and God? This question is not meant to be posed in a pseudo-religious manner, it is rather put forth to call mind successive questions about how we make moral assessments without divine guidance. One might suggest that many of us are like the enterprising Victor—we are constantly surrounded with information, we crave it, it is our lives with television, the internet, radio, and other communication devices, yet also like Victor, in our pursuits of these things we have forgotten what true knowledge is. One could fairly suggest that the monster is the most pure being that has existed in literature since he is a perfect child—more perfect than an actual child since even children are inoculated against “immoral” behavior by parents. Without such guidance, perhaps it would be useful to modern readers in the Frankensteinian quest for knowledge to remember that the search is not as complex as it may seem—that the fundamental innocence lies waiting.
Other essays and articles in the Literature Archive related to this topic include : Elements of Romanticism in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley • Comparison of Frankenstein and “Flowers for Algernon” (Keyes) • A Critical Reading of Adam’s Fall in “Paradise Lost” by John Milton • Common Themes in Romanticism, The Enlightenment, and the Renaissance
Goodall, Jane. “Frankenstein and the Reprobate’s Conscience.” Studies in the Novel 31.1 (1999): 19
Gould, Stephen Jay. “The monster’s human nature.” Natural History 103.7 (1994): 14
Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York: Routledge, 1988
Nocks, Lisa. “Frankenstein, in a better light.” Journal of Social & Evolutionary Systems 20.2 (1997): 137
Thompson, Terry W. “Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Explicator 58.4 (2000): 191