In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley creates many differences between Victor Frankenstein and his creation, but simultaneously creates parallels between the two. Victor’s siblings and parents are perfect in his eyes and never deny him anything, whereas everyone who sees him from the moment rejects the creature he begins breathing. Despite these differences, both characters develop problems as adults based on these childhood experiences, which ultimately cause others’ deaths as well as their own.
Although Victor’s seemingly idyllic upbringing sharply contrasts with the creature’s neglected “childhood,” both of these scenarios lead to their mutual destruction. While Victor experiences a seemingly ideal, but in truth, overindulgent childhood, the creature is faced with constant rejection from the moment he is given life despite his inborn warmth and compassion. From the beginning of each existence, the two grow up under completely different influences. Victor’s parents respond to his birth as a gift from heaven, whereas from the moment the creature draws breath, Victor, his “father,” abhors him.
Indicating that as a child he never experienced unhappiness to any degree, Victor explains that his earliest memories are his “mother’s tender caresses” and his father’s “smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding [him]” (33). When the creature is “born,” however, the first thing that happens to him is that his creator irrationally abandons the new being in his state of innocence because he is “unable to endure the aspect of the being [he] had created” (56).
While Victor’s parent’s view him as “their plaything and their idol… bestowed on them by Heaven” (33), Victor, denying his creature all of the love that he himself was fortunate enough to have, regards the monster as a “wretch” and a “miserable monster” (57). Shelley even uses parallel scenes where both Victor and the creature reach out for a parent’s love and reassurance and meet opposite responses to demonstrate their differing childhood experiences.
When the creature comes to life and he stretches out his hand in a natural attempt to receive affection, Victor teaches the monster that he cannot be loved by, instead of reciprocating his creation’s innocent gesture, feeling the need to “escape” and taking “refuge” (57) from him. Even though the creature does not remember his creator’s flight, his first recollections of being a “poor, helpless, miserable wretch” and “feeling pain invade [him] on all sides” result from this traumatic rejection (99).
In stark contrast, when as an adult in jail Victor reaches out his hand towards his father in search of the same reassurance the creature instinctively desired, he continues to learn that even as an adult he will always be forgiven and there are no consequences to his actions because his father responds by calming him and appearing as his “good angel” (175). While Victor’s parents give him love and affection as a child and he selfishly denies these necessities to his creature, both childhood scenarios influence these characters’ development into adults.
As a result of each character’s childhood circumstances, Victor becomes a selfish adult who does not understand consequences and the creature’s natural kindness develops into vengeful misery. Because Victor was never denied anything as a child, he grows up to be a self-centred being. While during his childhood he supposedly receives lessons of “patience, of charity, and of self-control, [he] was so guided by a silken cord that all seemed but one train of enjoyment to [him]”(33) and, as a result, he never makes any mistakes and does not learn that there are in fact consequences to his actions.
The creation of the monster itself is a selfish act that results from his pampered childhood because he never considers that there might be ramifications of some sort for the rest of humanity or even for himself. Because he develops this feeling of his own invincibility, when he decides to “unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation” (47), he is really only thinking of his own personal glory as a scientist and fails to recognize the possible problems that controlling nature to this extent can present.
His reaction to discovering his God-like ability to bestow the gift of life is “delight and rapture” in his own power (51), rather than concern about the far-reaching effects of such power. His arrogance extends further when he bestows life upon his creature and, instead of taking responsibility for his creation; he selfishly runs away and does not concern himself with the details of the creature’s whereabouts for almost a year. Once he does finally meet the creature, he has minimal compassion for him because he cannot understand the feelings of someone who has been repeatedly denied love, an essential that he has always had in abundance.
Furthermore, Victor does not seem to truly understand the creature’s desire for a companion because he has had Elizabeth since childhood. His parents presented Elizabeth to him as his “promised gift” and he has always known that “till death she was to be [his] only” (35), so he has never felt the lonely desolation that the creature does constantly. On the contrary, Victor often chooses to isolate himself from those who love him and separates himself from the companionship that the creature craves.
Also developing adult characteristics as a result of his childhood, the creature changes from his naturally kind state as a child to an angry, embittered adult because of his neglected “childhood”. In contrast to Victor, the creature is denied everything he needs, especially love and acceptance, necessities that Victor has in abundance. Once the creature grows up and learns the origins of his creation, he has already experienced much rejection based on his hideous appearance and is already miserable because of the companionship that he lacks.
As he reads Victor’s journal detailing his creation, he becomes even angrier and refers to the “hateful day when [he] received life” and bitterly curses his creator (127). After experiencing further rejection from the De Lacey family and the father of the little girl who he saves, his anger intensifies and he becomes vengeful towards his creator. The creature’s misery and the events leading up to it are a direct result of Victor’s neglect to take responsibility both before and after the creature was given life. In the cases of both Victor and the creature, early life conditions negatively influence each character as an adult.
Victor’s and the creature’s individual faults arising from their upbringings ultimately lead to their mutual destruction. Victor’s selfishness and the creature’s vengefulness as adults lead to the deaths of those close to Victor. Because Victor denies the creature everything from love and compassion to acceptance, the creature’s anger deepens and he is driven to kill Victor’s brother William as punishment. William’s death consequently causes the death of innocent Justine who is believed to be guilty of his murder.
These deaths occur because Victor grew up without understanding of consequences and he, as a result, selfishly denied the creature of the necessities that would have prevented him from committing such abhorrent crimes. By killing Victor’s closest friend Clerval and then Elizabeth, his lifelong companion, the creature continues to act on his vengeful feelings because Victor continues to deny him necessities and destroys the monster’s own future companion before his eyes. The creature resorts to this life of despondency and violence because of his childhood of neglect and the resulting adult rejection he later experiences.
Even after the monster has started to kill and he has expressed his bitter sentiments to Victor, Victor does realize that he has “drawn down a horrible curse upon [his] head,” but still sees himself as “guiltless” (157) and does not acknowledge that he could have prevented this misery if he had only taken responsibility for his actions and had not been out for scientific glory. The monster’s final revenge on Victor, leading him through the arctic regions of the north, eventually leads to both of their deaths.
Because of Victor’s selfishness, the creature feels the need to lead him on a physically and emotionally draining journey that causes Victor’s health to decline and finally Victor’s death. Once Victor has died and the creature no longer has a reason to live in his loveless, companionless state of existence, he vows to put himself out of his misery and die. Victor’s overindulgent childhood and the monster’s emotionally dry upbringing lead to the destruction of those close to them and, eventually, their own tragic demise.
While the creature’s barren childhood sharply differs from Victor’s supposedly ideal upbringing, both situations lead to problems for both characters as adults and ultimately lead to each destruction. Shelley presents these two opposing experiences, but she sets both the “ideal” and the blatantly horrific up to fail and lead to death and misery. She suggests that maybe what seems like an ideal child rearing method when the child is given everything he could ever want really raises an adult who is self-involved and inconsiderate of the world around him.
Shelley further uses the far-reaching effects of these extreme childhoods through the entirety of the characters’ lives to imply the importance of a balanced upbringing to create a balanced adult. By portraying the two extreme possibilities in the creature and Victor, she indicates the necessity of teaching children from the moment that they are born not just unconditional love and acceptance, but also consequences and selflessness. Shelley expresses through her novel that it is essential to have all of these elements in order to survive in the world.