Commentary on Frankenstein Pages 58-59
A brief summary of the content entailed in these pages: Victor Frankenstein successfully brings to life his creation: a living creature, whose soul is entrapped in a hideous amalgamation of decaying body parts. As soon as the creature comes to life, Victor is horrified at his own creation, and sprints away from the monster, hoping to find reprieve in his sleep. However, sweet dreams do not come to him: instead he dreams about gruesome deaths involving Elizabeth and Caroline, his mother. He awakens from his nightmare shortly, and plunges straight into another. Awakened by his Creation, he perceives the creature’s actions as to detain him, and quickly escapes from the grasp of the monster, and spends the remaining night pacing the courtyard in fear of the monster.
In this short passage, Mary Shelley delves deep into Victor’s psyche in regard to his own Creation, his feelings towards Elizabeth and his mother, and even foreshadows the forthcoming death of Elizabeth. Death and life, dreams and reality, and even evil and innocence are all themes conveyed in these few paragraphs, and in them literary devices such as pathetic fallacy and imagery are woven in brilliantly.
The passage begins with a “…dreary night of November”, starting off with a pathetic fallacy that lays out the incoming dread and horror Victor would experience soon. “Dreary” is often used to describe a gloomy atmosphere, accompanied by darkness and despair, and this lays the foundation for the setting of darkness that surrounds the monster during its conception. This is seen in lines 5-7, where Victor describes the candle-light as “half-extinguished”, with “rain patter[ing] dismally”, thickening the gloomy atmosphere, and seemingly plunging the room into a shadowy shroud. In this first paragraph, the theme of life and death (in this instance the lifelessness of the monster), plays out, and there is a clear imbalance between the two. Death is represented by the monster and the darkness surrounding the monster before it is given life, and the darkness the monster was born from will bring Victor darkness as well, in the form of death among his loved ones. The theme of Death is overpowering, as the subjects that represent Life, the monster and the instruments of life, all stem from Death: the once lifeless body of the monster, and the inanimate tools that grant a small spark of life to the monster. Even the lighting of the setting lends support: with the only source of illumination in the overbearing darkness being a flickering candle-light.
The theme of life and death continues in the third paragraph. In this paragraph, Victor states that the two years spent trying to give life to the monster have resulted in deprivation of sleep, and the draining of his own health. It seems that the once lifeless monster had, quite literally, taken the life-force of its own creator. This carries on further when Victor tries to escape from the abomination of life he has created by drifting off into sleep, a state of mind that is often described as being eerily similar to Death. Shelley pushes the notion of Death still, describing Elizabeth being in the “bloom of health”, but after kissing Victor, her life appears to be drained away, leaving only the “hue of death” on her features. Elements of foreshadowing are woven here, as later on in the story Victor shall soon blame himself for the death of his loved ones. Apart from the death of Elizabeth, Victor also dreams about his mother’s death, in horrifying detail, such as “grave-worms crawling in the folds of flannel”. This overbearing notion of Death seems to have spawned from the unnatural mockery of Life (that is the monster) that is born not from the womb, but from the putrid jumble of once-dead human body parts. Mary Shelley seems to warn the reader about the dangers of science, if you go past the natural order of life, only unspeakable horrors will follow.
In the pages before this selected passage, Shelley describes Victor’s mad determination to infuse life into a lifeless body. He locks himself up in alone in his work, and was so deeply engrossed in his work that he nearly forgot the beauties of nature, and the affections between his loved ones. However he did not stop his unholy work, he worked on doggedly, driven by his mad dreams for glory in bypassing the procedures of Life. This dream of his quickly fades away in paragraph 2, and from his description of the monster, we can see reality finally hitting Victor once in two years. He doesn’t describe his creation with pride, instead naming it a “catastrophe”, and the “beautiful” body parts are vehemently dismissed with a “Great God!”. Frankenstein’s hand-picked features, the lustrous hair, large muscles, shiny teeth can be considered beautiful in ones’ imagination. However reality strikes when Victor sees the full picture, and from then on he realises his mistake.
The theme of dreams and reality comes in two pairs: the first pair being Victor’s dream of perverting life, and instead facing the reality of the creation of an abomination, and the second pair being the dream Victor has, as well as his interpretation of the monster’s motives, and the reality he faces after he wakes up from the dream. From the first pair, Shelley once again brings out the notion of how going against the natural order will bring dire consequences, as well as warning the reader on how chasing your dreams blindly, without even thinking about the repercussions, will lead to horrific outcomes.
It is to be noted as to how Shelley paints Victor to be an unreliable narrator in these paragraphs. Victor is obviously driven mad from his dream of attaining glory, and after being horrified at his own creation, we can take any descriptions of the monster with a grain of salt. After Victor is awakened by the monster, we see the situation unfolding through an unreliable narrator’s eyes, in which Victor sees it as a “miserable monster”. He then describes the monster trying to leer at him, and by extending an arm, trying to detain Victor. Through Victor’s dreamlike state, he perceives the monster as trying to harm him. From the reader’s perspective, if the monster was out to harm Victor, it would have done it swiftly and silently. This then raises the question of whether the monster was actually just trying to extend a hand of friendship, and the leer to be an attempt at a grin. Shelley uses this confused interaction between Creator and Creation as to highlight a common failing in Man, how perceptions of others can be twisted just because of the prejudices of a person.
This interaction also raises the question of evil and innocence. Who is the truly evil one in this situation? From Victor’s perspective, he was the innocent victim. While he recognises that his dream of subverting the natural order has turned into a nightmare, he rationalises the monster as just a mistake, and as such doesn’t take responsibility for the monster, instead treating it with disgust. Shelley makes sure the reader has no such notions. She first paints Victor as an unreliable narrator, depicting Victor as running away from his own responsibilities twice. Victor sees his running away from the monster as a natural reaction, but because of the unreliable narration, the reader can understand how truly evil Victor is by leaving behind a newborn life. The reader can compare this action as abandoning a baby not once but twice, due to the disgusting appearance of the baby.
Depicting Victor’s disposition as evil leads the reader to question whether even the monster is inherently evil. This is exemplified through the vague interactions of the monster with Victor, and with the story being continued through the perspective of the rambling Victor. It leaves the reader with questions as to what will happen to the monster, and how will it deal with the rejection from its Creator? Shelley flips the tables, with a hideous monster being innocent, and the well-educated human being evil, once again highlighting the selfishness of Man by judging others through outward appearance, as well as pointing out an unorthodox notion that ignorance seems to bring innocence more easily than knowledge.
Through three short paragraphs, Shelley not only creates one of the most iconic characters in literature, she also delves deep into the themes of life and death, dreams and reality, evil and innocence through the simple interaction between Creator and Creation. Such a feat is to be admired, and one can see why this book is deemed a classic by history.