This week we had to write an essay over one of the poems or stories we’ve read. Since we were also reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein this week, I decided to my paper over that. This is the second time I have read the book, and I love it even more now than I did the first time. One thing I didn’t note in the essay that I would like to add: while talking about the book with a friend of mine, who is something of a movie buff, I mentioned that my sympathy is always with the monster. He replied that this is what a good horror story should do; you should always sympathize with the monster. I don’t know if this is a modern philosophy or if the original authors of horror classics would agree, but I think this is correct. The monsters should be more deserving of our sympathy. Anyway, here’s the essay:
A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way
Although Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is often thought of as just a story about a man who reaches too high and falls very far, this is actually the secondary message. The primary message is that the strongest thing on Earth is kindness and sympathy, which some people never learn.
It is obvious why the first message is often perceived more readily. First, the secondary title of the book is “Or, the Modern Prometheus.” This refers to the Greek deity who took pity on man and brought them fire, and for this he was sentenced to eternity chained to a rock while vultures ate his internal organs during the day and he healed during the night. The reference applies to Victor who after giving life (equivalent, fire) to the creature, was effectively sentenced to spend the rest of his life being eaten alive by torment and the need for revenge during the day and healing overnight through his dreams of his lost loved ones. Second, because Victor is the central character and narrator, it is natural to consider his viewpoint the correct one. And, as he reiterates constantly, the creature creates chaos and misery because that is his nature; he is inherently evil. However, while the first point is difficult to argue, it is the secondary title, and thus it is also the secondary message. As to why the second point is insufficient, that is what the rest of this paper is going to discuss.
The real central message to Frankenstein is that a little kindness and love goes a long way. A huge portion of the novel is dedicated to extolling the evil nature of the creature. Victor stops often in the narrative to vent on how deformed and horrible his monster is both physically and morally. He constantly refers to him as “fiend” and “devil.” Yet, he never looks at why the creature is this way, even when it is being explained to him in perfectly logical and coherent terms. It is obvious to the reader that the creature is probably not inherently villainous; more likely, his early encounters with disgust, even from his own maker, have caused his life to take this route. Of course, this is from a modern perspective. In the debate of nature vs. nurture, modern American audiences are more likely to lean toward the nurture side. It is more readily accepted today that how a child turns out is largely based on his experiences in his formative years. Although the creature was never really a child, he was very childlike. For example, he talks about his first experience with fire where he learned that touching it is bad; this is the way that children learn to avoid dangerous things, unless there is an adult to guide them. Thus to the modern reader, it is obvious that if Victor had not run away from his creation so that it was forced to fend for itself and learn things the hard way, the creature would have turned out quite different.
Another important point related to the issue of kindness is that every person the creature encounters reacts immediately with fear, whether he threatens them or not. Simply because he is ugly, even hideous, it is assumed he is a fiend or devil, as Victor so often refers to him. Even when he saves someone’s life, like the girl he rescues from the river in chapter 16, he is chased away and even harmed. When young we are taught “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and yet, how many people actually follow that rule? So many maxims taught to children are ignored by the characters of this book, which is how the author conveys the central message that kindness and sympathy towards others is extremely important. Victor’s lack of these things towards his monster are the reason why his life is so utterly destroyed. It is not that he created the monster to begin with; it is that he did not treat it right after he brought it to life.
The ultimate example of Victor’s cruelty toward the monster is his refusal to create a companion for him. Victor is so convinced of the evil nature of this creature, despite many anecdotes proving the contrary, that he will sacrifice everyone he loves and cause his creation even more pain. All the creature desires is someone who will be kind to him; if he had found that among human society, he would not have needed Victor to create him a mate. In this act, Victor is at his least sympathetic from the audience perspective.
The cruelty of Victor toward his creation, the amount of time devoted to showing that given other circumstances the creature would not be evil, and the instant reaction of horror by all who meet the creature, show that the real central message of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is that people should be kind to others, and that some people never learn this lesson. The events of the book could have so easily been changed or averted if even one character had shown a moment of mercy to the monster. Victor may have been like Prometheus bringing fire, but if he had stayed around to show his creation how to use it, he would not have suffered as Prometheus did. A little kindness would have gone a long way.