The Selfishness of Victor Frankenstein
In Frankenstein, both the film and novel portray Victor as a selfish character who is only concerned about his own well-being. In Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Victor is completely focused on creating human life and does not care that he is hurting his family, Elizabeth and the monster. The same is true in the film, what looks like a self-less act on Victor’s end by creating a wife for the monster he really wants to keep Elizabeth for himself when he brings her back to life after the monster kills her. The film by Kenneth Branagh and the novel both accentuate how irresponsible Victor’s character as he withholds information from his family and does not tell the truth to prevent Justine from being executed for a murder she did not commit. Both texts juxtapose Victor’s character with his monster’s character as he helps out a family as he teaches himself how to read. We see how unselfish the monster is compared to Victor. (Fix after and add a quote from source)
First of all, Frankenstein created the monster so he could manipulate the power of life, not to learn from the experience. He started the experience out of his own self indulgence as ignores his family back in Geneva. He is so immersed in his studies fascinated by the creation of life as he studies what the human body is made up of and how it falls apart. At first it appears that he is just an enthusiastic scholar, but later we learn that Victor has been going to gravesites collecting corpses to bring life to human parts which were once deceased. Victor completely disengages from the world when away at school after his mother dies of scarlet fever which he did not take very well. “It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she, whom we saw everyday, and whose very existence appeared a part of our own, can have departed for everâ€¦why should I describe the sorrow which all have felt.”(Shelley 43) He completely devotes himself to creating this masterpiece still in pain over the death of his mother becomes obsessed neglecting the loved ones who are still alive as he becomes pale and lonely obsessed completely with the task. It is not until he experiences the pain of death that he is driven to try and control it. He wants new knowledge so that he can prevent himself from dying, to discover how to be immortal as he spends many sleepless nights in order to bring life to his monster. In the novel, each time one of his teachers show Victor something new he works hard to master it which is why it appears that he is just an excited student, whereas in the film Victor’s professors forbid him to talk about reviving human life. In the film it is clear what Victor is after so we are not surprised when he creates the monster since his obsession is obvious. As Lunsford argues:
Victor has no real friendships… when he goes to university and begins his quest for enlightenment. Although Victor says he will have to “form [his] own friends” in Ingolstadt, he never does, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, he latches onto the prospect of his reputation and resolves to ‘enter the world’ which of course leads him to literally form his own “friend”-the monster (Lunsford)
Secondly, once he finally succeeds at creating the monster he immediately runs away, claiming that he was protecting his life which adds to his selfishness. In reality, he is disgusted by the sight of his creation so he abandons it leaving it all alone in the world without any guidance and runs away to the next room. So not only is Victor selfish but he is shallow as well:
I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! – Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the world of muscles and arteries beneath. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body but now that I had finished the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created.”(Shelley 57).
Instead of realizing that he achieved his goal of bringing life to an inanimate body he runs way because of how hideous it is. As Hatch points out, even Walton is repulsed by the monster’s appearance “Never did I behold a vision so horrible as his face, of such loathsome, yet appalling hideousness. I shut my eyes involuntarily” (Shelley 240). Fear and disgust are mixed in these reactions, but what is stressed is disgust. ( Hatch 35). Since the monster is so hideous Victor avoids any responsibility of caring or nurturing the (Hatch)monster like a father would have to, and he leaves his creation to fend for itself. He was so obsessed with creating life that he does not imagine what the final product will look like, he is blinded by his passion. Since the creature is reborn he is unable to care for himself similar to a young child and Victor disowning him forces him to figure out how to act on his own. As Lunsford points out, “Upon discovering the secret to reanimating dead corpses, Victor endeavours to create a being like himself.( Lunsford) Victor is also very rude to his monster after the creature kills a few of his family member which I feel he deserved. He encounters his creature and instantly threats him calling him a “[d]evil” and “vile insect”(Shelley 99) that must stay away or be trampled to dust. Instead of apologizing for abandoning the creature he threatens him creating more anger. The monster replies explaining how he feels in a world that hates him: “All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me”(Shelley 99). A speech which would create some sympathy makes Victor even angrier which proves how selfish he really is. All he wants to do is kill the monster, forget he even exists, to rewrite his wrong.
As Victor tries to erase his past he constantly withholds information or lies about his creation. This is shown in the film when he tells Elizabeth he must go away again to please the monster so he will leave Victor alone. Elizabeth objects wanting to marry Victor right away in the film, whereas in the novel throughout the text he continues to take Elizabeth for granted. Victor postpones the date of their “union” as he assumes she will comply. He uses Elizabeth whenever he feels like it expecting that she will marry him when he returns to Geneva which is emphasized in the film. Elizabeth suggests that Victor has changed and wants to know the secret he has been hiding which gives her character more depth in the film. In the novel she does not have much of a say for the decision must be approved by Victor’s father who insists he bring Henry along. He lies to his father requesting a trip to England before he marries Elizabeth. “I expressed a wish to visit England; but, concealing the true reasons of this request, I clothed my desires under a guise which excited no suspicion” (Shelley 152) Victor lies and also omits information that would explain the events which took since the monster was created. Withholding information occurs quite frequently especially concerning his family member’s deaths. When William is killed and he suspects the monster, he says nothing. Later when Justine is arrested, he once again keeps quiet about his creation. She is later found guilty and executed, he does nothing to stop the execution. What is more selfish then letting an innocent girl die for someone else’s crime? In the film Victor does not speak up to save the life of Justine, the housekeeper, whereas in novel he tells his family that she is innocent but is too afraid to announce it publicly assuming evidence would surface that she has been wrongfully accused. ” My dear father, you are mistaken; Justine is innocentâ€¦I had no fear, therefore, that any circumstantial evidence could be brought forward strong enough to convict her. My tale was not one to announce publicly; its astounding horror would be looked upon as madness” (Shelly 81). Victor first of all assumes that her name will be cleared, and he had many chances to speak up to save the life of Justine by telling the truth about the monster he created, instead he wallows in guilt. Instead of saving the life of the housekeeper who has already been through so much, he keeps his secret to maintain his good image. Not only does Victor keep the creature a secret, but destroys the female companion he creates preventing the monster from being happy like he is with Elizabeth. He destroys the monster because he realizes that creating a second monster may lead to further problems, or pain to him. Later in the text, Victor begins to be less selfish as he accepts the revenge of the monster, rather than finding someone else to blame he accepts responsibility for what has happened.
Victor is very irresponsible which make it reasonable to label him as selfish in his motivations. First of all, he uses the information he learns at the University of Ingolstadt to create the monster, a forbidden experiment in the film because of the consequences which Victor does not consider. Even though he experiences tragic events he continues to pursue experiments and knowledge which have already been proven to be destructive. As well, when he succeeds at creating the monster he runs away abandoning his creation taking no responsibility for him at all. Lunsford argues another important point:
[T]he novel reads as the story of a man who at every turn is given the opportunity to put the lives of others before himself. Immediately upon animating the monster, Victor becomes overwhelmed by the physical repulsiveness of the life he has created and flees from the very thing over which he has toiled for two years. This speaks to Victor’s unwillingness to deal with his creation as a living being. Perhaps if Victor had valued the life he created-and helped the monster at this critical moment-he would have prevented most of the devastation that follows. But he fears what people will think of him for creating a monstrosity and abandons his creation at the moment it enters the world, thus preserving his reputation but placing his family at risk. (Lunsford)
As the monster begins to murder his family he continues ignore the evil he is responsible for. After Victor destroys the monster’s chance of happiness, the creature threatens him vowing to be with him on his wedding day to seek his revenge. Even though he has been threatens and knows the monster is capable of killing, Victor still runs off to marry Elizabeth which is also selfish of him to do. Another example is when Victor is dying, he feels he is not at all responsible for any blameless of any bad behaviour on his part in creating the creature emphasizing how irresponsible he is throughout both novel and film.
Lastly, after the monster threatens Victor he begins to be more concerned for his life now that he knows what his creation is capable of. He assumes that his creation will come after him in seeking his revenge. He narrates how he took precautions against the monster:
[T]his night is dreadful, very dreadful. I passed the hour in this state of mind, when suddenly I reflected how fearful the combat which I momentarily expected would be to my wife, and I earnestly entreated her to retire, resolving not to join her until I obtained some knowledge as to the situation of my enemy; the scream was repeated, and I rushed into the room [s]he was there, lifeless and inanimate (Shelley 195)
Victor is only concerned for his own life that he disregards the life of his recent wife, Elizabeth. He is surprised that the monster murders Elizabeth instead of him, even though that is exactly what Victor did as he destroyed the female creation which was supposed to be the monster’s partner. As well, Victor continues to try and hide the creation away from Elizabeth as he convinces her to go to bed to prevent her from finding out about the monster he created, fearing that she will not love him as dearly. In contrast with the novel, the film emphasizes Victor Frankenstein’s selfishness as he brings Elizabeth back to life so that he can continue to be happy. as viewers we feel angry for making Elizabeth go through more than she deserves, proving that he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals no matter who it hurts.
Overall, due to Victor’s selfishness we feel sorry for his creation. In both texts we see Victor Frankenstein as the monster not the creature.