In her novel, “Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley presents us with a cautionary tale about the dangers inherent to the quest for individuality and identity if left unchecked by community and moderation. The characters around which this story centres are Victor Frankenstein and the Creature, who can be viewed as two sides of the same theme of dangerous individuality; taken together, Shelley has formed a complete being who completely fits the mould of the romantic hero and who can master his own destiny rather than be mastered by it. However, fate keeps these two characters tragically apart. Their separate states cause both to fall short of one or more of six necessary phases of development a hero must go through to truly qualify as a hero; alone, they are inherently flawed beings. Moreover, in their isolated states they lack anything to contrast themselves against and thereby give themselves an identity, which drives them both to decidedly dark extremes in attempting to achieve this elusive goal.
The quest for identity, and therefore individuality, is a central theme of the novel. This is the quest that drives Victor to find “[the] glory [which] would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death” (Shelley, 40). He seeks to define himself as a great man of his age. The Creature’s quest for identity is a more desperate one. The luxury of choice is denied to him: “I am satisfied: miserable wretch! You have determined to live, and I am satisfied” the Creature exclaims to Victor when he finally finds a role for himself as Victor’s nemesis, after all other roles have been denied to him (Shelley, 202-3).
Both Victor and the Creature quest for identity; nevertheless, a close examination reveals that neither character truly qualifies as a hero. According to one model presented by the literary critic Northrop Frye, a romantic hero possesses a power of action “superior in degree to that of other...
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