Mo H. Saidi
Professor Patricia Bellanca
11 August 2003
The Origin of Victor Frankenstein’s Catastrophe
When I initially read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein some 45 years ago my main reaction was of total shock and dismay at the monster’s brutal murders of the beloved family members and friends of his own creator. Reading it again this spring, I was troubled by Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s profound rejection of his own creation upon observing the first signs of life in him. Instead of reacting exuberantly, as I would expect a scientist faced with the miraculous success of his project to do, Frankenstein expresses only misery. At the zenith of his scientific labors he responds unexpectedly; he reacts with deep loathing and says, a “breathless horror and disgust filled my heart“ (34). I wondered why Frankenstein, who has gained the knowledge of creating life (31), and who so obsessively pursues the creation of the new human being from death suddenly abandons his precious scientific achievement and forces his creature to flee the civilized world. Why does Frankenstein not behave like God, who as reflected in the Quran after creating Adam from “ringing clay” (qtd. in Wasilewska 155) and after giving him life, commanded angels to bow and express their respect? (Wasilewska 155). Frankenstein’s catastrophe begins when life appears in his creature and he instantly judges the monster based only on his physiognomy, completely ignoring the monster’s untarnished intellect. Thereafter, because of this prejudice, Frankenstein fails his responsibilities as a creator—in both the parental and godlike sense; he refuses to support and educate the monster and to enable him to face the world. At the end of the story, Frankenstein recalls the historic moment of creation to his rescuer, Robert Walton, the master of the rented whaler. He describes that “dreary night of November” (8-34) when the first ever manmade human being came to life in his laboratory and when he observed that: “the dull yellow eye of the creature opened; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs” (34). He dismisses the poor creature immediately, solely based on its appearance: “I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created” (35). Exhausted and dejected, Frankenstein retreats to his bedroom; all he sees in his creature is a frightful–looking monster more than eight feet tall with a disagreeable countenance (34). As reflected in these quotations, he focuses only on the poor creature’s gross anatomy, on his monstrous, lumpy body and compares him to a “demoniacal corpse to which” (35) he had given life. All he sees in his creature is a heinous monstrosity. Throughout the novel, Frankenstein emphasizes the monster’s wretched appearance. From the onset he declares that he created a “catastrophe” (34), and persistently calls him derogatory names such as thing, wretch, ugly, dreaded specter, and even occasionally, it (35-48). His judgment of his creature is totally based on the concept of physiognomy, the theory about judging human character from external and facial features. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley’s husband, explains in the preface to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein how the story was invented based on theories of contemporary European scientists (P. Shelley 5). In the novel, when Frankenstein goes through his education, he becomes “knowledgeable of the theories of physiognomy” (29) and refers to M. Krempe and Blumenbach who were the proponents of this science, which was one of the branches of natural philosophy (29). Frankenstein finds “a great deal of sound sense and real information [. . .] in physiognomy” (29) which leaves a lasting impression on him and deeply influence his behavior. This severe prejudice will surface in full force when Frankenstein sees the first signs of life in the monster and later at his temporary laboratory in a cottage in England when he is about to create a female companion for the monster....
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