His Side, Monster’s side, and Then the Truth
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s book Frankenstein has three different and distinct narrators in her novel. Each one carries a purpose in delivering the story of Frankenstein and his creation. One of the narrators is Victor Frankenstein himself. He gives his firsthand account of how and why he was found in terrible condition in the snow. The reader also gets the creature’s side of the story. Most importantly Robert Walton narrates what he was told by both of these men. All three sides of the story are important to the success of the novel and the ability for the reader to form their own opinion about what happened. With these three accounts, the reader is able to get firsthand accounts of the past and present conditions of everyone involved, while also adding a person that is neutral to Frankenstein and the Monster’s grievances.
Victor Frankenstein after days of recovery recounts his story to Walton. He begins the story from childhood and goes from there. His point of view is essential to the narrative because he is the focal point and the only one that has lived through the whole ordeal from before the monster up to the point that he is speaking. The reader is expected to feel sympathy for a man that is telling the story of his deepest regrets. Creating the monster has consumed his whole life. Creating something so unnatural cost him all the people that he loves. So the way that he speaks about his past before the monster is that of an idealistic upbringing in a loving family. He describes his father as a devoted man to his family. He says ‘When my father became a husband and a parent, he found his time so occupied by the duties of his new situation, that he relinquished many of his public employments, and devoted himself to the education of his children.’ (Shelley,19) With this you can tell that being a devoted member of a family and being educated was something that was instilled in him by his father. However, after Frankenstein became a father, he had the opposite reaction. He was mortified and did not feel any joy, like his father before him.
Frankenstein makes his endeavors seem like just a curiosity, rather than something that he would be responsible for. Instead of facing the monster he runs away from it, scared of what he has created. It makes the reader question why he was doing this if in fact he was always that timid. In fact, if the reader looks closely, Frankenstein is out to prove something about the world. He wants to learn about creation. Frankenstein tells a tale of an unfortunate man that stumbled upon a scientific breakthrough but in fact, he wanted this until it got out of his control. Frankenstein states, ‘…you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery.’ (Shelley,31) He is someone that wanted to outdo the scientists before him. The man that is speaking to Watson is now someone that wants understanding but there are hints that he may be distorting the story to make it easier to understand Frankenstein’s life quest.
Probably the most relatable narrator to the story is the Monster. His plight sounds legitimate. He did not ask to be created. He is the only thing like himself and everyone else is afraid of him. The Monster says, ‘When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned.’ (Shelley,90) Every person has felt completely alone at some point or another. However, he takes this loneliness and then uses, ‘ it as his excuse for his actions. He is looking for sympathy for the actions in his life. He says, ‘…I declared everlasting war against the species, and, more than all, against him who had formed me, and sent me forth to this insupportable misery.’ (Shelley,104) With that being said and the actions that he admitted to, he became the Monster that everyone thought he was. The only thing that became apparent is that he wanted everyone to be as miserable as he was. The only honest thing that came from him is that he vows to go, ‘..and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile..’ (Shelley,178) As soon as he became alive, he was burden to the world and he knew it when he could not walk freely amongst the people. He unselfishly went to end his life so that the world could be at peace again.
Arguably the most important narrator in this novel is Robert Walton. He opens and closes the novel as someone that just happened upon this man and his life story. He has no preference on how the story should go, he is completely detached and someone that is just listening to a dying man’s autobiography. He is someone that can be completely neutral to the telling of the story, because it is not his story. This alone gives him more validity than Frankenstein and the Monster. Smith says in Understanding unreliable narrators, ‘Perhaps the most important differences in narrative effect depend on whetherthe narrator is dramatized in his own right and on whether his beliefs and characteristics are shared bv the author,’ (Smith,20) What he is saying is that the closer the narrator is to the situation, the more biased the narrator can be. Without Robert Walton there would not be a story to pass on or any resolution to the story. He is the one that walked in on the Monster saying goodbye to his creator and preparing himself to die. He is the one that will pass on Frankenstein’s legacy after the Monster and Frankenstein is dead.
All three narrators are essential to this novel. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley knew what she was doing when she wrote Frankenstein. Although you can argue the validity of all three narrators, they each add some truth and some biases to the story. Frankenstein wants to be forgiven for messing with nature so he tells the story of an innocent man pressured to be different and great, when in actuality he was a man that wanted to master nature and create something without fully understanding what that meant. The Monster could not control the nature of who he was, something that was created imperfectly. However, he wanted the reader to sympathize with him and it was easy to do but it did not change that he chose to do evil things and be the monster everyone thought he was. Robert Walton was involved in the story by chance and is someone that is unbiased to the story, therefore he is the most easy to trust. With these three all telling their side of the story, it is easier to find truth within the lies and implications.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Susan J. Wolfson. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.
Smith, Michael W., and Urbana, IL. National Council of Teachers of English. Understanding Unreliable Narrators: Reading Between The Lines In The Literature Clasroom. Theory And Research Into Practice (TRIP). n.p.: 1991. ERIC. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.