“It’s Alive!”Posted by on Saturday, February 14th, 2015 at 7:30 pm
Frankenstein embodies the act of creation, thus reflecting and complicating the creation of Man by God, the creation of Child by Mother, and the creation of Art by Artist. Mary Shelley herself can attest to the roles of Man, Child, Mother, and Artist; this fails to account for the other aspects – God and Art – neither of which can have an active voice as they don’t actually speak in the real world. However, her inclusion of all of these aspects within the act of creation – around which she centers the novel – serves to comment on the power and responsibility of creator over the created, thereby commenting on and comparing the three different creation models simultaneously.
In class we discussed the likely possibility that Shelley intended Frankenstein as a feminist novel due to the consequences of men attempting to eliminate women in the act of creation (in the novel, at least). Although we discussed the lack of (surviving) women, I would like to take this aspect of “failed” creation even further. The fact that Victor fails to unconsciously differentiate between Elizabeth and his mother, as shown in the dream, reveals that Victor’s perception of procreation is skewed. He cannot get over his own mother’s death – the lack of his own mother – so he attempts the act of creation as such. The Being attempts to remedy this in his asking of Victor for a female version of himself. Couldn’t one say that our parents are like ourselves, and, to an extent, from where we get our sense of identity? This, alongside the Being’s search for identity, supports a reading of this as a failed act of creation due to the Being’s lack of a mother.
At the same time, Victor himself labels the relationship between him and the Being as more than that of Parent/Child. He says, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs” (36). This indicates that Victor attempts to take on the role of God in the act of creation. He creates something like but not altogether human in the hope that this Being will look to him the way humans look to God. While many have written or spoken of Victor as acting upon pride, in this case, I would argue instead that Victor is attempting to create a being for the sake of companionship and affection. It is clear that Victor does not act in order to better science or to understand something new, but that he is acting in response to the loss of his mother and, arguably, to the loss of the friends and family he leaves behind in order to attend school. Altogether, I believe Victor makes his creation not to have a being to worship him, but to simply create one that cannot leave him. Despite Victor’s motives (whatever they may truly be), Shelley directly connects Victor’s act of creation with God’s. The fact that Victor does this and incurs misery from it indicates that Man can and should only go so far; that certain acts of creation are not meant for man, but left to a higher power.
Indeed, Shelley attributes Victor’s failure in the act of creation to his lack of ability to take on the role that act was designed for: Victor has never been nor could ever be a Mother or God. Thus, Shelley reserves certain acts of creation for certain individuals least he/she that attempts to do so suffer for it through negative consequences. Yet, Shelley also implies the act of creation by an Artist on a work of Art. It seems clear, then, that Shelley implies that the creator may only do so much in characterizing the final creation – then the creation continues to act (either actively or passively) on its own. When one applies this take on the act of creation to the Parent/Child and God/Man models, it alleviates a bit of Victor’s guilt: the negative behaviors of a child or by humans are not automatically attributed to the parent or to God. Not all the time anyway.
So what does this mean for Victor’s act of creation? Ultimately, Victor put his soul into his work in creating the Being, only to be horrified by it. This is the key aspect of Victor’s act – God isn’t horrified by man, neither is the Mother usually horrified by her child. The artist, though, is frequently horrified by his/her work, especially as he/she finishes it. Therefore, Victor fails as God to or Mother of his creation, and survives as the artist. Shelley, then, seems to comment on the Artist’s act of creation in that the piece of art leaves the hands of the artist to be interpreted, or even changed, by the society in which it resides. I’m not entirely sure the other implications of this, other than the responsibility of the Artist to maintain the integrity of his/her work – if Victor had kept tabs on the Being, everything could have been different. This could be said of Mary’s own work with Frankenstein, as she released it into the world in 1818 to have it changed by others – through literal edits and figurative interpretations – only to have her take responsibility for the work and the changes within it in 1831.