Transfer of Power

To me, one of the main themes of Frankenstein is the gradual shift of power from the life-giver Frankenstein to his creation. This transfer of power comes to a head in the third and final volume of the novel. We see Frankenstein shrink, disown, fear, and flee from the creature he endowed with being. We even see his health disintegrate. In volume III, Frankenstein is reduced to a prisoner and puppet at the behest of a powerful monster. The lines between creator and creature are blurred and even flipped.
Frankenstein is confronted by his creation who, through means of manipulation and sheer power-of-will, gets his once-master’s consent to create a companion for him. Frankenstein, so fearing at every turn the strength and potential wrath of his creation, unwillingly labors to fulfill his wish, never daring to waver. The creature becomes the master of the creator. Frankenstein becomes the “slave of my creature” (Pg. 127). The once-proud endower-of-life now mortally fears his creature. “Every moment I feared to meet my persecutor” (Pg. 137). Frankenstein, in his last foolish act of defiance, eventually refuses to continue his work for his creature. The monster confronts Frankenstein and delivers a fearsome, commanding threat illustrating the complete and total power he has over his once-powerful creator: “Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master; – obey!” (Pg. 140).
We also see the monster shift from his previously-demonstrated human characteristics and he take takes on a sort of super-human, almost god-like strength, power, and cunning. “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict.” (Pg. 140). “…nor can you wonder, that, omnipotent as the fiend had yet been in his deeds of blood, I should almost regard him as invincible; and that when he had pronounced the words, ‘I shall be with you on your wedding-night,’ I should regard the threatened fate as unavoidable.” (Pg. 161). Words such as “invincible”, “omnipotent”, and “unavoidable” illustrate this absolute finality of the power the creature has over his creator.
His power extends so far that Frankenstein, miserable to the point of wishing for death, vows that he will live until he extinguishes the life of his creation no matter the cost. The monster begins to toy with Frankenstein and migrates northward to a land of ice knowing Frankenstein will follow and suffer for it. “I seek the everlasting ices of the north where you will feel the misery of cold and frost, to which I am impassive.” (Pg. 174) Perhaps the most pivotal, poignant line in volume III is found on pages 177-178. “…swear that he shall not triumph over my accumulated woes, and live to make another such a wretch as I am.” This is Frankenstein speaking of his monster. The creature becomes the creator. The monster is now seen as the creator of wretches instead of the created wretch. In the end, the monster exercises his ultimate power by extinguishing the life of his life-giver.

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Scientific Pursuits (and the ills that spring therefrom)

I’ve read Frankenstein once before, years ago. Returning to it, I was instantly struck by the role that science plays. Victor Frankenstein is a fiercely committed student of philosophy and other sciences. He has a sort of obsession with the furthering of knowledge and experience through ceaseless study. This study and experimentation, of course, ultimately leads to his complete unhinging. I couldn’t help but read the first section as a sort of disparagement of the pursuit of knowledge. Frankenstein’s experience in studying philosophy and science leads to his ideas that he can be a sort of god, and he releases into the world a monster at the cost of his own health and sanity.
The text makes it clear that Victor was the most committed kind of student and he threw himself head-first into this frenzied pursuit of knowledge. “Two years passed in this manner, during which I paid no visit to Geneva, but was engaged, heart and soul, in the pursuit of some discoveries, which I hoped to make. None but those who have experienced them can conceive the enticements of science.” (Pgs. 32-33) (note: I am reading the Oxford World’s Classics version, thus all page numbers will pertain to that version.) In telling his tale to Walton, he frequently recapitulates the depths of his obsession with the sciences. “Unless I had been animated by an almost supernatural enthusiasm, my application to this study would have been irksome and almost intolerable.” (Pg. 33) As his ideas began to mature he became fascinated by the idea of using his scientific knowledge to give life and play god. “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.” (Pg. 36) He begins working night and day, toiling to find the secret of life. In the process his health and mental stability slowly crumble and dissolve. “But my enthusiasm was checked by my anxiety, and I appeared rather like one doomed by slavery and toil in the mines, or any other unwholesome trade, than an artist occupied by his favourite employment.” (Pg. 38) Upon completing his creation, Frankenstein feels sick, tired, afraid, and utterly enslaved by his mad pursuits and feels he must, somehow, escape his foolishness and his freshly-spawned monster. “You have guessed right; I have lately been so deeply engaged in one occupation, that I have not allowed myself sufficient rest, as you see: but I hope, I sincerely hope that all these employments are now at an end, and that I am at length free.” (Pg. 42) Something curious is said in a letter to Frankenstein that I find interesting and important. His cousin, Clerval, not knowing the cause of Frankenstein’s illness, writes that “A farmer’s is a very healthy happy life; and the least hurtful, or rather the most beneficial profession of any.” (Pg. 45) Is Shelley, perhaps, suggesting that science or education at large is harmful?

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