Frankenstein’s Monster: Villain or Victim of Circumstance?

Posted: August 9, 2013 in Books & Reading
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I’ve recently finished Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It’s the first classic that I’ve fully enjoyed from start to finish. I’m not sure what was so different about it, other than the fact that I felt the narrative was much more straightforward than most of the other classics I’ve read recently. Less tangents, more action. My kind of book.

The story is, essentially, about Frankenstein. It’s about his life, his struggles, his creation of this being, and the subsequent hunt for the monster that has murdered on more than one occasion.

FrankensteinBut Frankenstein’s monster, that was what really drew me into the story. We don’t get much from him until later on in the book, when he tells his side of the events and why he killed various members of Frankenstein’s family.

It’s funny that society has interpreted Frankenstein’s monster as a villain. He is a villain in a way, of course. But he’s also not. I feel like he was a victim of modern retellings and circumstance.

In movies and TV shows, Frankenstein’s monster is the bad guy. He’s the blood thirsty creature that walks around scaring and killing people, grunting and moaning. And I’ve never questioned if that was the case or not.

My opinion changed rapidly when I read the book.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s definitely not a saint. He did kill people, some defenseless and incapable of escape from his strength and speed. But where the modern story shows him as just barely a living corpse, the book paints a much more friendly picture. His vocabulary and speech is astounding. I’d even describe him as erudite. He’s capable of reason and guilt and remorse. He is, believe it or not, just a person.

A person who is a victim of circumstance. He was created this way, not quite right and yet not wholly different from most people. All he wants to do is belong, but society will not allow it. He’s hideous and foreign and people are terrified of him. He’s quick to anger, and his incredible strength makes short work of those that mistreat him.

If Frankenstein was a little more understanding, if society was a little bit friendlier, if people were a little more patient, perhaps none of what happened in the book would’ve occurred.

What I  found perhaps most amazing was that Frankenstein’s monster was not born evil. He was shaped into the villain by what others thought of him. He perpetuated that image with his actions, but it didn’t start there. He just wanted to belong, but others wouldn’t let him.

I feel like this tells us a lot about ourselves. Amazing how a book that was written nearly two hundred years ago is still relevant to our society, isn’t it? Maybe that’s not such a good thing.

In the end, I think the moral of the story was to love those than want to be loved, no matter what they look like and no matter their history. Judging a book by their cover is fine, but we shouldn’t carry that idea over to people. You never know what your judgment of others might cause them to do.

Do you think Frankenstein’s monster is a villain or a victim (or maybe both)? What do you think Shelley was trying to say when she wrote this story?

  1. As you say, it’s curious how this book still strikes chords after 200 years – told and re-told, and losing something of the dimensionality of the original in the process, I think. Reduced, eventually, to farce in the form of Herman Munster. Years ago, I read Brian Aldiss’ modern re-imagining of it, ‘Frankenstein Unbound’, a kind of art-gothic novel in which a time-traveller goes back to 1816, seduces Mary Shelly, and meets Victor Frankenstein…an exploration of ‘monstrous’ characters which was provocative, if a bit weird.

    • Karen Rought says:

      That sounds pretty interesting, actually. I love modern retellings, but I’d like one that would have the same sort of objective and brilliance of the original. Like you said, so many are reduced to a Herman Munster type character. While I do think that has its place, it just doesn’t compare to the original.

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