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Mary Shelley

Chapters 11-12

Summary Chapters 11-12

Summary: Chapter 11

Sitting by the fire in his hut, the monster tells Victor of the confusion that he experienced upon being created. He describes his flight from Victor’s apartment into the wilderness and his gradual acclimation to the world through his discovery of the sensations of light, dark, hunger, thirst, and cold. According to his story, one day he finds a fire and is pleased at the warmth it creates, but he becomes dismayed when he burns himself on the hot embers. He realizes that he can keep the fire alive by adding wood, and that the fire is good not only for heat and warmth but also for making food more palatable.

In search of food, the monster finds a hut and enters it. His presence causes an old man inside to shriek and run away in fear. The monster proceeds to a village, where more people flee at the sight of him. As a result of these incidents, he resolves to stay away from humans. One night he takes refuge in a small hovel adjacent to a cottage. In the morning, he discovers that he can see into the cottage through a crack in the wall and observes that the occupants are a young man, a young woman, and an old man.

Summary: Chapter 12

Observing his neighbors for an extended period of time, the monster notices that they often seem unhappy, though he is unsure why. He eventually realizes, however, that their despair results from their poverty, to which he has been contributing by surreptitiously stealing their food. Torn by his guilty conscience, he stops stealing their food and does what he can to reduce their hardship, gathering wood at night to leave at the door for their use.

The monster becomes aware that his neighbors are able to communicate with each other using strange sounds. Vowing to learn their language, he tries to match the sounds they make with the actions they perform. He acquires a basic knowledge of the language, including the names of the young man and woman, Felix and Agatha. He admires their graceful forms and is shocked by his ugliness when he catches sight of his reflection in a pool of water. He spends the whole winter in the hovel, unobserved and well protected from the elements, and grows increasingly affectionate toward his unwitting hosts.

Analysis: Chapters 11–12

The monster’s growing understanding of the social significance of family is connected to his sense of otherness and solitude. The cottagers’ devotion to each other underscores Victor’s total abandonment of the monster; ironically, observing their kindness actually causes the monster to suffer, as he realizes how truly alone, and how far from being the recipient of such kindness, he is. This lack of interaction with others, in addition to his namelessness, compounds the monster’s woeful lack of social identity.

The theme of nature’s sublimity, of the connection between human moods and natural surroundings, resurfaces in the monster’s childlike reaction to springtime. Nature proves as important to the monster as it is to Victor: as the temperature rises and the winter ice melts, the monster takes comfort in a suddenly green and blooming world, glorying in nature’s creation when he cannot rejoice in his own. For a moment, he is able to forget his own ugliness and unnaturalness.

Like Victor, the monster comes to regard knowledge as dangerous, as it can have unforeseen negative consequences. After realizing that he is horribly different from human beings, the monster cries, “Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock.” Knowledge is permanent and irreversible; once gained, it cannot be dispossessed. Just as the monster, a product of knowledge, spins out of Victor’s control, so too can knowledge itself, once uncovered, create irreversible harm.

Certain elements of the narrative style persist as the perspective transitions from Victor to the monster. Both narrators are emotional, sensitive, aware of nature’s power, and concerned with the dangers of knowledge; both express themselves in an elegant, Romantic, slightly melodramatic tone. One can argue that the similarity of their tones arises as a function of the filtering inherent in the layered narrative: the monster speaks through Victor, Victor speaks through Walton, and Walton ultimately speaks through the sensitive, Romantic Shelley. However, one can also explore whether the structure of the novel itself helps explain these narrative parallels. The growing list of similarities between Victor and the monster suggests that the two characters may not be so different after all.