Frankenstein

by: Mary Shelley

Chapters 18–20

Summary Chapters 18–20

Analysis: Chapters 18–20

The contrast, first established at Ingolstadt, between the inwardly focused Victor and the outwardly focused Henry sharpens as the natural world produces differing effects in the two men. Earlier, Henry’s interaction with the Frankenstein family and general sociability counter Victor’s secrecy and self-isolation. Similarly, his optimism and cheer in the presence of sublime nature now counter the anxiety that Victor feels in knowing that the monster pervades his natural surroundings. For Henry, “alive to every new scene; joyful when he saw the beauties of the setting sun, and more happy when he beheld it rise,” nature is a source of infinite bliss, while for Victor it has become an unending reminder of his imprudent meddling, and of his responsibility for the tragedies that have plagued him.

An appreciation of nature is not the only aspect of Victor’s character that Henry seems to have adopted: Henry is now enthusiastic about natural philosophy and eager to explore the world—much like Victor had been two years before. Victor himself notes that “in Clerval I saw the image of my former self.” One can argue that Henry represents the impending ruin of another young, brilliant man by science; one can also argue that he represents the healthy, safe route to scientific knowledge that Victor never took. In either case, Victor’s emotional outbursts strongly foreshadow Henry’s death: “And where does he now exist?” he asks. “Is this gentle and lovely being lost forever?”

The pervading theme of the passive, innocent woman—manifested in the mother who sacrifices herself for her daughter, the fiancée who waits endlessly for her future husband, and the orphan girl who is rescued from poverty—culminates in this section with the female monster whose creation Victor suddenly aborts after being struck by doubts about the correctness of his actions. Though never alive, the female monster is a powerful presence: to Victor, she represents another crime against humanity and nature; to the monster, she represents his one remaining hope for a life not spent alone. Even Victor, as he tears his creation apart, recognizes her near-humanity: “I almost felt,” he says, “as if I had mangled the living flesh of a human being.” Victor’s decision to destroy the female creature can be seen as an explicitly anti-feminist action. He fears her ability to reproduce (and thereby create a “race of devils”); he fears that, as a woman, she will refuse to satisfy the male monster for whom she has been created; and he fears that he will unleash another power into the world that he cannot control. Unlike the God of Genesis, who creates a woman to keep Adam company, Victor does not have ultimate power over his creations. His anxiety leads him to project a stereotypically male activeness onto the female creature; his decision to destroy her ensures her absolute passivity.

Victor sprinkles his speech with metanarrative comments that remind the reader of the relationship between storyteller and audience, shape the upcoming narrative, and demonstrate the narrator’s deep emotional investment in his story. “I must pause here; for it requires all my fortitude to recall the memory of the frightful events which I am about to relate, in proper detail, to my recollection,” Victor says, illustrating that he is overwhelmed by emotion and offering a glimpse of the horrific story that he is about to tell. Victor’s apostrophes to his absent friends serve the same purposes, adding to the emotional impact of his speech, emphasizing the poignancy of his nostalgic memories, and calling attention to the layered narrative. When Victor cries out “Clerval! Beloved Friend! Even now it delights me to record your words,” the reader senses the power of Victor’s emotion and its ultimate uselessness against the force of fate. Additionally, the mention of “record[ing]” Henry’s words underscores the fact that it is only through Walton that the reader has access to the other characters and their narratives.