Examine the way in which characters are portrayed in the novel.
In the novel Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley, the characters have been portrayed effectively. Much of the interactions between characters, and characteristics of the characters have been based on events which have occurred in Shelley’s own life, or they represent what she believes is important. For example, Victor is portrayed as having a strong passion for science, and a poor understanding of relationships. Elizabeth is shown as a stereotypical woman of the time, who is also very powerless. The monster is depicted as being both beautiful and ugly, and someone who the reader feels sympathetic towards. Through the portrayal of her characters, Shelley has created a very effective novel.
Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein as a person who has become enrapt in the strong scientific movement of the time. She created him in response to what she saw happening around her – science was becoming a religion to some people, as it provided answers to their questions about the world, and started a fascination that humans could create anything that they wanted to. In her novel, Victor is one of these people, and wants to be the supreme creator or scientist, and therefore take over the role of God. To do this, he creates a being, thinking that ‘a new species would bless me as its creator and source …No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.’ (pages 52-53). Victor then abandons this creature which he has made, and this is one of his main crimes. After Victor has done this, his monster murders all those who were close to him, and this represents Shelley’s beliefs on how dangerous the worshipping of science could become, and the need for other focuses in life.
Victor Frankenstein is also portrayed as somebody who is isolated from others, and terrified of relationships. As a child, his only friends are Elizabeth and Clerval, and they are in fact, the only true friends he has throughout his entire life. He isolates himself from society during the time he is creating the monster, claiming that, ‘I must absent myself from all I loved whilst thus employed’ (page 147). He claims that this is necessary if he is to discover the secret of life. One reason why Victor isolates himself is due to his fear of sexuality. When he creates the monster, he is eliminating the role of women and rejecting normal sexuality. This is also shown when Victor’s father suggests that he should marry Elizabeth immediately, and he states ‘Alas! To me the idea of an immediate union with my Elizabeth was one of horror and dismay.’ (page 147). This shows Victor’s problems with relationships and therefore his isolation from others.
Mary Shelley portrays Elizabeth as a perfect stereotypical woman of the time. She is described as ‘a being heaven-sent, and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features’ (page 34), so we see that she is angelic, beautiful and very feminine. Elizabeth is the backbone of the Frankenstein household, making it a beautiful place with a loving atmosphere: ‘The saintly soul of Elizabeth shone like a shrine – dedicated lamp in our peaceful home … She was the living spirit of love to soften and attract.’ (p 37)
Shelley portrays Elizabeth in this way as her own home life is miserable, and she craves to be a part of a family with an ideal home life like the one Elizabeth creates in the novel. Elizabeth is also portrayed as being sensitive, caring, intuitive, and is someone who understands feelings and emotions.
Whilst Elizabeth is characterised as a perfect woman, she is also shown to be very powerless. She is entirely dependant upon the Frankenstein’s, particularly Victor, for whom she waits for her entire life. While he is busy journeying and creating, she is happily awaiting his return at home. She waits for years for Victor to ask her to marry her, not doing anything about the situation herself. Elizabeth is not terribly intelligent, and it is partly for this reason that Victor does not treat her as an equal. He never shares his scientific knowledge with her, and tries to avoid marrying her for as long as possible. Elizabeth’s feeble attempts to save Justine from being convicted for William’s murder also demonstrate her powerlessness. When she realises that there is nothing that she can say or do to save Justine, she breaks down, ‘“I wish,” cried she, “that I were to die with you.”’ (page 85). Elizabeth also dies for the sins that Victor has committed when the monster murders her on their wedding night. These events in the novel show that Elizabeth had very little power in her life.
Mary Shelley portrays the monster as being the new Adam, as he is the first being of a new species. Due to his fresh outlook on life, the monster is characterised by benevolence and innocence, as well as an unbiased perspective. However, as the monster learns more about man, he discovers that there are many injustices in today’s society, and realises that his looks which filled Victor with ‘breathless horror and disgust’ (page 56) will never be accepted. The reader feels sympathetic towards the monster when he is rejected numerous times by society. He is rejected by Victor, the angry villagers, the De Lacey family and the father of the girl who he saved from drowning, before he fully understands that he will not be accepted. It is then that the monster decides to get revenge on his creator. He states that ‘I am malicious because I am miserable.’(page 140), meaning that if people had accepted him despite his ugliness, he would not be miserable, and would not have murdered his creators friends and relatives.
The monster is also portrayed as being the most beautiful, yet the most ugly character in the novel. This is because his looks contradict his speech and personality. The monster speaks eloquently, and believes that people may like him if he is given the chance to speak with them. However, at the same time, his ‘yellow skin’, ‘watery eyes’, ‘shrivelled complexion’ and ‘black lips’ (page 56) repulse them before he can do so. His knowledge and understandings of the world and the people in it differ to those around him because of the way he has been educated, and he realises the power of language. The tone of his language is calm, peaceful and relaxing, which make him likeable. However, the only person other than Victor that actually listens to him is the old, blind De Lacey father, as he cannot see his repulsive features. This is why the monster is both beautiful and ugly at the same time.
Mary Shelley has effectively portrayed the characters in her famous novel, Frankenstein. Shelley has successfully based character interactions and characteristics on events which have occurred in her lifetime and on her beliefs. She has shown Victor’s quest for scientific knowledge and fear of relationships, Elizabeth’s domesticity and lack of power, along with the monster’s struggle for acceptance due to his repulsive looks. Shelley has created a novel which will be remembered for many more generations to come due to the excellent character portrayals that it contains.