Disclaimer: My page numbers differ from the version we are reading in class. My citation comes from the last page in chapter thirteen.
The Theory of Isolation
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein shows a theory of isolation throughout the novel, referring to both deliberate and involuntary isolation. This refers to both Victor Frankenstein and the monster that he created.
The first occurrence of isolation comes from Victor upon his departure to school. Victor is geographically far away from his family and his best friend, Henry Clerval. Once at school, Victor becomes increasingly obsessed with the sciences which eventually leads him to the unshakable idea of creating another life form. Victor finds himself obsessed by the idea of creation, and devotes all his energy to making this come to fruition, isolating himself from his friends and family to do so.
Once the experiment is complete and Victor succeeds in creating another life form, he finds himself horrified with the results of his creation and tries to ignore the creature’s existence, leaving the monster alone in his apartment and not returning until the creature leaves. Victor then falls ill and with what seems like perfect timing, Henry shows up and nurses him back to good health in addition to rekindling their friendship and strengthening bonds with his neglected family, breaking the pattern of isolation that has developed over his college career.
Feelings of reconciliation with his family is a fleeting feeling. The sudden death of his brother causes Victor to return home, and while the shared agony should bring the family together, the guilt of knowing that the monster was the murderer causes Victor grief. In addition to knowing that his creation is a murderer, Victor’s cousin, Justine, was accused and found guilty of the murder, and a result also dies, leaving even more blood on Victor’s hands. He starts to realize that consequences of his obsession and removal from society has caused fatal results for those closest to him.
The monster continues to feel dejected as he encounters more humans. Through observation of a small, poor family living in a cottage, the beast learns to care for himself and communicate while remaining alone in the shadows.
At first the monster steals from the family for survival, but as he observes the family, he realizes how little they have and feels guilty about taking from them. His increasing attachment to the family eventually leads to doing favors for the family anonymously. While he becomes increasingly aware of family dynamics, he himself starts to analyze the missing ingredients in his own life and feels increasingly alone.
Judging by the eloquence and overall calm demeanor of the monster, the murders were not a result of an inborn evil but rather an act of vengeance born from the isolation and general bad feelings felt by the monster.
I admired virtue and good feelings, and loves the gentle manners and amiable qualities of my cottagers; but I was shut out from intercourse with them, except through means which I obtained by stealth, when I was unseen and unknown, and which rather increased than satisfied the desire I had of becoming one among my fellows. (Shelley, 108)
The murders were to deliberately hurt Victor, partially for the hurt felt from rejection and also to bring Victor down to same level of isolation as the monster.
It is evident that more deaths by the hand of the monster are coming. This is foreshadowed in Victor’s dreams and by increasing frequency in deaths. Isolation is the root cause of these issues, from the creation of the monster, to the secret of the monster, right down to the feelings of the monster.