Theory of Friendship
Sidenote: For the sake of clarity, I will refer to Victor Frankenstein as “Victor”
From the very beginning of Shelley’s novel, the theory of friendship is introduced. Robert Walton writes back to his sister at home expressing anticipation and excitement for his trip to the North Pole, but also acknowledging his loneliness. Walton tells Margaret, “You may deem me romantic, my dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind…” (pg. 6).
The character of Victor Frankenstein is then introduced, after Walton’s crew has rescued him. Walton and Victor quickly become friends, and Walton is overjoyed. He tells his sister, “I said in one of my letters, my dear Margaret, that I should find no friend on the wide ocean; yet I have found a man” (pg. 16). It is only by this friendship that the readers hear the tale of Frankenstein.
Shelley also describes the friendship between Victor and his boyhood friend, Henry Clerval. While Victor was “indifferent” to many other of his classmates, he “united...in the bonds of the closest friendship to one among them” (pg. 28). This strong tie is demonstrated later in the novel when Cleval appears in Ingolstadt and takes care of an ill and mentally unstable. Cleval nurses Victor back to health, and without him, Victor may not have lived.
The theme again reemerges with Victor’s creation. During the first months of the monster’s life he stumbled upon a house in the woods where he witnessed and carefully observed the interactions between a small family. The brother, Felix, and sister, Agatha, had a strong friendship and bond that is demonstrated by how they worked together to tend the house, and take care of their blind father. The creature even considered them his friends: “I saw few human beings beside them; and if any other happened to enter the cottage, their harsh manners and rude gait only enhanced to me the superior accomplishments of my friends” (pg. 122).
The theme of friendship is found in the novel because Mary Shelley is juxtaposing it with her obvious theme of technology. While the science behind creating the monster seemed cold, calculated, and inhuman, Shelley is reminding us that humans desire interaction and relationships with other humans. The monster is completely human in the regard that he too, just like Walton and Victor, desires friendship. Even during the creature’s heart-breaking experience with the villagers who threw rocks at him, he is still desperate for companionship.
When we read Shelley, we should just read with this theme in mind. Because it is so pertinent and prevalent in the beginning of the novel, Shelley will probably return to it throughout, and also at the end of the book. The desire for human friendship and companionship is an age-less theme, making it applicable and relatable for our time. In an age where current technology and contemporary ideas make the actual science Frankenstein seem antiquated, the theme of friendship still remains.
Readers understand the monster’s desire for friends. They understand the feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and betrayal. Some may even begin to question why Victor left his creation. Was it similar to leaving behind a newborn baby to fend for itself, or was Victor justified in his reasoning? I question Victor’s abandonment because the creature seems to only crave the same basic human needs: shelter, sustenance, and friendship. The creature loments, “Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend” (pg. 107). The creature seems to suggest that it was only this deprivation from human friendship that made him into the monster he is now.