Water and Ice in Frankenstein
Throughout the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, there is a noticeable reoccurring motif of ice and water. Ice surrounds the ship Walton inhabits when he meets Victor Frankenstein. Victor screams into the wake of a torrential storm. Ice covers the peaks in the land the monster eventually comes to inhabit. In the whole of literature, both great and small, water (and to a slightly less extent ice) is a popular symbol because it can be thought to mean an almost exhausting number of things, concepts, ideas, and feelings. In the case of this novel, at least three may be seen, and will be discussed.
“No one can conceive the anguish I suffered during the remainder of the night, which I spent, cold and wet, in the open air.” (Shelley 77). Victor stands in the rain, consumed with pain over the loss of his dear brother, when he sees his monster bound away becoming convinced of the creature’s guilt in his brother’s murder. The heavens crash and cry above him, reflecting the inner turmoil Victor feels in this moment. A storm is more than just water falling from the sky. It is also dark clouds, strong winds, and high pressure. Similarly, Victor’s emotional torment is more than just his sadness over his brother’s death. He is angry at his monster for supposedly performing the murder, and he feels guilty for creating the monster in the first place. All of this represented by the water, and by the rain. Later on when Victor visits Arveiron, he surrounded by ice when the monster tries to reason with him to listen to his story. One of the most observable characteristics of ice is its coldness. Much like the ice, Victor is cold to his creation. But ice is also rigid, echoing Victor’s stubbornness of thought. “For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator toward his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness.” (Shelley 109). Victor has already made up his mind about the creature, even while seeming to relent to a kindness toward him.
The average adult human body is at least half water, and the majority of the earth is covered by it. A person can only several perhaps a week without water. It is a necessary element need for survival in the majority (if not all) of the living things on this planet. Water is one of the most fundamental units of life. In this story, Victor gives life to another. The monster’s eyes are even described as “watery.” (Shelley p. 53). If water could be a symbol for life, than ice could be a symbol of death. The cold of ice could be so extreme that extremities literally die. But the cold may also preserve that which is dead. This resonates not only with the creature’s conception, but also the location of his home by the time he meets up with Victor again. The monster is a mash up of dead parts, preserved and reanimated. If Victor spent the better part of two years perfecting his craft, and finding body parts that would work well and proportionally together, he must have kept them from rotting somehow. By choosing to reside among the ice, it is almost as if the monster is still trying to remain preserved.
Water and ice are the same substance, just in different phases. Water and ice both have the same chemical structure. Water freezes into ice at 0 degrees Celsius and below, while ice begins to melt at this point as well. It is very easy to notice how different things are, even when there are a greater number of similarities. It is the same case with Victor and the monster. Upon observing them with the eyes only, an onlooker would perceive the two “men” as wholly different. Yet they are merely both in different phases, Victor in the phase of the living, and the monster in the phase of the dead. Both are made of human sinew. Both of exceeding intelligence, both mastering new material in a short period of time: the monster with speech; Victor with natural science. “As I applied so closely, it may be easily conceived that my progress was rapid.” (Shelley 45). Both are drawn to beauty. Victor picked each part of the monster for their alleged beauty, and the beauty of his cousin her most repeated trait. The monster drawn to the beauty of nature around him as he tries to figure out and survive his newly given life. Taking this into consideration, these men are as different as water and ice.
Water has the transformative quality of becoming whatever the author (or the audience) of a book wants it to be. In Frankenstein, water and ice are both a means of revealing. Whether it be a character’s character, their feelings, or even their birth in the novel, all is reflected in the water.