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When giving her novel the title Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus Mary Shelley sets the focus firmly on the title character, Victor Frankenstein. In the course of the novel, we see that the effects of his decision to try and create life are disastrous for him, just as those of Prometheus were. I am going to focus primarily on the monster instead and the reactions that he meets from humans when he ventures out into their midst. I will also look at the parallels that can be drawn between the monster and his creator; many of them have interesting implications for the question of what it really means to be human.

The monster that Frankenstein creates has all of human society against him from the start. In fact, as soon as Frankenstein instills life in him and he opens his eyes, Frankenstein is revolted by the look of the monster he has brought to life and runs away to hide from him. Thus scorned by his creator, the monster goes off on his own into the world, trying to make friends with various humans. Because of the way he looks, however, the humans that he meets assume immediately when they see him that he must be evil and dangerous. They either attack him or flee without giving him any chance to prove to them that he is good and only wants to be their friend. He soon despairs of finding someone willing to judge him according to his personality and virtues and not only according to his appearance: ``I retreated, and lay down happy to have found a shelter, however miserable, from the inclemency of the season, and still more from the barbarity of man.'' The one and only time he has any luck in approaching a human is when he goes to the blind old man in the cottage when his children are away. He is accepted by the old man as a nice traveler thanks to his pleasant way of speaking. Unfortunately, as soon as the children come back home, they throw the monster out, solely because of the way he looks, before the old man gets a chance to stop them.

Through this episode and the teachings of the people in the cottage, the monster soon learns that humans are indeed not very kind to each other either- in fact even less so than he originally thought- not to mention how they treat those who are not human or look repulsive. He finds out about the gratuitous cruelty and lack of empathy of human beings when he saves a young girl who has fallen into a rapid river from drowning only to find himself being attacked and wounded without warning by another human:

``This was then the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human being from destruction, and, as recompense, I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound, which shattered the flesh and bone. The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind.''

Even though the monster has done a very humane deed- he has in fact risked his own life to try to save that of a human being in danger- the only reward he gets is a bullet in the shoulder. Here it is clear that the monster is behaving in a way much more ``human'' than what the human with the gun is doing. In fact, the monster has been feeling depressed and dissatisfied with his situation in life just before he comes upon the damsel in distress. Despite having had negative feelings about both himself and the entire human race for a long while, he does not hesitate to throw himself in the stream to save the girl, risking his own life and limb in the currents. The human with the gun on the other hand needs only to take a quick look at the face of the person who has just saved the little girl from drowning to decide that any person who is that ugly must surely be dangerous. The apparent evidence to the contrary does not seem to bother him at all. Thus convinced, he shoots the monster in the shoulder without any warning and then runs away. In similar situations, the monster is treated badly time after time solely because he is so exceedingly ugly.

Having come this far, one might be forgiven for wondering which is the most ``human;'' the monster or the people that he tries to befriend and who consistently refuse his offers of friendship solely on the basis of his appearance. Throughout the novel, there is a number of comparisons made between the monster and other people. Many of these illustrate the presence in the monster of characteristics that are traditionally thought to be defining characteristics for a human. We see him transcend our expectations of him and do what we would expect a human to do. Likewise, we often see human beings behave in ways that indicate that they are lacking these characteristics that we have just found the monster to be in possession of. This leads us to the question ``What defines a human being?''

I will now start to look at some passages in which we see that the monster is in possession of various qualities that are traditionally held to be intrinsic parts of human nature. As we shall see, the two novels use almost the same set of criteria to define humanity. These include a desire for friendship, a thirst for knowledge and a capacity for love. I will also point out places where human beings fail to display their supposed possession of some of these characteristics.

At the beginning of his story, we see the monster trying more and more desperately to make friends with someone. After being refused a number of times, he hides and watches the people in the cottage closely. He then learns as much as possible about their life and how to approach them to minimize the risk of being turned down once again because of his looks. At the same time, he starts doing them favors anonymously. Finally he decides to try and make friends with the father first since he is blind and won't be prejudiced against him because of his hideousness. The monster's determined search for friends and thorough planning of how to get them to accept him for who he is shows that he has a strong desire for friendship, even in the face of being rejected a number of times.

This is very different from the way Frankenstein behaves during the two-year period that he spends creating the monster. Despite having made promises to the opposite effect when leaving home, he makes no attempt whatsoever to keep in contact with his family and friends back home during the entire period. Frankenstein is letting his family and friends down by caring only for his own attempts to create life.

After the monster has killed Victor's brother William and the servant-girl Justine is brought to trial for the murder, Frankenstein leaves the court room instead of telling the court about his suspicions that it is in fact his own creation that is guilty of the deed. He is afraid that the court will either believe him and consider him at least partly responsible for his monster's actions or that they will disbelieve his story and consider him insane. In order to avoid these two alternatives, he remains silent and prefers to see Justine convicted and later hanged. Admittedly, he feels very guilty for not speaking up and he is also unsure whether his admission will change anything, but the fact remains that he keeps his misgivings to himself and Justine has to pay with her life for his fear of being thought insane. This episode contrasts sharply with the one mentioned above where the monster puts himself at risk to save a drowning girl. It seems that the monster is more willing to take unselfish action to save a human life than what Frankenstein is.

The monster very much wants to stimulate his intellect and has a great desire for knowledge. He listens in eagerly on the humans' discussion and teachings and he revels in finding some books: ``The possession of these treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually studied and exercised my mind upon these histories.'' Just like his creator at the beginning of the narrative, he is thirsty for knowledge and reads everything that he can lay his hands on. According to Brian Aldiss, the quest for knowledge is universal in Frankenstein:

The characters passionately seek knowledge; this quest means everything to Frankenstein and Walton; they are never disabused. Frankenstein, indeed, praises the voyage of discovery as an honourable and courageous undertaking even as the creature's hands are about to close around his throat. The constant litigation which takes place in the background represents another kind of quest for knowledge, often erroneous or perverted.

In contrast to Frankenstein, the monster is of a reasoning disposition. When they meet and talk to each other on Mont Blanc, Frankenstein is in a rage and throws streams of invective at the monster and even tries to attack him. The monster is calm throughout and tries to reason with Frankenstein:

``Abhorred monster! fiend that thou art! the tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil! you reproach me with your creation; come on, then that I may extinguish the spark which I so negligently bestowed.''

My rage was without bounds; I sprang on him, impelled by all the feelings which can arm one being against the existence of another.

He easily eluded me, and said-

``Be calm! I entreat you to hear me, before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head.''

It is also possible to regard the entire text as a metaphor for modern society with ``Frankenstein acting God, Frankenstein's monster becom[ing] mankind itself, blundering about the world seeking knowledge and reassurance.'' With this interpretation, the entire novel is about knowledge and the pursuit thereof.

Not only does the monster want to make friends with people, but he also desires Frankenstein to create a female for him ``with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.'' The monster sees himself as a man and like any human being he wants to love and be loved, both in the sense that he wants to have friends, and that he wants to have a mate to spend the rest of his life with. Just as the monster wants to have a mate, Frankenstein longs to be married to his dear Elizabeth.

When the monster kills Elizabeth, he is motivated by revenge and hatred towards the one who destroyed his mate and his hope for the future. He knows these to be dark powers, and he also knows that Elizabeth is not responsible for any of the evils that have befallen him. Still, he feels that killing her is the most effective way of hurting Frankenstein, his creator and tormentor, and thereby revenging the destruction of his mate-to-be. He knows that the act he has committed is horrible and wrong, but he still does it to revenge himself, even though it hurts his heart. At the end of the novel, he sums up the struggle inside him:

``And do you dream?'' said the daemon; ``do you think that I was then dead to agony and remorse?- He,'' he continued, pointing to the corpse [of Frankenstein], ``he suffered not in the consummation of the deed- oh! not the tenthousandth portion of the anguish that was mine during the lingering detail of its execution. A frightful selfishness hurried me on, while my heart was poisoned with remorse. Think you that the groans of Clerval were music to my ears? My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy; and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine.''

Contrary to what everyone thinks about him, the monster is not at all an unfeeling killing machine. He is tortured by the knowledge that he has killed. Chris Baldick even states in In Frankenstein's Shadow that ``the most disturbing thing about [the monster], indeed, is that he has fully human feelings.'' There is actually a struggle between good and evil going on within the monster: ``I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.'' Likewise, Frankenstein is drawn toward both good and evil. He agonizes at length about how to behave in the scene mentioned above where Justine is on trial. Similarly, he has trouble deciding whether to complete the mate for the monster or not. Here, however, his choice is between two evils. If he goes on to complete the monster's mate, he is good toward the monster and evil toward society and vice versa if he does not.

As we have seen, the novel contains a number of situations where the defining characteristics for humanity are tested in relation to the monster and to the humans that surround him (Frankenstein in particular). In these situations the monster often seems to be more human than Frankenstein. The monster has a great desire for friendship and gladly risks his own life and limb to save the life of another person. Frankenstein on the other hand ignores his promises to keep in contact with his family and lets Justine get killed to avoid risking his own reputation. Both of them have a great desire for knowledge but while the monster is able to reason clearly, Frankenstein sometimes succumbs to rage and violence. The monster keeps his calm at this point but as we know, he does violent deeds at other times. Likewise, both of them have a desire to have a mate to spend the rest of their lives with. We have also seen that even though the monster does some things that are evil, he is aware that what he is doing is wrong and his conscience is plagued by this knowledge.

The overall sense that one gets from reading Frankenstein is that the monster might well be as human as the other human beings if given the chance. As it is, he is rejected by everyone, often for no other reason than his ugliness. We see him behave in ways more human than humans do a number of times. As we shall see in the following chapter, the artificial men in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? experience similar difficulties in being accepted as fully human.