Frankenstein is the story of Victor Frankenstein, a man whose passions lead to tragic outcomes. Victor’s intensity and obsessions drive his thirst for knowledge and ultimately, these passions lead him to create a destructive creature. This being that Victor brings to life also develops obsessions that blind the creature from reality, similar to Victor himself. As a result, the two characters act irrationally and fail to recognize the consequences of their actions. By illustrating the dangers of obsessive behavior and poorly thought out decisions, the novel highlights the link between obsession and tragic consequences. Shelley’s Frankenstein portrays an array of characters consumed in and, ultimately by, their obsessions; specifically, Victor’s addiction to creating life and both the creature’s and Victor’s craze for revenge, leading to tragic results.
The novel makes it explicit that obsession must be handled cautiously and has distinct limits; one’s inability to stay within these limits is what leads to tragedy. This negative portrayal of obsession is a constant theme that runs throughout Frankenstein. For instance, the most tragic parts of the novel – such as the murder of Victor’s family, creation of the being, and battles for revenge – are all events directly caused by some form of obsession. When Walton first meets Victor, although he is unfamiliar with him, he quickly recognizes Victor’s distorted state as an effect of his obsessive episodes. Walton comments that Victor, “…appeared to despise himself for being the slave of passion” (Shelley 37). Although it may be a common perception that being fixated and passionate beneficially pushes one to their fullest potential, in this novel, “having all the passion and obsession in the world is not necessarily a recipe for becoming great” (MacPhee, Jack). Rather, the passion Victor and the creature possess are what results in Frankenstein’s disastrous end.
Victor’s overly passionate attitude towards knowledge is what commences his tragic downfall. His interest with science and learning is sparked as he witnesses a tree get struck by lightning as a child. As the tree is being destroyed in front of Victor’s young eyes, he “entered on the explanation of a theory which he had formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism” (Shelley 47). This specific moment was the start of Victor’s dangerous obsession and yearning for knowledge. However, this was just the beginning; his studies and passion for understanding reaches its peak when he attends the University of Ingolstadt. There, what started as a harmless interest in science, spirals out of control and puts Victor in jeopardy. As he becomes increasingly indulged in his studies, Victor is unable to recognize the limits of human knowledge that lie within every field (“Destructive Consequences of Single Minded Obsessions”). As Victor carelessly passes through these limits and attains a profound understanding of science, he is led onto the path to make a terrible mistake: to create life. Victor eventually recognizes the dangers that too much knowledge can lead to at the end of the novel; he says to Walton, “Learn from me, if not by my precept, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (Shelley 56). Although at this point in time, Victor’s realization is too late to free him of suffering, his advice to Walton shows a sense of remorse for his heedless actions and decisions, an apparent result of his obsession with knowledge.
Once Victor has his mind set towards creating life, his determination to complete the task is set, and he cannot be dissuaded. During the being’s creation, nothing is more important to Victor than succeeding in this mission – including his family, health, social life and overall well-being. While working on the task of producing life, Victor finds himself lost in his work, failing to take proper care of himself. After months of staying confined in his apartment, working towards the tiresome and perilous goal of creating life, Victor becomes ill. After months of not giving his health the attention it so desperately needed, Victor is left deprived of rest and strength. He stays in this unhealthy condition for the entire two-year span of the monster’s creation. During this period, Victor completely secludes himself from his family and his friends. Too focused on finishing his creation, Victor stops writing letters and checking up on his loved ones. This single-minded obsession blows out of proportion and prevents Victor from recognizing the consequences his creation may have, leaving him unable to keep his own invention on track (“Destructive Consequences of Single Minded Obsessions”). Victor’s fixation on generating life also robbed him of his sense of balance and self-control. At a later point in the novel, Victor reflects back on his obsession as something that he desired “with an ardour that far exceeded moderation” (Shelley 60). Without moderation, Victor is unable to realize or comprehend the effects that creating this being may have on him, his loved ones, and society.
The issues caused by Victor’s unquenchable passion for knowledge and determination to produce life were not short-lived; rather, they were enduring tragedies. Resulting from these obsessions was the abandonment of the being by his very own creator. Once Victor completes his long-awaited goal and sees the creature’s yellow eyes come to life, he states, “the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelley 60). At this point of the novel, Victor finally sees the dangers of his creature. Victor is overwhelmed with fear and shock, abandoning the creature who must now fend for himself. With no guide or creator by his side, the creature is unleashed to society with no understanding of the world, no companionship nor aid to help him adjust to life. Without Victor’s support and presence, the being does not know right from wrong, putting those around him in serious danger. These factors, all a result of Victor’s obsessions, lead the creature to committing crimes later on in Frankenstein, some caused by feelings of resentment, others by pure hatred for Victor. William, Victor’s little brother, was the first victim in the novel to feel the creature’s wrath. The being strangles the young boy with his bare hands once he realizes that William is related to Victor, the source of all his unhappiness and loneliness. Throughout Frankenstein, the creature continues his rampage by systematically attacking Victor’s family and loved ones. This catastrophic end highlights how Victor fails to think through what will come of the monster once it is alive, leading to more tragedy as the monster unleashes destruction on Victor’s family.
Victor passes through several obsessive periods throughout Frankenstein, one of them involving revenge – more specifically, Victor seeking vengeance on his very own creation. Victor is particularly bent on revenge after the death of William and Justine, two of his loved ones (“In Frankenstein, how does Shelley show that Victor and and the creature are both obsessed with revenge?”). Both were killed as a result of the creature’s actions; William was directly murdered by him, and Justine was killed after being set up and falsely accused of William’s murder. Victor immediately begins to detest the monster once he realizes that the creature was responsible for these tragedies. His feelings of abhorrence could not be restrained within him; after the deaths of William and Justine, Victor says, “…my hatred and revenge burst all bounds of moderation” (Shelley 87). As the monster continues to unleash his wrath on Victor and his family, Victor becomes consumed by melancholy and fury, wanting nothing more than to destroy the creature (Brackett, Virginia). From this point on, Victor’s obsession with revenge continues to grow stronger and more powerful, eventually reaching its peak with the murder of his wife, Elizabeth. With this death, the creature has now taken all of Victor’s loved ones away from him, forcing Victor to take action and dedicate the rest of his life to capturing the creature he so unwisely brought into this world.
Similar to Victor, the creature develops a strong craving for revenge. After showing nothing but affection and kindness to people and receiving violent responses in return, the creature begins to resent the human race. As the creature ponders on his state of isolation, he traces his unhappiness back to Victor, the man who abandoned him and created him to be a hideous outcast among society. After numerous instances in which the creature’s unpleasant physical appearance overbears his good nature, he cried out, “cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed?” (Shelley 121). The being’s bitterness towards Victor eventually turns into feelings of pure hatred, which can only be satisfied through seeking revenge. A key part of the novel that reflects the creature’s desire for revenge takes place when he arranges a bargain with Victor (Mathieu, Mackay). The being agrees to leave Victor and his loved ones alone if, in return, Victor creates a companion for him. Victor agrees to this proposition, in hopes that it will keep the being happy and keep him out of trouble. As Victor is working on producing this new creature, he realizes how this can make matters much worse than what they have already become. In that instant, Victor destroys what was to be the creature’s companion, right in front of the being’s very eyes. This created a great sense of loss and betrayal in the creature, who says, “I shall be with you on your wedding night” (Shelley 146); this is equivalent to him swearing ultimate revenge on Victor. Shortly after uttering these words, the creature goes on to kill Victor’s best friend and wife.
The abiding battle between the creature and Victor, each yearning for revenge on the other, is finally terminated at Frankenstein’s end. While traveling through the icy cold North Pole in search for the creature, Victor becomes gravely weakened by the weather. Shortly after he is rescued by a ship traveling through the frosty Arctic waters, Victor dies in his ill condition. When the creature learns of Victor’s death, instead of feeling a sense of satisfaction, the being weeps over his creator’s lifeless body. With the battle for revenge terminated by Victor’s death, the creature is able to reflect on his actions with a clear mind and viewpoint; he says, “I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept … I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery; I have pursued him even to that irremediable ruin” (Shelley 188). Overwhelmed with feelings of remorse, self-hatred, and guilt, the creature runs off, announcing his intentions of killing himself. The journeys for revenge that Victor and the creature embark on not only conclude with the novel’s end, but also, with the deaths of the two characters. This calamity was a result of two obsessions concerning revenge: Victor with seeking vengeance for the loss of his loved ones, and the creature’s wish for obtaining payback for the miserable life Victor set him up to have.
The tragedies taking place within Frankenstein are not just consequences of a single action. Rather, they are results of the obsessive tendencies and strong passions both Victor and the creature possess. From the perspective of others, the decisions Victor and the creature choose are poorly thought out and clouded by their passions. However, the tunnel vision outlook of the two characters restrict them from recognizing the risks and dangers their decisions may pose – both to themselves and to others. The main cause of tragedy in Frankenstein is the inability of Victor and the creature to suppress their inner-passions and cravings, which causes them to make poor decisions, ultimately leading to the catastrophic end of the novel.