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Moral Ambiguity in Frankenstein
Transcript of Moral Ambiguity in Frankenstein
2002. Morally ambiguous characters -- characters whose behavior discourages readers from identifying them as purely evil or purely good -- are at the heart of many works of literature. Choose a novel or play in which a morally ambiguous character plays a pivotal role. Then write an essay in which you explain how the character can be viewed as morally ambiguous and why his or her moral ambiguity is significant to the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.
Magic Pill Statement
Because sympathy for a troubled individual can only extend so far before principles become the bigger issue and that same pitied individual is made to be the villain, Mary Shelley's intriguing yet morally questionable novel, Frankenstein, employs ambiguity in its characters' thoughts and actions -- a ploy meant to invoke a connection between the characters and the readers -- in order to force the reader to overlook the many socially and ethically problematic situations that might otherwise arise concern.
The creature in Frankenstein is the outcast throughout the entire novel. While it may be argued that Victor is an outcast due to his inability to connect with the rest of society and his great secret of being the creature's creator, he is still loved by his family and his friend Henry, as well as respected because of his family name and wealth.
Moral Ambiguity allows the creator to escape guilt and responsibility.
The creature in Frankenstein is held in a position of fear and disgust since the moment of his "birth," hated for his looks and unnatural countenance. Even when he tries to endear himself to mankind, he is spurned and accused out of base instincts. However, in order to continue his life, the creature must have some sort of hope to hold onto or risk depression and contemplation of suicide.
The very creation of the creature by Victor is ethically questionable. He admits to having committed terrible acts to provide for the creation of the monster, and feels that he is absolved of guilt because of his ultimate pursuit of life. Without ambiguity, it would be all too easy to condemn Victor and destroy the give-and-take relationship between the Creator and the Created.
Often when reading a good book, the reader wants to be able to mindlessly take on the hidden opinions of the author and, therefore, be under no moral or social obligations of indignation or humanity. Such is the case with Frankenstein, and Shelley's ambiguous characters provide the perfect outlet for meekly adopting Victor's thoughts as the reader's own.
Victor's role as the Creator is often overlooked when responsibilities and obligations come into play, but is immediately brought to light whenever his actions are questioned. He uses moral ambiguity as a metaphorical green light for all of his actions and thoughts, especially toward the creature.
Victor's morally ambiguous character forces the full brunt of the moral spectrum onto the creature's shoulders; as much as Victor is absolved as guilt, the creature has it heaped onto his persona. This creates an easy villain for both Victor and the readers to focus on, helped on by the creature's lapses into rage and his subsequent actions.
Mary Shelley's use of moral ambiguity in her novel, Frankenstein, permits the reader to accept the novel as a story of a genius boy and his evil creation without pondering too long the slights towards the creature. However, further reflection on the story shows that both Victor and his creature are equally responsible for the problems and crimes committed. In fact, Victor might be more responsible simple because he is the reason for the creature's existence in the first place. The moral ambiguity successfully hides this aspect of the relationship and creates an easily accepted and understood plot of good versus evil.
This prompt would like the student to address the following points:
definition of "morally ambiguous characters"
discussion of novel
discussion of character(s)
significance of ambiguity
Victor Frankenstein is principally the morally ambiguous character of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,
a fact displayed through his unhealthy obsession with natural philosophy, his treatment of his creation, and his arrogant personality.
Victor Frankenstein continually attempts to rid himself of the "monster" he has created in a bid to be absolved of all guilt and responsibility for any crimes committed. Normally, this would be a gross escaping of duty that would be scorned by the reader; however, Shelley writes the novel in a way that allows the ethics to go unquestioned and for Victor's wishes to even seem reasonable.
“Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, they creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us.” (pg. 97)
In the above quote, Victor's creation mourns the pathetic way that he has been treated by Victor, and wonders why he has been regarded as a monster by someone who will always be tied to him by the sacred bond of Creator to Created. This is one of the few moments in which Victor is made to be held morally responsible for what he has created.
“For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness.” (pg. 99)
Shelley strategically places a few statements about Victor's pity towards the creature in order to alleviate the majority of his overwhelming hatred and disgust throughout the novel. This is one of those statements in which Victor realizes how he has neglected the poor creature, and that perhaps he should fulfill his duties before pointing fingers. This, of course, quickly passes and Victor continues his ill treatment of the creature, going so far as to actively seek his destruction.
Moral Ambiguity allows the Creation to hold onto hope for a better future or time.
“I persuaded myself that when they should become acquainted with my admiration of their virtues, they would compassionate me, and overlook my personal deformity.” (pg. 130)
In the above quote, Victor's creature explains his hope that the poor but virtuous family might accept him despite his looks and size. It is his greatest wish at the time to be understood for his large, compassionate heart and be accepted by people as something other than a monster. He observes them for a long time, inching up his nerve, preparing for his greatly anticipated moment. Sadly, even they simply satisfy the preconceived notions that the creature had formed about the nature of humanity, and force him out, refusing to listen to explanations or logic.
"I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me." (pg. 143)
The creature understands very well that mankind will forever spurn him, that they believe themselves to be superior to his own being; after a certain point, it begins to seem as though the creature believes in his own inferiority as well. Thus, he decides that his only solace can come through having someone just like him, someone that is just as scorned, and will therefore decide to live with him. Normally, one would see the sad reality of this: a sad creature detested simply for his looks and so hated that he comes to believe himself deserving of that hate. However, Shelley's narration through Victor's point of view keeps sympathy in check, and ambiguity continues to reign.
Moral Ambiguity allows for the existence of the Creator vs. Created relationship.
“I seemed to have lost all soul and sensation but for this one pursuit.” (pg. 52)
Victor's obsession with natural philosophy becomes so great that it was as if he had already sold his soul and feelings to the devil. One would normally agree that this extreme is neither healthy nor moral, but in the book it is treated as a testament to Victor's thirst for knowledge and solutions for those in need of life.
“Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, as i dabble among the unhallowed damps of the grave, or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?” (pg.52)
It is made clear by this quote that Victor did not skimp on the horrors of discovery while looking for his answers. Again, grave robbery and animal abuse would not normally be taken lightly; here, they are depicted as necessary steps that must be excused for the advancement of science.
Moral Ambiguity allows the reader to enjoy the plot without any obligations.
“Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind.” (pg. 140)
The above quote is meant to show the monster's quick temper and hatred of mankind, while slyly disguising the fact that the creature, too, has been wronged again and again. As far as vengeance goes, no one is more deserving of enacting it than Victor's creature, but he is the only one continually denied it.
“Begone! I will not hear you.” (pg. 98)
Although Victor's refusal of the monster time and time again should be viewed as his neglect and refusal to accept his responsibilities as the Creator. However, this is masked by his grief at the death of his brother at the hands of his creature, and the villainy is instead heaped completely upon the creature.
The monster is shunned by Victor from the moment that he comes to life, not even given a chance to prove himself worthy of love and affection. This is the beginning of his role as the outcast in the novel.
"Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room..." (pg. 55)
The creature is met with a series of sad incidents in which, despite his innocent intentions, he is deemed a monster and hated on sight. Even the family he admires so much would rather leave its home than stay in proximity to him. He is forced to learn basic things like eating and speaking on his own, with no real guidance, and is clearly possessed with some more-than-average intelligence. However, this only alienates him further to Victor, who feels he is mimicking beings far superior.
Most importantly, the creature is an outcast because there are none like him. His request for a female of his same nature is brutally squashed by Victor and he is once more condemned to a lifetime alone.