Suffering is a major thematic element in Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein. The Wretch constantly struggles mentally with negative experiences of rejection. The psychological suffering endured illustrates self-realization through a new found understanding of one’s identity and flaws.
Throughout the course of the novel, the Wretch desperately attempts to establish a bond with human beings, only to be repeatedly rejected because of his abnormal appearance. As soon as he experiences life, Victor Frankenstein, his creator, abandons him. The event that transpired from the perspective of Victor was as follows, “ I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created…His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear…I escaped”. He is deprived of a loving childhood and parental link. This bond—or lack thereof is ingrained within the fabric of the Wretch. All his thoughts, actions and feelings, is interconnected with knowing that a loving figure is absent. Tamar Granot explains, “ Rejection and abandonment have traumatic effects that extend beyond the loss…He is given the devastating message that he is not loved and does not deserve to be loved”. His lack of love is foundation for his monstrous identity. Mellor confirms, “ Without mothering, without an early experience of a loving education, a man left to himself from birth would be more of a monster than the rest”. The wretch is conscious of the fact that he had been deliberately rejected and channels his feeling through violence; making violence a part of his identity.
The Wretch avoids taking responsibility for his misery. He accuses Frankenstein of making him into a ‘ fiend’, “ Remember that I am thy creature…I was benevolent and good, misery made me a fiend” . He holds Frankenstein accountable by addressing Frankenstein’s contribution towards his misery. According to Granot, “ Rejected children call out for unconditional love but do not know how to internalize them…These children exhibit unrestrained anger and abusive behaviour”. In the midst of trying to cope with lack of love, the Wretch unleashes his frustration by exacting revenge on Frankenstein. Judith Halberstam provides insight into the Wretch’s frustration by pointing out, “ He educates himself and aspires to become truly human and take its place in society, But alas, it cannot overcome its physical “ otherness,” the visual deformity that in society’s eyes proves its inferiority and monstrosity”. His mental tension is magnified in terms of him suppressing his image and instead channeling his insecurity in the form of hate towards Frankenstein. This also ties in with the Wretch asserting himself over Frankenstein, “ You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!”. To put this statement into perspective, the Wretch holds the power to Frankenstein’s life and he too can causing suffering without causing any physical harm. “ Children have a strong tendency to be the person who abandons—to hurt others and take revenge for everything that was done to them”. As a result, The Wretch’s character gets fleshed out; demonstrating his persistence in satisfying his cravings, failure to accept that his misery is self-inflicted, neglect of responsibility for his actions and intense revengeful feelings.
The Wretch’s reflection of his purpose unveils his most intimate worries regarding his identity. This confusion transgresses to him questioning his existence, “ Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them”. The Wretch looks inward for a sense of direction. As he attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible; the pressure to understand his purpose becomes overwhelming. Through his progression, “ He learns the causes of his feeling of pain and pleasure, and how to produce the effects he desires” In the midst of his incomprehension and feelings of misery he chooses to be malicious because he concludes that goodness is impossible, “ I am malicious because I am miserable”. He learns that the views of society are immutable and understands that he is perceived as sinful. Halberstam indicates, “ Victor think his monster, by virtue of his filthy form, was made to sin”. He realizes that to be part of society he must conform to how they perceive him. The Wretch questions his true nature and contemplates whether or not he should embody the image he is giving out. In his clouded uncertainty regarding his conflict with humanity the wretch surpasses the human goodness he learned and morphs himself into the monstrous image that he portrays.
When the Wretch creates a mental block towards goodness, he dangerously embraces his flaws. He says, “ If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!” . As a result, he strives to take control of his situation. He believes his only way out is by exacting malice on others and exposing the vulnerability of others so that his ego is satisfied. He exhibits his newfound controlling tendencies when he attempts to kidnap William Frankenstein, assuming that a six-year old boy is unprejudiced, he demands, “ Boy, you will never see your father again; you must come with me.” However, he is rejected by William and retaliates by rejecting him in return: “ I gazed on my victim, and my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph: clapping my hands, I exclaimed, ‘ I, too, can create desolation; my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him’”. Granot says children cope by “ ending relationships before they have a chance to mature…this helps preserve their sense of control”. From this point forward the Wretch loses his innocence and separates himself from mankind. With reasoning such as, “ His goodness and love have been met with evil and irrational hatred”, he believes that recognition from another human being is unrealistic. A new approach is needed: he will treat others the way they have treated him. He cleaves his desire to be human by saying, “ should I feel kindness towards my enemies? No: from that moment I declared everlasting war against the species, and, more than all, against him who had formed me, and sent me forth to this insupportable misery”. He recognizes he is of a different race and that his affection is not transferable. Stobaugh supports this by saying, “ They in no way reciprocate his love” referring to man-kind. The wretch accepts himself as the first of a new species and substantiates his himself as a person who is deserving of love.
The Wretch gains insight into what it truly means to be human when he observes the De Lacys through a chink in his hovel. He sacrifices himself so that they don’t suffer, “ I had been accustomed… to steal part of their store…for my own consumption; but when I found I inflicted pain on the cottagers I abstained”. Although he hungers and had the power to easily kill them and steal their food, he shows them empathy. Mellor States, “ The creature learns from sensations and examples; what he learns is determined by his environment” Through observation he feels what they feel and wants to help their cause. Through observation he picks up the good traits from the De Lacys and finds solace in their virtue. Mellor explains, “ Despite the Wretch’s destructive traits he demonstrates a rich understanding of benevolence, affection and justice in the actions of the De Lacys”. He was able to synthesize lessons he learned from the DeLacys and apply them near the end of the novel when he permeates sympathy and remorse for his bitter rival Frankenstein. He confesses, “ You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself” as well as adds “ I shall die. I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me…”. That being said, at his core he permeates empathy for Victor —the same person he swore an everlasting war against. “ The creature becomes a nexus in which all of Victor’s struggles are made clear”
The Wretch’s psychological hardship experienced in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein contributed to the identity of the Wretch as a whole. Every display of rejection evoked a reaction from the wretch exposing his humanity; shaping him. His flaws were illuminated as demonstrated failure to accept responsibility, ambition to be accepted, uncertainty and revenge through violence. Simultaneously, regarding his identity, he accepts himself as being separate from mankind and embraces his monstrosity, but is unable to suppress human emotions of empathy. It was only through suffering that the wretch was able to appreciate love and goodness to the extent he desired.
Granot, Tamar. Without You: Children and Young People Growing up with Loss and Its Effects. London: Jessica Kingsley, 2005. Print
Green, Andrew, Frankenstein. Deddington: Phillip Allan Updates, 2010. Print
Nardo, Don. Frankenstein: Literary Companion Series. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2000. Print.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Bantam Books, 1981. Print
Stobaugh, James P. British Literature-Student Cultural Influences of Early to Contemporary Voices. Green Forest: New Leaf Group, 2012. Print.