Guilt and Innocence in Frankenstein Rachel Rhodes, Theanne Liu, Kirsten Ramby, Michelle Mendoza, Kevin Kong English IV AP - Period 6
Guilt • Guilt – the fact of having committed and offense and especially one that is punishable by law; the state of deserving blame; a feeling of responsibility for offenses • There are two aspects to guilt, psychological and in law. Although someone may be wrongly accused of guilt, or freed from it by a court of law, their psychological bearings of it remain if it truly exists. The feeling itself of guilt is what really indicates it, not what is decided by a jury. • Examples of this include Justine being found guilty, despite her actual innocence, while Frankenstein feels guilt of his actions but is allowed to walk around as a free man.
Innocence • Innocence – the quality or state of being free from guilt, blame, or sin; lack of worldly experience or sophistication; freedom from guile or cunning. • Few often think of innocence as synonymous with ignorance, and more often as the simply the opposite of guilt, but both definitions are correct. • Frankenstein’s creature was born not only free from guilt, but he was also ignorant of the cruel world around him that later shaped him into becoming a monster.
Motives of Frankenstein • Frankenstein is driven to create life by his passion for studies in natural philosophy. • “So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein – more, far more, will I achieve: treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation” (Shelley 42). • Frankenstein’s discovery of electricity fuels his arrogance; he feels as if he is God-like and possesses power far greater than any other human being. • “… I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter…What had been the study and desire of the wisest men since the creation of the world was now within my grasp” (Shelley 47).
Repercussions of Frankenstein’s Ambitions • Immediately upon bringing the creature to life, Frankenstein regrets what he has done and feels horrible for creating such a monstrous living thing. • “I had worked hard for nearly two years… I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelley 51). • Frankenstein leaves the creation to fend for itself and live alone in the cruel world, for he cannot bear what he has fabricated with his own hands. He feels guilty for spending all of his time making something so terrible, yet he cannot reverse his decision to create life now that he has succeeded.
Frankenstein’s Innocence? • Although his efforts are futile, Frankenstein attempts to shelter those he cares about from the atrocious thing he has created. However, even though he tries to protect them, he fails to tell them the truth; that he had created the monster. • Frankenstein does not go through with creating a second creature to serve as a mate for the first; he destroys his work and subjects himself to the monster’s rage. • “Had I right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations? I had been struck senseless by his fiendish threats: but now, for the first time, the wickedness of my promise burst upon me; I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race” (Shelley 147).
Frankenstein’s Creature • The creature is born good. However, as he is completely alone from the beginning, he feverishly desires to have someone accept him for who he is. • “… I easily perceived that, although I eagerly longed to discover myself to the cottagers, I ought to not make the attempt until I had first become master of their language; which knowledge might enable them to overlook the deformity of my figure…” (Shelley 102). • The creature tries to help others so that he might be known for his personality instead of for his outward appearance. • “I found that the youth spent a great part of each day in collecting wood for the family fire; and, during the night, I often took his tools, the use of which I quickly discovered, and brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days” (Shelley 100).
The Creature’s SHIFT • Two major events in the novel compel the creature to pursue his feelings of revenge and hatred toward his creator: • The creature directly relates to the knowledge he gains from reading Paradise Lost. • “… I was wretched, helpless, and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me” (Shelley 116). • The creature is rejected by the family because of the way he looks. • “From that moment I declared everlasting war against the species, and, more than all, against him who had formed me, and sent me forth in this insupportable misery” (Shelley 121).
Guilt of the Creature • The creature directly murdered Frankenstein’s brother William, his wife Elizabeth, and his best friend Henry Clerval. He also indirectly caused the deaths of Frankenstein’s grief-stricken father and the family friend Justine, as well as the death of Frankenstein himself. • “But it is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept, and grasped to death his throat who never injured me or any other living thing. 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 to that irremediable ruin” (Shelley 196).
The Creature’s Claim to Innocence • The creature’s desires are insurmountable; he cannot overcome his human needs. • “You… seem to have a knowledge of my crimes and [Frankenstein’s] misfortunes. But in the detail which he gave you of them he could not sum up the hours and months of misery which I endured, wasting in impotent passions. For while I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. They were forever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned” (Shelley 195). • The creature knew no other path but to inflict pain upon his creator to parallel that which he himself felt.
Innocence of Mankind • All of the characters in the novel who appear to be innocent, by desire of the author, either end up being killed or lose their “innocence” through their actions. • Justine: “’I do not fear to die… that pang is past. God raises my weakness, and gives me courage to endure the worst’” (Shelley 78). Although she is killed for the murder of William, Frankenstein’s brother, she remains innocent of the crime and pure of heart. • Frankenstein’s father, wife Elizabeth, brother William, and best friend Henry Clerval also perish in the novel, none of whom are even aware of the creature their beloved has fabricated. • De Lacey family: Although the blind father has nothing against the creature because he cannot see what he looks like, Felix and the women are horrified by the monster and run him off. After Felix beats him, the creature was “overcome by pain and anguish… [so he] quitted the cottage and in the general tumult escaped unperceived to [his] hovel” (Shelley 120).
Guilt of Man • One of the central themes in the novel Frankenstein is the guilt of mankind as a whole. • The blind father of the De Lacey family tells the creature: “’Do not despair. To be friendless is indeed to be unfortunate; but the hearts of men, when unprejudiced by any obvious self-interest, are full of brotherly love and charity. Rely, therefore, on your hopes; and if these friends are good and amiable, do not despair’” (Shelley 119). • Material desires – Men tend to be dissatisfied with the things they are blessed with simply because others have things they do not possess. The creature is powerful, strong, and able to survive where a normal human could not. However, he is eternally jealous of the relationships humans form with each other because he has no one to spend his time with. • QUESTION: Are humans born innocent or will they always have a tendency to do something they must feel guilty for?
GUILT AND THEME • From the experiences of Frankenstein, one can summarize guilt and innocence in the novel into a theme statement: • The actions and guilt of one man can consume and destroy not only him, but everyone around him as well. It doesn’t matter how innocent they have been for their entire life; humans are characterized by their associations and revenge that is sought upon one will undoubtedly have an effect on those nearest to him as well.
Sources • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley • Encyclopedia Britannica: http://www.britannica.com • Webster’s New Explorer College Dictionary