There are many different messages that can be taken away from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. One of the most debated topics pertaining to the book regards the question– “Who is the real monster in the story?” Before one can define what it means to be a monster, one must first define what it means to be human. Humans are naturally wicked beings, merely given the gift of a conscience and the capability to feel empathy. There is no such thing as a human who is inherently good. All humanity can do is strive to turn away from its nature.
A monster is a creature completely consumed by the helpless kind of wickedness that humans are born with. A creature that can kill and devour without the hindrance of a conscience. What makes the idea of a monster frightening is that monsters are like a cross between humans and animals. A monster’s mind is devoid of anything that is not related to what they need to survive, what angers them, what they wish to eliminate, and the shallow, foolish things that bring them pleasure. Humans are afraid of monsters because they are monsters. They are selfish beings in search of nothing but that which will feed their desires. This is why Frankenstein does not need to be about incriminating either the Monster or Dr. Frankenstein alone, but rather, shedding light on the idea that everyone has monstrous instincts. This poses the question of whether the Monster is really a monster, or a human. It can be argued that in the beginning, he is neither, considering that he begins as this strangely pure being with only good intentions, rather than a being with the natural inclination to be wicked. He is born with empathy, but when the world drives him mad, he becomes the wretch that mankind thought him to be.
Dr. Frankenstein is a very apt representation of humanity. He wishes to create and leave his mark, only to find that the intentions that he thought were good were only spawned by his own curiosity and ego. It is difficult to discern whether or not men can truly have good intentions. It can easily be said that everything humans think they are doing for the world, and for the pursuit of knowledge, is only for the purpose of giving themselves the illusion of power and control. Dr. Frankenstein finds himself more out of power than ever when he realizes that the power he discovered was a force he could not contain. He created and abandoned something that knew nothing about the world, and refused to take responsibility. The fascinating thing about the reactions of the readers is that most tend to shift to the defense of one side or the other. Generally, the most empathy is incited for the Monster– which is valid and most likely the reaction Mary Shelley intended to garner. However, what many do not consider is that both the Monster and Dr. Frankenstein’s actions are explainable, but not excusable. The Monster is responsible for the deaths of everyone who Dr. Frankenstein loves. This is obviously explainable because the Monster’s only impression of the world around him is hatred, betrayal and violence. His violent tendencies seem to spring up after he saves a woman from drowning, and in return, is shot by the man accompanying her. He continues killing when Dr. Frankenstein does not follow through with creating the companion that he has promised. However, the lives that the Monster took away do give him the characteristics of a monster, and he is still completely ignorant toward the idea of considering others’ situations. Dr. Frankenstein’s choices are explainable because the actions of the Monster do not inspire confidence that he will truly remain content and peaceful when given a mate. Just as Dr. Frankenstein lost control over the first Monster, he would have no control over the second monster as well, and if she would choose to love the Monster. If they did love each other, there was still no guarantee that they would not band together in the pursuit of wrongdoing.
However, Dr. Frankenstein is also swallowed up in his own predicaments and unwilling to consider the predicaments of the Monster. The book also sheds light on the ignorance that comes along with hardship. Everyone only sees the world through one perspective in their lifetime, and will never fully understand what it is like to be somebody else. Empathy is all humanity has, and when one is completely consumed in their own troubles, they often do not even have that.
People often hate those who are unable to empathize with their predicaments and only have the capacity to spare a sigh for their own, because their subconscious sees that they are often exactly the same way. Dr. Frankenstein feels intense hatred for the Monster from the very beginning, because the Monster is the closest thing to offspring that he will ever have. He subconsciously sees himself in the Monster, and this terrifies him. He sees something that is helpless, animalistic, curious, and unaware. As he watches this curiosity unfold into something wicked and horrifying, he is reminded of his own foolishness, and the grief that his curiosity caused.
Frankenstein’s message does not encourage loathing toward either the Monster or Dr. Frankenstein. It encourages loathing toward humanity’s natural inclinations. There is not one “real monster”. Both are monsters, for the same reasons. All of humanity is monstrous and terrifying. There are no “good people”. There are only wicked people who utilize the gift of empathy and the capability to make rational decisions, and dedicate their life to becoming the best person that they can possibly be.