Friendship in Frankenstein

The online Fantasy & Sci-Fi class has moved on from the darkly gothic horror of Dracula to the psycho-drama of Frankenstein. Here’s what I chose to write about. Peer reviews are very welcome. ;)

Victor Frankenstein: Friend to None

The desire for friendship drives the plot of “Frankenstein,” and the story is a tragedy not just because of Victor’s transgressions and poor moral choices, but because he never learns how to be a true friend.

Friendship is presented as an essential ingredient for a virtuous life. The monster states, “My vices are the children of a forced solitude that I abhor; and my virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal.” Walton, who is likewise eager for friendship, opines that “such a friend [would] repair [his] faults.” Yet Frankenstein, who is blessed with friendship and support from all around him, does not improve from their influence, because he does not perceive its value. His own words reveal him to be an unrelentingly self-focused individual, obsessed with his own goals, desires, and pains.

The monster hungers for a friend whom he imagines “sympathizing with my feelings and cheering my gloom.” He is devastated when the de Lacey family rejects him. His hopes are raised when Victor agrees to create a female companion, then dashed when Victor destroys her. The monster responds by killing Clerval, Victor’s closest friend. Victor is enraged by this loss, yet he does not see the analogy to what he has done to the monster.

Most pointedly, Victor’s lack of regard for friendship aggravates the central conflict. An obvious solution presents itself: if he could not create a companion for the monster, he could have been that companion himself. It is clear that showing the least crumb of sympathy or affection for his creation would have radically altered the monster’s catastrophic course. Yet Victor never considers this route. Despite the major examples in his life (his father’s support, Elizabeth’s affections, Clerval’s dedication), he never learns to offer those things to another—and that is what makes “Frankenstein” a tragedy.

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