Frankenstein can be read as a tale of what happens when a man tries to create a child without a woman. It can, however, also be read as an account of a woman’s anxieties and insecurities about her own creative and reproductive capabilities. Mary Shelley, in the development and education of the monster, discusses child development and education and how the nurturing of a loving parent is extremely important in the moral development of an individual. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley examines her own fears and thoughts about pregnancy, childbirth, and child development.
Pregnancy and childbirth, as well as death, was an important part of Mary Shelley’s young adult life. She had four children and a miscarriage that almost killed her all before the age of twenty-five. Only one of her children, Percy Florence, survived to adulthood and outlived her. In June of 1816, when she had the waking nightmare which became the factor of the tale, she was only nineteen and had already had her first two children. Her first child, Clara, was born prematurely on February 22, 1815, and died on March 6 of the same year. Mary, as any woman would be, was devastated by this and took a long time to recover.
Mary’s second child, William, was born on January 24, 1816. (William died of malaria June 7,1819 . ) The time that Mary had the idea for the story, her first child had died and her second was only 6 months old. There is no doubt that she expected to be pregnant again and about six months later she was. Pregnancy and childbearing was in the front of Mary’s mind at this point in her life. Frankenstein is one of the first stories that expresses the anxieties of pregnancy. Obviously male writers avoided this topic and it was considered poor taste for a woman to discuss it.
Mary’s focus on the birth process allowed men to understand female fears about pregnancy and reassured women that they were not alone with their anxieties. The story expresses Mary’s deepest fears: What if my child is born deformed? Could I still love it or would I wish it were dead? What if I can’t love my child? Am I capable of raising a healthy, normal child? Will my child die? Could I wish my own child to die? Will my child kill me in childbirth? Mary was expressing her fears related to the death of her first child, her ability to nurture, and the fact that her mother died having her.
All of this is expressed in Victor Frankenstein’s complete failure in parenting. For approximately nine months Victor Frankenstein labored on the creation of his child. Finally, he witnesses the birth: I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs. (Frankenstein, p. 51). Instead of reaching out to his child, Victor rushes out of the room, disgusted by the abnormality of his creation. When the creature follows after him, Victor runs away in horror completely abandoning his child. While creating his child, Victor never considered whether this creature would even want to exist.
He also didn’t take enough care with the creature’s appearance. He could not take the time to make small parts so he created a being of gigantic size. Victor never considered how such a creature would be able to exist with human beings. He did not take time with the features either and created a being with a horrifying appearance. Unable to accept his creation, Victor abandons his child and all parental responsibility. He even wishes that his child were dead. I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed, and I ardently wished to extinguish that life which I had so thoughtlessly bestowed (Frankenstein, p. ) From the moment of the creature’s birth, Victor thought of it as a demon and abused it. Frankenstein represents the classic case of an abused and neglected child growing up to be an abuser. The monster’s first murder victim is a small child. As Mary Shelley wrote the novel, she began to focus more on the idea of the monster being an abandoned child. The creature realizes that a child that is deprived of a loving family becomes a monster. The creature repeatedly insists that he was born good but was compelled by others to do evil.
Mary Shelley is suggesting that a rejected and un-mothered child can become a killer, especially a killer of its own family. Even without the proper nurturing the creature manages to get an education. Mary sides with nurture in the development of a child needing nurture vs. nature. It is only later through contact with society that the creature develops a consciousness and realizes that he is a societal outcast. The creature obtains a moral and intellectual education through his observation of the DeLacey family, who lived in the cottage adjoining his hovel.
The DeLacey’s provide the creature with an example of a kind, loving family. They stimulate his emotions and inspire him to do good deeds for others (he secretly collects firewood for the family). Through the creature’s observation of the DeLacey family, the creature is also stimulated intellectually and is introduced to spoken and written language. He learns about human virtue, heroism, and civil justice, corruption and the decline of empires, the origins of good and evil as well as the roles of the sexes, and the range of emotions, from love to depression and despair, all from books he finds at the DeLaceys.
I learned that the possessions most esteemed by your fellow-creatures were, high and unsullied descent united with riches… but… I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endowed with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome;… When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me… I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me; I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge. Oh, that I had ever remained in my native wood, nor known or felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat!
Frankenstein, p. 115). After being rejected by Victor Frankenstein, his father, the DeLacey family, and society, the creature abandons all good and lives out a course of vengeance against Frankenstein. He murders those close to Frankenstein and eventually leads Victor on a journey that will destroy both of them. Even though the creature received a moral and intellectual education, the lack of a nurturing and loving parent as well as companionship and acceptance from society led him to reject morality and instead destroy.
The creature as well as the reader realized that he would have been better off without the education. If he wasn’t going to have love and acceptance, it would have probably been best for him to live in an animal like state without a developed consciousness that made him realize how alone he was. Victor never realizes that his lack of parental love and guidance is what led to the creature’s murderous path. He only felt guilt from having created the creature. If Victor had only been a loving parent, the creature could have probably overcome all other obstacles and remained moral.
One way to read Frankenstein is as an articulation of a woman’s fear of pregnancy, childbirth, and her ability to raise and educate a child properly. This is especially poignant due to the fact that Mary was so young and had already experienced two pregnancies as well as the death of a child. What Mary may have been questioning through her novel is whether a child whose fundamental experiences are of pain rather then pleasure will ever develop a healthy moral sense and a normal personality.