Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein was one of the most elegant and horrifying pieces of literature written in its time, and is still widely considered a horror classic. The book and its monster have been compared to many different things in a variety of subtexts, but one of the clearest readings of the book indicates that the monster represents the guilt and horror Mary Shelley felt about her dead child. In many ways, Frankenstein's monster is at once Shelley's dead child and Shelley herself; struggling to find life and belonging in a world that simply does not want it. Frankenstein's mistakes as a parent echo and explore the nature vs. nurture debate, as the monster's fate is very much in the hands of his own creator.
One of the potential origins for the writing of Frankenstein came from Shelley's own hazardous experiences with childbearing. In February 1815, she gave birth to a baby girl - however, twelve days later, the girl passed away prematurely. Shelley was grief-stricken, and later dreams about her child in March of that year. Writing in her journal, Shelley says that she had a “Dream that my little baby came to life again - that it had only been cold & that we rubbed it before the fire & it lived" (NLM 2005). Though she had a baby boy who successfully lived not long after, it is possible this desire, this pull to reanimate the dead so that they may once more be among the living, that drove Shelley to write Frankenstein.
There are a number of parent-child tensions in Frankenstein; the allegory between Victor Frankenstein and the monster being his 'son' are quite clear, as the man is figuratively borne of his invention. In essence, the book is about the inadequate way in which a parent can prepare their children for society, instead leaving them to "retreat into themselves" and forego civilization (Claridge 1985). The Shelley dream of making her "little baby" come to life again is personified here; though it is not really said how the monster is made to be alive, one wonders if it would have been by rubbing it "before the fire" as Shelley described in her dream. This is an interesting perspective, due to the monster's fear of fire. In this way, Shelley is Victor - making her dream come true by making the dead come to life, creating an offspring regardless of its physical origin.
Despite this romantic desire to have a child come back to life, Shelley's writing and characterization of Victor implies that the way in which the child would be raised would have been far from pleasant. The lack of affection that Victor receives as a child is extended, as a consequence, to the monster; neither know how to love properly. While, on the surface, his parents were loving and affectionate, the writing implies that Victor is unhappy about that. By being his parents' "plaything and idol," they do not allow him to be an individual or a part of the family (Shelley 33). Victor's childhood recollections are sarcastic and ill-considered; there is no way that "every hour of [his] infant life [he] received a lesson of patience, of charity, and of self-control" (34). This is made particularly true when it is revealed that he does not have those qualities.
Shelley also explores the great potential that the creature could aspire to. The creature itself is very eloquent in its speech, and quite intelligent. In this way, it is only the fact that he is physically repugnant that drives him away from civilization; if he were in a normal body, he would be welcomed into society. However, it is because of his immediate rejection by Victor, and the subsequent search for revenge, that he becomes a true monster. The creation of the monster, once accomplished, results in Victor recoiling immediately from it: he runs away in disgust immediately because of its appearance, which he had nonetheless acknowledged while he was building him; "I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then" (p. 58). The presence of dead flesh on a dead body is natural; Shelley's attempt to bring it to life made it something between life and death, causing the Victor to recoil and run away.
The monster is much like Victor as well: trying to overcome the shadow of his parentage and owning his life. As Victor tried to destroy his parents reputation by succeeding them and surpassing them in the realm of science, so too did the monster want to take his revenge on his father for creating and rejecting him. At one point, he does recognize that he did not provide for the creature as much as he should have; "I ought to have made him happy before I complained of his wickedness" (102). These types of parental regrets are the kinds likely echoed by Shelley, who may have lamented whatever slights or ill thoughts she considered about her child before it died twelve days after birth. Her own guilt is echoed in the hatred that the creature feels for Victor; she is afraid that, even if the child were to have actually come back to life, it would have rejected and hated her. "You, my own creator, detest and spurn me" (p. 99). The creature states that his negligence makes him "the author at once of my existence and its unspeakable torments" (220).
The book is mostly Victor's story, with Victor as Shelley, the individual desperate for love and affection (Shelley from her son, Victor from the scientific community and, by extension, his parents). The whole enterprise that Victor goes through to create the monster is borne of his desire to be the best scientific mind in the world, but there is also an undercurrent of having an object of affection that is his property, much like Elizabeth was to him in childhood, and as he was to his parents. By bringing life to another being, he removes his own humanity and places it in the monster; this creates a vacuum where Victor is a human being without humanity, and the monster is a grotesque creature that has humanity no one cares to see. By showing this transference of kindness and compassion, Shelley notes that she would lose a part of herself (who she fundamentally is) if she were to have her dead daughter alive once more.
In conclusion, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein depicts the monster as a crudely and ungodly reanimated version of her dead daughter, who perished early in life. Wondering about the immorality of a resurrection, as well as how the daughter would feel about the consequences of that resurrection, drive the themes of the book. Victor is Shelley, the anxious and hubristic being who feels she can create life but does not realize it is doomed to failure. The monster is Shelley's child, the innocent, pure being who is angry at its creator for robbing it of the essential humanity it was meant to be on this world to possess.
Claridge, Laura P. "Parent-Child Tensions in Frankenstein: The Search for Communion."
Studies in the Novel vol. 17, no. 1. Spring 1985. Print.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818. Print.