An Analysis of Cruelty and Ethics in Frankenstein, a Novel by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein illustrates how cruelty in a person’s life can shape them more than their biology. In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation for a major social or political factor. In Frankenstein, acts of cruelty are important not only because they illustrate the theme of how how destructive and fearful man can be, but also how under the microscope of utilitarianism and Kantian deontology, the act of abusing another being can be justified or seen as barbaric. The rejection of Frankenstein’s as a whole underscores how cruelty can stem from fear.
Throughout the novel, society rejects the monster because of fear. First his creator abandons him, then the De Laceys beat him with a stick and chase him away, then in the woods after saving a girl, he is shot. Society’s fear of the abnormal causes them to shun an innocent being who is still trying to learn how the world works. These acts show how society is so afraid of what they don’t understand, that they are willing to be cruel to the abnormality in question. As soon as society realizes that Frankenstein’s monster was not like everyone else, they strip him of the kindness, acceptance that the rest of society receives. Not even his creator, Victor Frankenstein himself, will acknowledge his emotions, thinking that he is incapable of feeling. This once again highlights how if the majority considers you not “normal”, you will not be accepted.
The murders of William, Henry, and Elizabeth show how cruelty can be used as a form of revenge. All three murders are committed to give Frankenstein the same amount of loneliness and isolation that Frankenstein has given his monster. After being rejected and isolated from society, Frankenstein’s monster wants his creator to feel the same sense of loneliness that he has felt for years. Without William, Henry, his father, and Elizabeth, Frankenstein is without friends, family, and love. This act of revenge highlights how cruelty as an act of vengeance brings out the destructive nature that everyone contains.
It reveals how the monster is capable of feeling complex emotions such as jealousy, neglect, and betrayal enough to want to get revenge. These primal yet complicated, biological feelings show just how human the monster has become and how he has developed from a naive underling to a vengeful being. Frankenstein commits an unforgivable act of cruelty as he crushes all of his creation’s hopes and dreams right in front of him. The monster comes to Frankenstein to ask him a favor, despite the fact that he killed both his friend and brother. The monster knows that he will never gain the acceptance of society, so he calls upon Frankenstein to create another monster to be his companion. Frankenstein agrees, but then is consumed with a blinding fury and breaks the glass holding the monster’s last chance at companionship. Frankenstein goes back on his promise when he realizes that in his hands, he has the monster’s one desire and can take that away just as easily as the monster took away his friend and brother.
This act of cruelty highlights Frankenstein’s grief, how he wants to avenge Henry and William, and wants to hurt the same thing that hurt him and in the same manner. Frankenstein’s monster was born as a clean slate, knowing nothing about our world or how it works. As soon as he was brought into this world, the monster was shunned and labeled as a deformity that should be punished for consequences that he had no control of. The monster did not have access to the option of choosing what he would look like; he didn’t choose to look like odds and ends of different people that could not form a normal human being.
Although he was made with an adult physique, the monster did not have access to adult level intelligence. Biologically, the monster was a completely clean slate. He couldn’t walk, speak, or read, let alone use critical thinking skills to form his own decisions. Frankenstein’s monster needed a guide in life to help him define right and wrong since he was not created with a moral compass already installed into him. The social interactions that the monster had with others would determine what is good or bad, just or unjust, and what he believes.
Victor Frankenstein’s treatment of his monster lands in a very gray area and can be defined as morally correct when taking a utilitarian viewpoint and as morally incorrect when viewing it from a Kantian deontology perspective. When taking on a utilitarian viewpoint, Frankenstein’s actions are justified since the consequences of his actions are favorable. An example is when he tries to hide his creation and later goes back on his promise to create a companion for it. Frankenstein tries to act in the name of the greater good by hiding his monster because he knows that the world isn’t ready yet.
When he destroys the monster’s last hope of friendship and love, he is saving the world from another blemish on society’s pretty front. The world cannot handle one freak of nature, so why would Frankenstein create another? However, if you take on a Kantian deontology perspective, you will find that Frankenstein was not morally correct. Kantian deontology is all about the thinking behind the action and not the consequences that follow. Frankenstein wanted to get rid of his monster because he was ashamed of how it turned out. Yes he had created life, but it was hideous and could not be shown to the world.
He wanted to save his own reputation and not flaunt his mistake. When Frankenstein erases his monster’s last hope of a connection with someone, he does it out of hate and vengefulness, not because he wanted to save his little village. He wanted to hurt his monster, and revenge became his motivation.
Even though the consequences turned out okay, it doesn’t change the fact that Frankenstein wanted to deliberately hurt his creation. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, acts of cruelty are important not only because they illustrate the theme of how how destructive and fearful man can be, but also reveals how each perpetrator doesn’t mind being cruel. The murders of William, Henry, and Elizabeth show how cruelty can be used as a form of revenge. The rejection of Frankenstein’s as a whole underscores how cruelty can stem from fear. Frankenstein commits an unforgivable act of cruelty as he crushes all of his creation’s hopes and dreams right in front of him. Each social interaction shapes the monster more than his biology ever does. The treatment that he is given is then repeated by the monster himself when he wants to hurt others. Victor Frankenstein’s conduct can be seen as actions towards the greater good and that he should be praised, and has abusive steps towards his monster’s ultimate punishment of eternal loneliness.