Frankenstein: Romantic or Tragic Hero?
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley has been read in the classroom for many years, but the question remains; is Victor Frankenstein a tragic or romantic hero? Victor Frankenstein is a tragic hero. Some characteristics of a tragic hero are that they have a fatal flaw or make a fatal mistake, they are good at their core, and they have a redeeming, noble death. Victor has a fatal flaw that leads to a fatal mistake. Victor has good intentions. When Victor dies, he passes with a graceful smile.
Victor is the protagonist in Frankenstein. He is the narrator for most of the story, where we listen to the thoughts and experiences that he’s had. The story starts out with the letters of Walton, a hardworking, self-taught scientist, who wishes to go to places that no man has been before (Shelley 8). A set of strange circumstances leads to Victor Frankenstein meeting and boarding Walton’s ship. Walton is the only person that Frankenstein trusts enough to tell his tale, and that’s when the story of terror and tragedy begins. Frankenstein recounts the events that have happened throughout his life: the bliss of youth, the intellectual passions of young adulthood, and the dreadful mistakes that lead to where Victor ended up.
Victor has a fatal flaw, and this leads to a fatal mistake. Victor’s fatal flaw is, by far, his passion for science in the first part of the novel. (…) I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in one pursuit (Shelley 52). His base knowledge of science was built on the grand, but false, ideas of philosophers. Victor’s father did not thoroughly disprove the fanciful ideas in the books Victor read, but, instead, made a short remark on them. Victor’s father said, Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! (…) do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash (Shelley 33). He puts all his heart and soul (Shelley 52) into creating his creature, and to apply the secrets of life, that he does not realize the horrible monster he has created until it is done. His limbs were in proportion , and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!-Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath (…) (Shelley 55). He did not see the whole, but only the parts when he was first creating his monster. His fatal mistake is not only that he created a monster, but he took too long to take responsibility for the life he had created. Victor might not have taken care of his creature at the start of the story, but he was willing to listen to the creature, Victor’s only suspect for the murder of his little brother:
I had hitherto supposed him to be the murderer of my brother (…). For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness. (Shelley 116)
Victor is, truly, good at his core, he has good intentions. Victor realizes the horrible mistake he has done when he made his monster, and he refuses to share the secret of life in order to protect those around him:
Sometimes I [Walton] endeavoured to gain from Frankenstein the particulars of his creature’s formation (…). Are you mad, my friend? said he [Victor], or whither does your senseless curiosity lead you? Would you also create for yourself and the world a demoniacal enemy? (…) Peace, peace! Learn my miseries, and do not seek to increase your own. (Shelley 259)
He loves his family and close friends, and when tragedy strikes them, he expresses the utmost regret and grief:
Justine also was a girl of merit, and possessed qualities which promised to render her life happy: now all was obliterated (…) and I the cause! A thousand times rather would I have confessed myself guilty of the crime ascribed to Justine; but I was absent when it was committed (…). (Shelley 87)
The death of Victor’s close friend, Clerval, was because of Victor’s refusal to obey the creature’s orders to make a female creature. Victor mentally went through the consequences of creating another monster, (…) she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate (…). Had I a right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations? (Shelley 203-204). He decided that his own personal suffering was unequal to the potential suffering of the whole of mankind if he decided to quell his original creation’s desire.
When Victor dies, he faces it with a smile. When he can no longer speak, Victor gently presses his hand to the one by his deathbed:
His voice became fainter as he spoke; and at length exhausted by his effort, he sunk into silence. About half an hour afterwards he attempted again to speak, but was unable; he pressed my hand feebly, and his eyes closed for ever, while the irradiation of a gentle smile passed away on his lips. (Shelley 269)
Victor is happy for the release of death, and he believes that, in death, he will be able to see all the ones he’s lost, The forms of the beloved dead flit before me, and I hasten to their arms (Shelley 269). With Victor’s last breath, he wishes his friend and caretaker, Walton, the best. Farewell Walton! Seek happiness in tranquility (…) I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed (Shelley 269)
Shelley. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Edited by Brantley Johnson, Simon and Schuster Enriched Classic ed., New York, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2004.