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The Monsters We Make




Alienation in Frankenstein

            In 1818, the novel, Frankenstein, was published by Mary Shelley, then revised and republished in 1832.  Frankenstein is a monster story in which the main character, Victor Frankenstein becomes so interested in the science of natural philosophy that he is able to discover the means to create life.  Alienating himself from society, Victor buries himself in his work and to his horror creates a monster that has a significant effect on Victor’s life and future actions.   Throughout the novel, characters are pushed out of the social community by others and through their own actions.  Shelley, through these characters, is showing the dangers that creating outsiders can produce.  Victor turns to secrecy and through his alienation his life and those he loved are ruined.  Frankenstein’s monster develops an evil disposition as he is again and again thrust out of human society and endeavors to ruin the life of Frankenstein.  Shelley uses various characters and situations in Frankenstein in order to make a social commentary on how outsiders are created, alienated from society, and then essentially forced to turn into monsters by those around them.

            Shelley’s definition of an outsider is somewhat broad.  The monster easily becomes an outsider because of his looks.  On entering a village, the monster describes: “I had hardly placed my foot within the door before the children shrieked, and one of the women fainted.  The whole village was roused; some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country and fearfully took refuge in a low hovel.” (p. 108) Frankenstein’s creation is simply alienated for his looks.  Frankenstein, the monster’s own creator, abandons him the moment he sees him holistically and describes himself as “unable to endure the aspect of the being [created].” (p.58) It is later seen that the monster’s looks are all that make him classified as an other.  He is very intelligent; the blind Mr. DeLacey talks to him as a normal man, not detecting any reason to alienate him.  Those in the category of the other can also be those who reject society on their own.  Victor is considered an outsider, though he has no physical defects.  Victor puts himself into this category because of his mental and emotional attributes.  He is confined to his work and becomes so focused on it that he turns to secrecy and rejects the human companionship around him, even neglecting his own health.  He was “in reality very ill,” (p.63) after creating the monster.  His mental sickness, which represents itself several times throughout the novel, causes his alienation.  People, such as the police inspectors, would not take him seriously because he is a wreck mentally. An outsider does not necessarily have any physical, mental or emotional faults.  According to Shelley, each different culture and each person defines what an outsider is and who should fit into that category.  The DeLacey’s were outsiders though they had no physical abnormalities such as the monster, and had not separated themselves from society mentally as Victor had.  The DeLacey’s were accepted even in the higher classes of society until Felix tried to help an outsider.  “He did not succeed.  They remained confined for five months before the trial took place; the result of which deprived them of their fortune and condemned them to a perpetual exile from their native country.” (p. 128) Thus Shelley has included even those who would try to help outsiders into the category of the other.  Anyone who strays from the norm of the majority of society, whether physically or just in thought and action is alienated in Shelley’s view.

            None of Shelley’s characters intentionally force themselves into the abnormal class.  The monster has no control over how others react to his appearance, and does all in his power to in some way find a friend who would accept him into their society.  He learns to speak and read very well, becoming more intelligent than even his creator.  Frankenstein describes him “a being possessing faculties it would be vain to cope with.”  The monster becomes superior to the human race in every way except beauty, yet he is unable to force himself into normal society.  He laments, “I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property,” revealing that society is in control of his alienation.  He had done all he could to be accepted and change his fate- even convincing Frankenstein to create him a companion- but ultimately it was beyond the monster’s control. He implored of Old DeLacey “Save and protect me!” (p. 137) realizing that he was unable to force himself into society, but was at the mercy of others.  Unlike the monster, Frankenstein had begun with some control over his placement in the class of outsiders.  His fear and his secrecy concerning the monster place him in this category.  He is unable to communicate his thoughts and feelings with others.  After Justine’s death he becomes more introverted, “seized by remorse and the sense of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures, such as no language can describe.” (p. 94) At this point, Frankenstein still has power over his alienation; he is still able to do away with his secrecy.  It is when he destroys the second creature that he loses all control over his alienation.  The monster then ensures, by destroying everyone that Frankenstein comes close to, that Victor will be as lonely and miserable as himself.  Shelley illustrates that though one can have some say, acceptance and companionship cannot be forced whereas alienation can.

          When beings are forced into the category of the other, they can become forced into desperation.  Desperation can then become malicious.  The monster, after numerous efforts to find a place in society states, “There was none among the myriads of men that existed who would pity or assist me; and should I feel kindness towards my enemies?  No: from that moment I declared everlasting war against the species, and, more than all, against him who had formed me and sent me forth to this insupportable misery.”  “Shall I not hate them that abhor me?  I will keep no terms with my enemies.  I am miserable and they shall share my wretchedness.” (p. 103) The monster proves that he has the power to be good.  He helped the DeLacey’s with their chores; he rescued a girl from drowning; however, there is a point when a complete lack of tolerance forces him towards malice.  He gives emphasis to the fact that it is the cruelty and injustice of human beings, and not his own doing that is causing him to act monstrously.  On realizing that, after Frankenstein destroys the female creature, that he can never be anything but miserable, the monster wishes the same fate on his creator, the cause of his unhappiness.  Frankenstein is also an example an outsider turned towards malice.  After the deaths of all those that are close to him, he vows to have his revenge upon the creature.  His despondency makes him believe, like the monster, that there is no happiness left in his future.  The other characters that were alienated, the DeLaceys, do not turn malevolent.  Despite their trials, they are not reduced to hopelessness and have one another’s companionship.  It is only through complete isolation and hopelessness that those who are alienated become monstrous.  The root of this monstrosity that develops from isolation is not only in the alienated being, but also those who alienated him.

           From the experiences of the alienated characters in Frankenstein, it is evident that Shelly believes that no good comes from alienating others.  Mary Shelley was most likely somewhat alienated by society herself because she ran off and had children with a married man.  She could likely relate to the feelings of being unwanted by society that were developed in the monster’s character.  Shelley is also arguing against the Enlightenment ideas of the time.  Enlightenment thought believes that man is inherently evil and must be governed by society and laws.  In contrast, Shelley’s characters show that creatures are naturally good and that it is the mistreatment of society that causes them to become corrupt.  The monster argues, “I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity; but…you, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow creatures?” (p. 103)  Society creates its own evils and causes differences to become faults and to be feared.

            Shelley successfully represents the alienation of others for their differences as one of society’s great faults.  In Frankenstein, it caused the monster to become exactly what society fears him to be; it caused Victor Frankenstein to create the means of his own ruin; it caused the DeLacey’s to be exiled.  Each of these is a valid example of the damage alienation can do that can be related to the ostracizing that occurs in contemporary society.  Society is the creator of monsters, and is often the monster itself.  Forcing others into misery is far more detrimental than someone simply being different.  Shelley’s Frankenstein clearly illustrates that the society’s creation of outsiders creates the monsters whom they fear.

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"The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary, men alone are quite capable of every wickedness."     -Joseph Conrad