Morals and Values in Frankenstein

Shelley is trying to show us what can occur if we fall out of balance with our morals, values and relationships.

When people violate their personal values and morals, their lives become unbearable. In the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein is constantly in turmoil because his values conflict with his actions. This leads to self detriment. Mary Shelley creates two main characters. One is a scientist and thinker named Victor. The other character is called the Wretch that Victor created in a laboratory. The Wretch is portrayed as a monster to the reader and is not treated kindly by Victor or humanity. This is because of its appearance. Throughout the novel, Victor abandons the Wretch and there is conflict between the Wretch and Victor. The Wretch feels angry, hurt, and betrayed by Victor so he kills Victor’s younger brother William, his best friend, Henry Clerval, and his soon to be wife Elisabeth. On the same night, Victor’s father dies from grief. Victor feels sorrow and guilt because he is the cause of the deaths of those dear to him. Mary Shelley portrays Victor as both caring and selfish. He chooses glory and scientific fame which ends up putting his family and friends at great risk. Shelley is trying to show us what can occur if we fall out of balance with our morals, values and relationships.


Morals are beliefs or personal standards of behavior that help one determine right from wrong, based on societal and religious teachings and one’s own experiences.  Values are judgments people make about what is important to them. These guide one’s actions, thoughts, and words. Victor does believe that human life matters, that life is precious, and that science is good for the world. Victor also values loyalty, kindness, reputation, family, and friends. Many of his values came from his family’s approach to living life. He had a kind and generous family who loved their children. Yet his obsession with controlling life moves him out of sync with these values. ”I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation” (Shelley 39). This quote shows how much time he is spending away from his family. It alludes to the idea that he is so focused on his work and reputation that he doesn’t take time to nurture relationships with family and friends.  It also shows how his work becomes an obsession.  He is possessed by the idea of reanimation. “I paused, examining and analysing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me—a light so brilliant and wondrous … I was surprised … that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret” (Shelley 38). Although light is usually portrayed as being good, this turns out to be a light that brings on evil consequences. Frankenstein is seduced by this light. His ego and self-importance grows as shown by his statement that only he out of all mankind has discovered the secret.

Shelley uses the word “secret” many times through the novel as Victor keeps the secret that leads to one murder after another.  “I avoided explanation and maintained a continual silence concerning the Wretch I had created … I could not bring myself to disclose a secret which would fill my hearer with consternation and make fear and unnatural horror the inmates of his breast” (Shelley 176).  Shelley is exemplifying Victor’s reluctance to share about the Wretch being made. That is his heavy secret.  Victor knows that sharing his secret will bring consternation and condemnation to his name and reputation. He had many chances to tell his family and friends about the potential danger of his new creation, a monster, and to prevent harm. Yet, he decided not to warn the community, fearing the consequences. The only person Victor was going to tell about his monster was Elisabeth. 

I have one secret, Elizabeth, a dreadful one; when revealed to you, it will chill your frame with horror … you will only wonder that I survive what I have endured. I will confide this tale of misery and terror to you the day after our marriage shall take place, for, my sweet cousin, there must be perfect confidence between us. (Shelley ?)    

From this evidence the reader can concur that Frankenstein is describing what his secret is to her. This quote demonstrates his fear and anguish about telling the truth to even his closest friend who he is going to get married to. He wants to tell her that he created the monster after their wedding so she can’t get out of their marriage. He desires an overarching comfort for their wedding and does not want to mess it up.

 Victor values his creation, the Wretch, over his well-being and his key relationships. “My labors would soon end, and I believed that exercise and amusement would then drive away incipient disease, and I promised myself both of these when my creation would be complete” (Shelley 42). Victor is saying that he believes he will become stronger after making his “creation”. The opposite is true and he sacrifices his well-being along the way. He is so consumed with his work, he neglects basic human needs like exercise and leisure activities. This, mentally and physically makes him more vulnerable, leading to sickness. He longs for the time his “labors would soon end”  and he would have more time for himself. When he is done creating the Wretch he thinks his physical and mental health will be restored. His prediction is proven wrong.

Victor abandons his morals of valuing life, resolving to murder the Wretch. “I suddenly beheld the figure of a man, at some distance, advancing towards me with superhuman speed … it was the wretch whom I had created. I trembled with rage and horror, resolving to wait his approach and then close with him in mortal combat” (Shelley 85). He is ready to expunge the Wretch from the world because he is evil and dangerous. He describes the want to “close with him in mortal conflict”. The creator becomes the destroyer. Victor is overcome with the desire for revenge and is filled with rage. Throughout the novel Victor is pursuing the Wretch with intentions to murder him. The obsession to create the Wretch is now the obsession to destroy it. 

Frankenstein acts more ethically and in accordance with his values, preserving life and his family, when he realizes that creating a second Wretch is an error. Even though the Wretch wants a partner to go through his life with him, and hopes for companionship and happy times, Victor realizes that making a new monster is a bad decision and destroys it. “The wretch saw me destroy the creature on whose future existence he depended for happiness, and with a howl of devilish despair and revenge, withdrew. I left the room, and locking the door, made a solemn vow in my own heart never to resume my labours” (Shelley 156). He kills the second Wretch because it may not be compatible with Wretch number one and it may cause more pain, suffering and death. The Wretch reacts with despair, sadness, and anger. It takes Victor making and destroying another Wretch to shift him back into alignment with his values. From Victor’s point of view, his decision was a good one for mankind but not a good one for himself. 

Towards the end of the book, the Wretch kills even more people that Victor loves and values.

 To summarize, Mary Shelley portrays Victor as a person who is constantly in turmoil because he violates his morals and values to pursue his scientific career. As he creates new life, the Wretch, he takes massive risks, holds dangerous secrets, and overlooks his most valuable relationships. He values his reputation more than protecting his loved ones. Shelley uses the Wretch as a mirror of ourselves so we can see when we are out of balance with our values. The second Wretch is a mirror of the first Wretch, which is finally the terrible vision Victor needs to bring him to his better self.


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