Frankenstein: Mirrored Humanity and the Myth of Duality as seen in the Wretch and Frankenstein


In Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the myth of duality and the complexity of human nature are explored. Human nature is defined as “the fundamental dispositions and traits of humans” (“Human nature”). The concept was first explored by philosophers and biologists and later developed by scientists studying psychology and politics. Human nature is essentially what makes one human. It refers to specifically human emotions, motivations, and actions. Human nature has often been thought of in terms of its duality. Duality is “the quality or state of having two different or opposite parts or elements” (“Duality”). In terms of human nature, it suggests that humanity consists solely of opposing themes: kind and malicious, selfish and selfless, and more. However, it cannot be said that all of humankind is only good or evil, or both. Rather, humans most often fall into the gray area somewhere. By analyzing Frankenstein and the Wretch’s childhoods, the revenge and guilt they feel, the descriptive words they use, and how those words relate to the Sublime, it can be seen that Frankenstein and the Wretch mirror one another’s humanity and reflect the myth of duality in human nature to a great extent throughout the novel.

An evaluation of the Wretch and Frankenstein’s childhoods and subsequent character development proves how their dynamic personalities mirror one another and refute complete dualism in human nature. As described in Captain Walton’s letters about him, Frankenstein’s parents gave him constant lessons “of patience, of charity, and of self-control” (Shelley 19) and never failed to show how much they cared for him. When Victor becomes an adult, he develops a curiosity for science and teaches himself natural philosophy by reading the work of like-minded scientists such as Cornelius Agrippa. After showing him one such book, Victor’s father disregards it completely. “The cursory glance my father had taken of my volume by no means assured to me that he was acquainted with its contents, and I continued to read with the greatest avidity” (24-25). Due to the sudden lack of guidance from his father, Victor abandons the knowledge of kindness he had acquired earlier in his childhood. Instead, the dismissal motivates Victor to engage in a pursuit that eventually causes harm to all of the loved ones in his life.

The Wretch’s childhood is similar to Frankenstein’s in that the Wretch spends his early years educating himself on meaningful interests. The Wretch learns about humanity through various books like Constantin François de Chassebœuf Comte de Volney’s Ruins of Empires and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. He does so while observing a human family, the De Laceys, whom he longs to “discover the motives and feelings” (102) of. The Wretch has purely good intentions, just like Victor did when beginning his research. However, the horrified reaction he receives after introducing himself causes the Wretch to believe that “sorrow only increased with knowledge” (108) and fuels his ensuing pursuit of revenge. Victor’s father fails to provide guidance for him in his childhood, and Victor later abandons the Wretch right after creating him; the experience Victor has with parental figures mirrors that of the Wretch. Due to them being disregarded by their caretakers, both characters proceed to abandon the caring notions they possess to pursue self-educated interests. In his book Understanding Human Nature, Alfred Adler states that “an individual has so many experiences in life which change his attitude toward it” (Adler 10). The Wretch and Frankenstein change in terms of what motivates them and the actions they take as a result of parental experiences. However, neither character begins or ends as a completely good or bad person, proving the dynamic quality of human nature and its incapacity to conform to either good or evil.

 At various stages throughout the novel, the Wretch and Frankenstein experience similar feelings of revenge with distinct outcomes; in both, the emotion is not triggered by, or causes, only good or bad. As a result of being shunned by the humans he wished to belong with, the Wretch seeks vengeance on Victor. He explains, “You can blast my other passions, but revenge remains—revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food!” (Shelley 158). Frankenstein experiences similar feelings of revenge towards the end of the novel after the Wretch has killed Elizabeth and Victor’s father dies from the trauma of her death. Victor declares, “Scoffing devil! Again do I vow vengeance; again do I devote thee, miserable fiend, to torture and death” (195). Frankenstein pledges to kill the Wretch before he himself dies. Revenge acts as a foundation for the Wretch’s drive to torture Victor, but as a form of retaliation for Victor himself. Shelley mirrors the character’s feelings of revenge, a significant aspect of humanity, in one another. 

Guilt is also a shared emotion among the characters. Following Victor’s return home to Geneva and conversation with his family about the murder of William and the guilt of Justine, Frankenstein exclaims, “The tortures of the accused did not equal mine; she was sustained by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore my bosom and would not forgo their hold” (72). Justine’s wrongful conviction is the beginning of Frankenstein’s overwhelming guilt and grief about creating the Wretch, a feeling that later motivates him to discontinue the creation of another monster; it serves as a form of redemption for him. On the other hand, the guilt that the Wretch feels comes only after he commits all of the terrible acts he does. On Frankenstein’s deathbed, the Wretch exclaims, “Oh, Frankenstein! Generous and self-devoted being! What does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst” (209). The Wretch’s declaration, although remorseful, failed to prevent any of the previous harm he induced. Revenge is described as a normal human response to feeling slighted. Like many emotions in the human mind, evolution may have wired human brains to think that revenge will make them feel good, due to its part in increasing the value of them and their life (Price 34). Mark Zaslav writing for “Psychology Today” states that, on the other hand, guilt is a “first-hand emotional perception of wrong actions and agency of ‘self’”. The guilt the Wretch feels does not stop him from murdering Frankenstein’s family, and the revenge Frankenstein feels acts as motivation to correct his sins. proving neither emotion is a rigid example of right or wrong. Shelley confirms human nature’s tendency to fluctuate by demonstrating opposite effects from similar emotions.

The words the Wretch and Frankenstein use for themselves and one another relate closely to the mobiatic terror and delight in the Sublime interactions each of them has. The diction that the Wretch uses mirrors that of Victor and both convey humanity’s ability to change and exist on a spectrum. When Frankenstein decides to create the Wretch, he sees himself in the light of Prometheus: a creator of a new species who will love him like a father and “owe their being to [him]” (Shelley 40). Frankenstein predicts he will be a god-like guardian to his creation. However, after creating him, Frankenstein calls his creature “the Wretch ”, a “demon”, his “adversary”, and “nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave and forced to destroy all that was dear to me” (64), words conveying the newfound darkness he associates with the Wretch. The night he arrives back home in Geneva, Victor gets caught in the midst of a huge storm. “I watched the tempest, so beautiful yet terrific” (63). Frankenstein describes the storm as being both “beautiful” and “terrific”, demonstrating the way in which nature can appear both terrifying and lovely at the same time. The Wretch and Victor’s word choice changes from admirable to harsh, just like the storm. The Wretch assigns significant names to Victor as well, such as “my natural lord and kind”(87) but later on, “Slave” (157). In describing himself, the Wretch considers “Satan as the fitter emblem of [his] condition” (118). When staying in the De Laceys cabin, the Wretch experiences the seasons change for the first time. “It surprised me that what before was desert and gloomy should now bloom with the most beautiful flowers and verdure” (104). Like the storm that Frankenstein experiences, the flowers that the Wretch observes have an equal amount of beauty and gloom; they can at times be graceful and at times horrible, like the Wretch’s attitude towards himself and Victor. Human nature and humanity are also dynamic. The fluctuation of the words Frankenstein and the Wretch use to describe themselves and one another demonstrates Shelley’s deliberate mirroring of the characters. It also shows how the Wretch and Frankenstein, as well as the Sublime, reflect the myth of duality in human nature.

 Mary Shelley’s characters, the Wretch and Frankenstein, undergo childhoods that impel them to indulge in harmful passions. On his deathbed, Frankenstein advises, “how dangerous is the requirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, then he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow“ (39). Frankenstein and the Wretch’s behavior adjusts based on the knowledge they acquire and the negative experiences they have with their guardians, changing from innocent to selfish. Furthermore, the Wretch and Frankenstein experience similar but differently timed feelings of revenge and guilt. The emotions are caused by and result in actions that are neither only good nor only bad. Additionally, the varying diction both characters use to describe themselves and one another, as well as the subliminal moments they both have, demonstrate their ability to constantly change and make contradicting decisions. Shelley uses this multitude of relationships and emotions to prove how the Wretch and Frankenstein mirror one another’s complex humanity and convey the myth of duality.



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