Duality of Human Nature


Duality is a presence that constitutes many important parts of the world. It is, at its core, the idea that nothing is singular: to have existence is to have contrast, but in that contrast there is still connectivity (“Cambridge Dictionary”). When discussing the duality of human nature, it is broadly “the intuitive and psychological confusing nature of mankind to be twofold” (“Urban Dictionary”). It suggests that all humans have opposing forces making up their personalities and this governs their way of life. More directly, the duality of human nature can be broken down to the intentions in which one starts an action: whether that action is rooted in benevolence, or in selfishness. The myth of duality in terms of human nature suggests that no person can be solely good or solely evil, that it is so much more complex than just looking in terms of those extremes. This grayness is what makes the feeling of humanity so specific to humans: so imperfect and flawed yet beautifully complex. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley explores the myth of duality through her characters of Victor Frankenstein and the Wretch. Instead of making Frankenstein and the Wretch antagonists or protagonists that are starkly good or evil, Shelley makes them human. By complexifying these characters, she portrays the nuances of humanity, showing that only taking into account duality cannot sum up humanity at its fullest. Explored through the detailed definitions of good and evil and the expression of these polarizing characteristics in Frankenstein, the Wretch and Frankenstein show that it is the intentions behind an action that is more indicative to the nature of a given person than the idea that humans are predisposed to be good or evil. This reflects the myth of duality in the nature of humans.

Evil and good must be defined before detailed examples of the expression of these polar characteristics in Frankenstein can be explored. In Roy W. Perrett’s “Evil and the Human Nature” he explores the defining concept of what constitutes “evil”:

Firstly, in order to be evil the wrongdoing must flow from a particular kind of character. Secondly, the wrongdoing must be motivated in a particular way: it must be a wrongdoing which is done because it is wrong. Thirdly, the agent will take pleasure in the wrongness of the action. Finally, the agent will fail to exhibit the morally appropriate reactive attitudes (guilt, shame, regret, etc.) to her wrongdoing. (Roy 1)

Due to the fact that the Wretch and Frankenstein both felt shame and regret for their actions, in most cases do not take pleasure in the action and do not do the action solely because it was wrong, it can already be seen that neither the Wretch or Frankenstein are evil. In some cases, they may have met one of the four classifications of evil, but never were they all four. They have had wrongful moments, but neither of them were evil in Perrett’s definition of evil. 

Although they are not solely bad, they are unarguably not fully good either. Good is defined as “of a favorable character or tendency” according to the Marrian-Webster dictionary and cannot be something that a person is their whole life, proven extremely through Frankenstein and the Wretch. Just as Frankenstein and the Wretch have tendencies toward alternating good and evil behaviors, the plight of humanity is constantly moving and changing in relation to the intentions of behavior performed by individuals.

Victor Frankenstein, the “Cursed, cursed creator!” (Shelley 125) of the Wretch, goes through a constantly changing journey of being both good and evil based on his motivations and the actions that he performs as a result. His character represents the myth of duality in the nature of humans to a great extent, and he represents many individuals in society, who are navigating “the battle-line of good and evil [that] runs through the heart of every man” (Solzhenistyn). Victor’s  so-called “evilness” was displayed when he abandoned “the miserable monster whom [he] had created” (44) in his shame and disgust. Instead of nurturing his creation, for “[he] has desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation,” (41) he leaves the Wretch to learn the difficult nature of life and to live on his own without the guidance of a knowledgeable parent figure. This act, although it was certainly wrong, was born of cowardice and self-hatred, rather because he was evil at the core. Another act summing up the selfish, wrongness in Victor was his decision to keep the secrets of the Wretch hidden because he thought that “such a declaration would have been considered as the ravings of a madman” (68). When he finds out that the Wretch murdered his brother, Victor exclaimes, “no one can conceive the anguish I suffered” and yet, this guilt does not provoke him to confess. Even when he has evidence to stop an innocent from being wrongly convicted of the crime, he will not confess. But although this is very dishonest and selfish it is not evil. He was not motivated maliciously, and “suffered great and unparalleled misfortunes” (14) because of the actions that he did. It may not be on the same level as murder, but his crime of abandonment caused the Wretch to become a murderer. If he had, at least in the beginning, shown the Wretch some kindness, then maybe Victor would not have suffered so greatly. But Shelly does not write him like this, and in doing so, she portrays that humans are not solely good or solely evil but at the mercy of their motivation. 

 Even though Victor has many bad, and unforgivable moments, he still has parts of him that are benevolent, as there are parts in all of us that are benevolent. Victor’s goodness manifests in his love for his family and his selfless act of saving humankind by not creating another Wretch. Throughout Frankenstein, all he ever wants to do is to “protect [them] from the fancied rage of his destroyer” (151) and shelter his family. When the Wretch murders his brother, he is distraught and heartbroken, for the love of his family has sustained him. This benevolence further proves that despite his wrong acts of selfishness and cowardice, Victor is still motivated to be good and to love. Another act that Victor’s goodness manifests in is his selfless decision to not create another Wretch, saving humanity and damning himself in the process. When the Wretch tracks down Victor in the Alps, he gives an awe-invoking story to propose his argument for why Victor should create another, female counterpart to the Wretch. The Wretch states that “I am malicious because I am miserable” (134) and this serves to provoke a tinge of pity in Victor. And although Victor agrees to make another Wretch, when he is about to give life into the creature, he rethinks his decision and promise. “Had I right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations?” (153), he wonders. Victor realizes that “selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race” (153). In this realization that Victor cannot be selfish for himself when all of humankind is on the line, Victor shows that he can be motivated to act benevolently even with selfish deeds in the past. In these two acts Mary Shelley portrays that we can regress to goodness even if awful crimes have been committed. 

The Wretch’s benevolence is represented by his love for humankind and the innocence in which he behaves in the beginning of the story. In the beginning, the Wretch is seen as good, his only fault being that he is “hideously deformed and loathsome” (108) to look at, and that is not even something that he can control. His wrongness starts to accumulate in the vengeance that he feels toward his creator and the unforgiving nature towards all humankind that he gains throughout the book. But even this can be argued that it was inevitable, because of all the horrible and unfair treatments that he had endured. When the Wretch wakes up and wanders from his place of creation, bewildered by the environment, “half frightened … finding [himself] so desolate” (90) he knows nothing of humankind. All he knows is that humans are scared of him, and he has no place of belonging. When he finally finds a safe haven to rest, he starts observing a family, and “the gentle manners of these people” (98) inspired great love and devotion to them. He is at awe with “the love and respect which the younger cottagers exhibited towards their venerable companion,” (98) and wants more than anything to be part of this family. His goodness is his love of the family in which he grows up with, and although they never saw him, “[he] learned … to admire their virtues and to deprecate the vices of mankind” (116). In all his time with them, he loves and admires their beauty and companionship. All of his small acts of kindness and devotion are those of pure goodness, and this gentle manner inside the Wretch proves that he can be good.

The Wretch’s evilness appears in the extremeness in which he blames humankind for his creation and tortures his creator. Although it is arguable that he was justified in all of his actions, the level of maliciousness and torment that he inflicted was something that was not necessary. The Wretch, in whole, was motivated by an immense kind of loneliness and separation that he could only feel from being the only one of his kind. As well as this sense of loneliness, he says “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” (123). These motivations drove him in all his actions, especially the first evil act in the murder of Victor’s brother. This act was motivated by the desire to have a companion but when finding out that this young boy, who refused to see beyond the Wretch’s appearance and accept him, was Victors brother, the Wretch murders him. He “sworn eternal revenge” (131) to Frankenstein, and this boy  “shall be my first victim” (131). In this first murder, the Wretch feels intense satisfaction in hurting his creator. “I gazed on my victim, and my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph; clapping my hands, I exclaimed, ‘I too can create desolation; my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him’” (131-132). In this, the motivations of the Wretch’s actions are seen. He is motivated by the desire to inflict the same torture on his creator as his creator has inflicted upon him. In this, he represents the need of humans to feel like they are not the only one experiencing pain. Humans inflict emotional pain on other people just to feel like they are not alone.

 Frankenstein is a work of astute fiction that discusses complex and heartbreaking topics on the nature of humanity, and the balance of opposing forces that the world combines. Through various examples that tie back to the meaning of Frankenstein, it can be proven that the Wretch and Victor represent both the good and the bad in humanity, neither more than the other. This novel demonstrates that nothing is ever black or white and the beauty and uniqueness of humanity is in its grayness and indeterminate neutrality of character. Refuting the idea that humanity is only singular in its duality, Frankenstein describes the complexity of humans, and the need for patience and diligence when determining the nature of a given person. Through the concept of good versus evil and examples of these opposing presences in Frankenstein, the Wretch and Victor are concluded as dual presences in the world, confirming the idea that evil and good are broadly an illusion and the true nature of humans can be gathered from the motivation of an act: whether it was done in benevolence of selfishness.









Works Cited

BBKF. “Duality of Man.” Urban Dictionary, 15 Dec. 2007, www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=duality%20of%20man. Accessed 11 Apr. 2022.

“Carl Jung Quote.” LibQuotes, libquotes.com/carl-jung/quote/lbv6n1s. Accessed 7 Apr. 2022.

“Duality.” Cambridge Dictionary, dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/duality. Accessed 17 Mar. 2022.

“Duality: An English Unit – Lesson 03 – The Philosophy of Duality.” YouTube, 30 Nov. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO63162Npa8&t=626s. Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.

“Duality of Human Nature in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” BBC Bitesize, www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z92trdm/revision/3#:~:text=Stevenson%20writes%20about%20the%20duality,and%20the%20decisions%20you%20make. Accessed 4 Apr. 2022.

“Good.” Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/good. Accessed 4 Apr. 2022.

“Human.” Collins Dictionary, www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/human. Accessed 8 Apr. 2022.

Masters, Roger D. “From Duality to Complexity in the Study of Human Nature.” Politics and the Life Sciences, vol. 13, no. 1, Feb. 1994, pp. 112-15. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4236013?seq=1. Accessed 23 Mar. 2022.

Miller, Trudi C. “The Duality of Human Nature.” Politics and the Life Sciences, vol. 12, no. 2, Aug. 1993, pp. 221-41. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4235959. Accessed 27 Mar. 2022.

Ozolins, Aija. “Dreams and Doctrines: Dual Strands in ‘Frankenstein.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 2, no. 2, July 1975, pp. 103-12. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4238931?seq=1. Accessed 30 Mar. 2022.

Perrett, Roy W. “Evil and the Human Nature.” The Monist, vol. 85, no. 2, Apr. 2002, pp. 304-19. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27903774?seq=1. Accessed 4 Apr. 2022.

Robert, Jason Scott. “Rereading Frankenstein: What If Victor Frankenstein Had Actually Been Evil?” The Hastings Center Report, vol. 48, no. 6, Nov.-Dec. 2018, pp. 21-24. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26777229?seq=1. Accessed 28 Mar. 2022.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Diane Johnson. Frankenstein. Bantam reissue ed., New York City, Bantam Dell, 2003.