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Mary Shelley’s 1818 publication ‘Frankenstein’ is inarguably one of the most famous stories in history. The story gives an account of a brilliant young scientist who undertakes groundbreaking research into immortality in humans. The young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, experiments with bringing humans back to life, and he is successful. Unfortunately, his experiment takes a horrific turn when his creation goes rogue. Victor spends much of his time and effort trying to stop the monster from wreaking any more havoc. While it is easy to dismiss Victor as an evil scientist and a terrible man, arguments can be made that he indeed possessed some traits of a good man and a brilliant scientist. Victor is ambitious, intelligent, and hardworking but also full of hubris, which turns him into a tragic hero.
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From the story’s beginning, Victor exudes a great aptitude for science. As a young boy, he is a quick learner and a voracious reader. Victor is particularly interested in out-of-date works of ancient alchemists and physicians. He continues to pursue his interest in science, especially chemistry and the human body, at the University of Ingolstadt. While at the university, he learned perhaps all there was to know about modern science and the concept of reanimation. Victor dedicates all his time to his studies and pushes himself to the limits of human intelligence.
Victor Frankenstein’s intelligence is also portrayed in his creation of the monster. He applies his thinking to a pursuit that most think is impossible; creating life from death. Victor is obsessed with the secret of life, and he dedicates his brain to deciphering it. He has a single-minded drive for success in creating life and eventually achieves this goal. He fashions a hideous monster out of part from dead human beings, and he can bring it to life. This scientific achievement is genius, even by today’s standards (Bowta & Puluhulawa, 2019). Victor achieves this because of his intelligence. Moreover, his brains come in handy later in the story when he has to track the monster in a quest to destroy it. He can track it through the Arctic, one of the most challenging terrains to survive in, let alone being able to track a monster.
Victor Frankenstein is also full of ambition, pride, and hubris. Firstly, it takes an overly ambitious individual to be obsessed with the idea of reanimation since he was a small boy, pursue the necessary scientific training, and experiment until he can give life to the dead. He eventually achieves his goal despite all odds being against him. Unfortunately, according to Higgins (2008), this ambition has its roots in pride and the pursuit of glory.
Victor’s pursuit of the idea of reanimation and the “secret of life” was in a bid for him to get global recognition as a brilliant scientist. He believes in himself that he takes a path that no one else before him had and tampers with the forces of life and death (Guimarães & de Cicco Sandes, 2018). This was extremely risky, given that these are forces that no one fully understood; he played God in a way that no human should (Higgins, 2008). His obsession with the subject leads him to reject the human connection. Victor had a single-minded drive for success that left him bereft of friends, family, or any form of love in his life. Victor cuts himself off from the rest of the world and obsessively pursues his goal of creating life. Later in the story, when his creation wreaks havoc, Victor is too proud to accept the failure or ask for help and sets himself on a journey to find and destroy the monster on his own.
Victor’s ambition and pride make him a tragic hero, one who is condemned to suffer because of their actions. He understands well that he should not be messing with the forces of life and death, but he refuses to accept this due to his ambition and pride. Instead, he desires to attain the godlike power of creating new life. When he brings the monster to life, it causes the deaths of several innocents, including Victor’s father. Although Victor is filled with guilt, shame, and remorse, he refuses to confess to anyone that he had created a monster. As the consequences of his act of genius spiral out of control, he is forced to cut himself off from the world and commit entirely to a deep desire for revenge and destroying his creation. Victor embodies the dangers of enlightenment and the responsibilities attached to great knowledge. He is a modern scientist unleashed to an unsuspecting world, not fully aware of the ramifications of his scientific endeavors. Victor suffers grievously due to his excesses instead of the praise and recognition he once hoped to get. According to Danisworo (2014), Victor’s behavior represents the impulsive part of the human psyche, which, though great for personal and professional achievement, can easily lead to man’s downfall.
Victor Frankenstein is a complex character who is easy to love and hate simultaneously. His intelligence, deep scientific knowledge and ambition are admirable, but his hubris and detachment from humanity make him a victim of his actions. While his love for science puts him on a path to greatness, he is doomed by his lack of humanity emanating from his hubris. Victor represents the impulsive part of the human psyche, which, though great for personal and professional achievement, can easily lead to man’s downfall.
- Bowta, F., & Puluhulawa, Y. (2019). Deconstructive Analysis Of Main Character In Frankenstein Novel By Mery Shelley. British (Jurnal Bahasa dan Sastra Inggris), 7(1), 60-71.
- Danisworo, A. (2014). The Dynamic of Id, Ego, and Superego of Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Doctoral dissertation, Thesis). Sanata Dharma University).
- Guimarães, M. D., & de Cicco Sandes, S. A. (2018). The Search for Knowledge and the Judgmental Society: A Brief Analysis of Frankenstein. Academic Writing, 63.
- Higgins, D. (2008). Frankenstein: character studies. A&C Black.