The word “Frankenstein” brings about images of a stiff, moaning, green zombie with screws in his neck, a square head, dark hair, and nothing but killing and terror running through his feeble brain. While this terrifying appearance may be a bit similar to the real thing, the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is actually an eloquent being with a desire to learn and be loved. This example of irony is just one of many found in Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. Initially a response to a horror story challenge by her neighbor, Lord Byron, Frankenstein soon became a novel that many have enjoyed throughout the years. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley crafts a tale layered with irony and plot twists that appealed to me as a reader.
Victor Frankenstein first appeared to me as a very complex character, but as I read on in Shelley’s novel, I realized that he is a man of repetition. Multiple times throughout the novel, I observed Frankenstein doing things that made other people happy, but tortured him inside. First, when Elizabeth and Victor visit Justine in jail after she has been sentenced to death for murdering William, Victor is forced to endure relentless feelings of sorrow and anguish because he knows that it was not Justine who murdered William, but rather, the monster that he created. These emotions build up on Victor until he can no longer contain himself; Victor breaks down, gnashing his teeth and groaning in despair. Unable to respond to Justine when she inquires about his actions, Elizabeth speaks for Victor, saying that he wholeheartedly believes that Justine is innocent. To this, Justine responds, “how sweet is the affection of others to such a wretch as I am! It removes more than half my misfortune; and I feel as if I could die in peace, now that my innocence is acknowledged by you, dear lady, and your cousin” (59). While Justine has finally found peace from Victor’s actions, Victor tumbles into even more anguish since he knows that Justine is doomed to die because of his creation. These opposite emotions are also found between Victor and his monster later in the novel. On the summit of Montanvert, the monster demands that Victor create a female mate for him, or else the monster will kill Victor’s family and friends. Desiring to preserve his family’s lives, Victor consents to the monster’s requests and begins creating a female for him. During the second monster’s creation, Victor states, “I went to it in cold blood, and my heart often sickened at the work of my hands […] a ghastly grin wrinkled [the monster’s] lips as he gazed on me, where I sat fulfilling the task which he had allotted to me” (120-121). The monster is overjoyed that his plan of revenge on Frankenstein is working, but the whole while, Victor is tortured by the fear and dread stemming from the work at his hands. The feelings of agony and anguish that Frankenstein feels while his cohorts simultaneously feel happiness add another level of irony to the novel that makes the story even more enjoyable and interesting.
The contrast of Elizabeth and Victor’s personas is an ironic twist in Frankenstein that I really enjoyed. Elizabeth is Victor’s cousin and eventual wife, adopted as a small child when her biological mother becomes destitute and cannot care for her any longer. Throughout the story, they are very close, but ironically have polar personas. From her appearance to her mannerisms, Elizabeth is characterized as an angelic character. Victor first describes Elizabeth as, “a child fairer than a pictured cherub—a creature who seemed to shed radiance from her looks and whose form and motions were lighter than the chamois of the hills” (17). This initial description automatically created, in my mind, a very positive image of Elizabeth; never did I question what Elizabeth did or thought. She always had a seemingly Christian outlook on life; she does not even want to condemn the unknown murderer of her youngest brother. However, Elizabeth’s angelic persona is contrasted with Victor Frankenstein’s almost demonic persona throughout the book, and this irony made the book even more enjoyable. Victor Frankenstein, creator of the eloquent but murderous monster, possesses a dark, evil, crazed persona deep inside of him that is only truly shown for a moment during a period of insanity when Victor creates his monster. At one of his lowest points, Victor says, “I shunned the face of man; all sound of joy or complacency was torture to me; solitude was my only consolation—deep, dark, deathlike solitude” (61). Rather than being with his family and friends when he needed them most, Victor chooses to shun all, and is consoled only by “deep, dark, deathlike solitude.” Shelley’s mastermind creation of a dark romantic protagonist whose closest companion is practically an angel added irony to her novel that made it, for me, more than just a simple monster story, but a tale of disparity between good and evil.
The stereotypical monster destroys, kills, and terrorizes those he comes in contact with, which is exactly what Frankenstein’s monster does. However, the irony in the monster’s behavior rests in his motives; the only reason that he commits these horrible deeds is his desire to be loved. Frankenstein’s monster has a hard start to life. Having never seen his own fearsome appearance before, the monster innocently approaches people, but the people are so frightened by this eight-foot tall zombie that they run in terror. This event occurs many times within the novel, specifically with: the man in the hut, in the village, and the people in the cottage that the monster studies. Frankenstein’s monster does not know why these people are running from him, but he does feel isolation and abandonment because of it. After a few days, while investigating papers he took from Frankenstein’s lab, the monster finds a journal of his creation. The monster laments, “I sickened as I read. ‘Hateful day when I received life!’ I exclaimed in agony. “Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? […] My form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred” (93). By this point, the monster has realized that his grotesque appearance is the reason why he is so alone and hated. Because others will not love him, this infuriates the monster, until he becomes dark and desires revenge on his creator, Frankenstein. Later, the monster finds Frankenstein on the mountain and demands that Victor creates a female monster so that he may finally love and be loved. With the threat of his family being murdered hanging over his head, Victor agrees and begins work on the female. This delights the monster, and he keeps watch as Victor creates his love. However, the monster’s life turns tragic as, “[Frankenstein] tore to pieces the thing on which [he] was engaged. The wretch saw [Victor] destroy the creature on whose future existence he depended for happiness” (121). Any hope the monster had for love is destroyed in two seconds. This throws the monster into a rage of fury and anger; the monster then kills Victor’s best friend and wife as revenge. Murder is not acceptable, but the monster’s troubled past and lack of love allowed me to feel sympathy for him. The irony in the conflicting emotions I felt towards the monster added another subtle layer to Frankenstein that convinced me even more of Shelley’s skill as an author.
An excellent example of the use of irony, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a novel that I enjoyed reading. Victor proved to be a simple character afflicted by agony, two close cousins actually were quite opposite people, and the monster only wanted to be loved. These plot twists were interesting and made Frankenstein a novel that I really did want to finish reading. However, I found that reading was a bit slow and bogged down by lengthy, repeated descriptions of Frankenstein’s misery. There were also a few chapters where Victor explored through the Genevan valley, but no real plot motion occurred. I felt that these descriptions, though very indicative of a Dark Romantic novel, were unnecessary and a tad boring. If not for the irony sprinkled throughout the text, this would be just a mediocre monster story. However, Shelley utilizes irony to its full extent, which makes this monster story one to be remembered over all the rest. Overall, I thought that Frankenstein was a great novel, and Shelley’s use of irony was exemplary, and should be echoed by authors to come.