Chaviva High School
Instructor: Ariella Landy
Nature vs. Nurture in Frankenstein
Nature vs. Nurture in Frankenstein
People's characters are shaped by their surroundings and upbringings. Frankenstein gave a being life, and this being had no concept of morality and no inclination towards good or evil. After being abandoned and rejected, the creature developed wicked tendencies, but this was just a reaction to his surroundings; he was abused so he became an abuser. If Frankenstein's monster had been nurtured instead of damaged, he would not have been so monstrous.
Frankenstein's monster was created with no understanding of what it meant to be good or evil. Victor abandoned him immediately after he gave him life, and the monster was forced to painfully figure out the world for himself. He describes his first day of life, not truly understanding anything, saying, "no distinct ideas occupied my mind; all was confused" (Shelley, 71). No one was there to teach the monster how to live in a moral way, or even what morality was. As he became more coherent, he took residency beside the cottage of a family, observing them through a hole in their wall, and learning what it meant to be human. When he witnessed the younger children placing their own share of food before their father, he was touched and described how "this trait of kindness moved [him] sensibly" (Shelley, 78). From that point on, he abstained from stealing their food, and to further relieve their troubles, he often "brought home firing [wood] sufficient for the consumption of several days" (Shelley, 78). Witnessing good and kindness caused the monster to behave in turn; without any benefit or compassion given to himself, the simple act of seeing decency prompted selflessness and charity. The monster had no inclination to do anything harmful, and as he learned more about humankind and their immorality, "[he] could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow" (Shelley, 84). How could the creature be murderous in nature if he could not even understand the concept of killing? With no premeditated qualities, the monster simply mimicked what he witnessed; if that had been solely kindness and compassion, he would have evolved to covet only those traits, and not commit any acts of malice or harm.
While Frankenstein's creature had no predisposed intentions, he was primarily met with cruelty and loathing from those he desired only kindness from, which turned him bitter and violent in turn. From the very beginning, Frankenstein himself spurned his own creature, and the monster felt the hatred of his creator more profoundly than any other. When they met and Frankenstein began abusing his monster, he exclaimed, "You, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature" (Shelley, 68). The monster wanted to believe that the one who gave him life would finally be the one who showed him mercy, but found Frankenstein had more contempt for his creature than anyone. Searching for companionship, the monster wandered into a village one of his first days of life, and when he entered a cottage, "The whole village was roused; some fled, some attacked [him], until, grievously, bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, [he] escaped" (Shelley, 74). With no knowledge of his physical appearance being different, this seemingly unexplained torture deeply hurt and confused the creature, whose peaceful approach was met with violence. The second detrimental act of malice the creature faced came from his "friends," the cottagers, whom he observed and had come to love (Shelley, 86). His reverence and desire for camaraderie from this family overtook the creature's thoughts; he worshipped them and planned for months a way to gain their admiration and eventually love. When he finally worked up the courage to beg and plead for kindness, the son took one look at the creature and, "in a transport of fury, he dashed [him] to the ground and struck [him] violently with a stick" (Shelley, 97). The physical pain was minimal compared to the emotional turmoil of being rejected by those whose love the creature perceived as almost godlike. Dejected and abandoned, the monster began his journey to his creator, whom he knew to abhor him, but hoped for retribution from. On his way, he came across a drowning girl and rushed to save her, selflessly pulling her from the rushing water. When her companion saw the monster, "he aimed a gun, which he carried, at [the creature's] body, and fired" (Shelley, 101). This final act of unprompted violence towards the monster made him question the very nature of humanity. He had saved someone's life and in turn, was excruciatingly injured and exclaimed, "This was then the reward of my benevolence!" (Shelley, 101). When all the creature ever desired or acted with was compassion, and all he was met with was loathing and malice, how could he be expected to retain a pure and moral soul?
A person's surroundings, family, environment, and upbringing are what shape their character, not a predisposed nature. Most children, if they're shown love, and their needs not neglected, and their social life stable, will grow up to be functional adults. That is because emotions develop during those years, and if nurtured, will develop healthily. However, if a person is abused, or witnessed abuse, during their formative years, they will most likely replicate that behavior in an abuse cycle. Daniel Heimpel says in his article 'Abused Children May Become Abusive Adults' that, "boys who were abused or neglected are more likely to become abusive with their partners in adulthood than those who had not been abused" (Heimpel). It is also found that most serial killers were abused, and the trauma causes them to suppress empathy and seek violence. Lack of relationships and acceptance can push someone to kill, as a study on what creates a serial killer says, "serial killers often are loners who fear all relationships and seek to control, to destroy other people to eliminate the possibility of another humiliating rejection." (Serial killers: Introduction). Because of Frankenstein's creature's physical appearance, he wasn't granted any human relationship or affection. In fact, when he reached out for it, he was brutally rejected and harmed further, both physically and emotionally. The monster's hatred of man was born of loneliness and abandonment. It is clear that abuse and even killing are not born from the character of a person, but rather a reaction to how the world treated them. The trauma the creature endured is not an excuse for his acts of violence, but it is definitely a reason as to why he was pushed to commit them.
While it is argued that the monster began good, it is undeniable that his actions later in the novel are evil. But could he still have been redeemed after he went as far as to murder? When the creature meets Frankenstein's younger brother, William, hearing the surname of his creator sent him into a rage which ended in William's death, as the monster recounts, "I grasped his throat to silence him, and in a moment he lay dead at my feet." (Shelley, 102). This act is the first real evil that is seen in the creature, but it too had reasoning; his anger towards his creator's abandonment and the desire to make Victor feel as lonely as his monster. The creature quickly realized this path of destruction towards Frankenstein will only end Victor's happiness, and not create his own. The monster formed a new plan, to beg his creator to end his loneliness and create a monstrous companion just as deformed as he was, so he might find solace in a creature like himself. The creature appeals to Dr. Frankenstein's sympathies and defends his own wrongs, saying, "Believe me, Frankenstein, I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity; but am I not alone, miserably alone?"(Shelley, 69). He explained that his sins were because of his lack of connection, and if Frankenstein granted him a companion, his soul would once again be pure and empty of maliciousness. When Victor expressed his reluctance to create another potentially horrible creature, the monster swears they will live away from the cities of men and never go near them again, declaring, "It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account, we shall be more attached to one another. Our lives will not be happy, but they will be harmless and free from the misery I now feel. Oh! My creator, make me happy;" (Shelley, 105). Victor finally relents and begins his work on a second creature, but soon his doubts overtake him and he destroys it in a fit of hysteria. The monster witnesses this and anguishes for his lost dream, as Victor recounts, "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." (Shelley, 121). If this second creature had been created and given to the monster, kindness and affection would have created a new narrative for him, one where he didn't have to be miserable and alone in the world. Because he was denied this, his misery increased and so did his horrendous acts; the monster would now go on to murder Victor's best friend and his wife. These deaths could have been avoided; if the monster was permitted to have companionship, he wouldn't have felt obligated to ensure Victor never would again.
Frankenstein's monster was murderous, inhuman, and unrelenting, but this was only a reflection of how the world treated him. While all he wanted was connection and kindness, he was scorned by his creator, loathed by all men, and unwelcome in every corner of the earth. The creature started off with pure intentions, and soon became the monster everyone perceived him to be. Evil isn't born, it is made by those who mistreat and harm.