The Doppelganger motif of Victor Frankenstein and the Monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Walking through the streets of nowadays’ Prague, I became acquainted with an example of the very vivid traditions and legends of the Jewish population during the medieval times. My tourist guide took me to see the Jewish cemetery and the Jewish alley, which back then was a part of the Ghetto in Prague. “You know, the Jews in Prague suffered from a lot of accusations which had to do with their way of living, and which had their roots in the traditional behavior of the Christian central European society,” my guide told me. “That’s why, one day, a rabbi created a creature to help the Jews against those incriminations, the Golem.” According to my guide, the rabbi – much like God – formed the Golem out of clay; a creature that looked like a human but was not able to speak, only to take orders and fulfilled them. When the Golem was not needed anymore – and because it caused some troubles that seemed to scare people – the rabbi took away life from his creation and the Golem returned to be the clay he had been before. My guide showed me the little lot of clay in the synagogue that is believed to be the rests of the Golem. Later I became aware of the many adaptations this story had in literature and film. Often the image of the Golem was rendered into a vicious creature that cannot be controlled by his inventor anymore, causing death and illnesses where ever he appears. In this sense the story of the Golem has many parallels with Frankenstein’s creation: the Monster1.
Alike the story of the Golem the story of the Monster is one of a creation that gets beyond control. Frankenstein, in an attempt to play God, creates a thing that is supposed to make him famous and that will earn him the respect of the scientific world. In that very process of creation he is not aware of the effects this could cause later; his only concern is to be the first to install the breath of life into a being he created on his own. It is an attempt that shows his great ignorance and also his arrogance towards god as the only creator. This vanity is later to be punished be the hands of his own creation, and he realizes it only to late and only in retrospection: “How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? [...] but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelley, 39). Frankenstein turns away from his creation and is thus to be the first human turning his back on the Monster. In fact, the Monster – very much like any child – is just looking for parental love, for friendship; but society abandons him repeatedly so he becomes a villain. This is not only his fault alone. Frankenstein by turning his back on the creature he made is much more to blame.
Actually, reading the novel as a romantic novel, it is Victor who is solely responsible for all the death and destruction caused by his Monster, “[a]s a romantic novel Victor is responsible, because he abandoned his creation” (Anonymous (8)). But the text can also be read differently. “As an archetype novel, Victor is the villain, because he was trying to play god [sic]” (Anonymous (8)). Nevertheless there is an even more interesting way of understanding the novel: “as a Gothic novel, Victor is at fault, because, he and the creature are two different parts of the same person” (Anonymous (8)). Bearing in mind that the creation of the Monster is very similar to the Biblical creation of Adam, and also bearing in mind the allusions and the intertextuality to Milton’s Paradise Lost, the Monster can be seen as the copy of his creator, just as God formed Adam according to his own image. He is a kind of Doppelganger to Victor Frankenstein. Doppelgangers are often seen as one’s reflection; sometimes their appearances are believed to foreshadow bad luck, illnesses and even death (Anonymous (1)). These ghostly images are often reported to look like the original person, act like them, mock them or harm them; but still they are no physical appearances, just a mere shadow of the original person. Many persons, among them famous people like Abraham Lincoln (Anonymous (1)), are reported to have seen their own image. It is not a big surprise that even Percy Shelley seemed to have had one of those visions foreshadowing his own death. Under this perspective it can be assumed that Victor Frankenstein and the Monster is one and the same person, although distinct – and even opposite – in some points of their personal history. They are thus very much like dichotomies: Victor has a loving and caring family, his parents give him any opportunity to gain knowledge; he is described to be a handsome man; he marries the woman he loves and he is a well-respected member of society. In contrast the Monster is born without a family and his father turns away from him in disgust; he self educates himself by reading the books he finds – among them Paradise Lost and Victor Frankenstein’s notebook on the process of his creation; he is described as a horrible looking being; he is alone and society expels him.
Taken for granted that Victor Frankenstein and the Monster are the same person, “Victor and the creature must be viewed as a part of a bigger character, not actually in the novel [...] Victor is the conscious part of the greater person, while the creature is the subconscious part” (Anonymous (8)), it is not the Monster who is to blame for the deaths of Victor Frankenstein’s little brother William, Justine and Elizabeth. Even though at first glance it might seem that the Monster is wholly responsible for his actions, it is Victor Frankenstein who provides the Monster with the actual possibilities do kill those people2. He leaves traces of where to find his family so the Monster can go and kill his brother. Along with this goes also the death of Justine that Frankenstein fails to avoid. “I shall be with you on your wedding-night,” Victor is told by the Monster. He would have had the powers to prevent Elizabeth’s death, but in his vanity and egocentric way of seeing things he totally neglects the possibility for Elizabeth to be killed. “So although, Victor isn't the one actually doing the killing, his subconscious ideas are the things that lead to Elizabeth and William's death” (Anonymous (8)).
Thus it is demonstrated that Victor Frankenstein has an evil twin, a Doppelganger who ruins his life. It is even possible, as shown above, that Victor Frankenstein and the Monster are two parts of the same person. But to what conclusion does this lead us? One suggestion is that the whole novel can be read as the decline of one person, of one villain, such hinting at the fact that Victor Frankenstein is the true villain of the story. Victor realizes this – he realizes his vanity and tries to warn Walton – and tries to kill the Monster, very much like the rabbi who wants to destroy his Golem after he was out of control. But the only way of destroying the Monster is by his very own death. As they are both the same person one cannot survive without the other.
Anonymous (1). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doppelg%C3%A4nger. 12.10.2006.
Anonymous (2). http://www.directessays.com/viewpaper/84459.html. 12.10.2006.
Anonymous (3). http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=14624. 12.10.2006.
Anonymous (4). http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=4794. 12.10.2006.
Anonymous (5). http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=7827. 12.10.2006.
Anonymous (6). http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=4795. 12.10.2006.
Anonymous (7). http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=4793. 12.10.2006.
Anonymous (8). http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=4791. 12.10.2006.
Anonymous (9). http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=5577. 12.10.2006.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: 1818 Text. Oxford. 1998.
1 It will be necessary to capitalize the Monster when it is referred to Frankenstein’s Monster, as there is no distinct name to it.
2 It must be kept in mind that the Monster did not kill Justine, but in a way her death was caused by the Monster’s appearance.