DEADBEAT DAD: SHELLEYS FRANKENSTEIN AS A FATHER FIGURE In the world we live in, it is nothing new to hear of young men fathering children and then disappearing, leaving the child to be raised without a father. A term for these filial flunkies has even become a part of our vernacular; the deadbeat dad. Mary Shelleys Frankenstein is a novel concerning the creation of life by a man, and his refusal to take responsibility for the life he has created. Victor Frankenstein, in his abandonment of his own creation at its birth and in his rejection of that creation when it seeks him out, is that parent who is not there for his child.
Shelleys Frankenstein, in those passages of the creation of the monster and the monsters confrontation of Frankenstein, contain ample proof that Victor Frankenstein was indeed a deadbeat dad. Shelley shows that Frankenstein rejects his creation, is disgusted by it and doesnt offer the parental guidance, love and compassion the creature so badly needs. Frankensteins abandonment of a being of his own creation directly leads to his personal downfall. When the reader reaches the creation of the monster in the novel, it is known that Frankenstein has not previously fathered a child. Frankenstein is actively engaged in this task of creating a living being out of inanimate flesh, he wants to bring life forth, it doesnt happen as an accidental occurrence. This is important to note in that Shelley sets up Frankenstein as one who willingly brings life into the world.
Chapter Five begins with Frankensteins account of the night he created the monster, or as he says: It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils (p. 42). Right off, Shelley gives us two ideas about Frankenstein as a father figure. First of all, we know that Frankenstein looks back on that night he brought life into the world, and he remembers it as dreary This immediately sets the scene as an unpleasant one, a tone that will last throughout this passage. Secondly, we know that Frankenstein has been indeed working for this end in that he calls it the accomplishment of his toils.
Frankenstein then recalls how he felt about what he had accomplished: 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 (p. 42). It would be an understatement to say he is disappointed. Frankenstein calls his creation of a new life a catastrophe.
He describes the being he has willingly, even wantonly created as a wretch. It is interesting that Frankenstein describes the physical appearance only, and that is what is so horrific to him. Shelley uses this idea that Frankenstein sees his creation as a wretch and catastrophe to show that he is already, at the moment of creation, forgetting his parental responsibilities. The saying goes all children are beautiful to their parents not so for Frankenstein. After this description of how visually disgusting Frankenstein finds his own creation, he then talks about how hard he worked to bring it to life: I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body.
For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation (p. 42). Once again we are told that Frankenstein wanted to accomplish this, he wanted to bring life into the world and now that it is here, staring him in the face, he doesnt like how it looks. Furthermore, we get the feeling that he is resentful of the creature, because he has worked so hard, and the creature is such a disappointment to him. This feeling is increased in the continuation of that same line: now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream had vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart (p.
42). It is as if an exchange has taken place, the life, the breath, that Frankenstein gave his creature has been replaced with horror. With this passage, Shelley parallels the idea of expectation versus reality that occurs with new parents. Frankensteins dream of creating new life has in reality, become his nightmare.
Shelley shows Frankenstein to be a father who is not at all happy with his child, and here based solely on its appearance. Frankenstein starts out as not only a bad father, but also quite a shallow one. And how does Frankenstein now deal with the situation He runs away and goes to sleep as he is unable to endure the aspect of the being I created (p. 42). This is not exactly the zenith of fatherhood. Frankenstein is visited by nightmares during this sleep, in one of which he sees his dead and rotting mother.
Shelley may be telling us here that the nurturing abilities of Frankenstein himself as a father and parent are dead as well. The female, and especially, the mother, is seen as the wellspring of compassion even today, but the feeling was much stronger when Shelley was writing, as male / female roles were more rigidly defined in the 19 th century. Shelley was raised without her own mother (she died giving birth to Mary), so she had first hand experience of the loss of a parent. Frankenstein wakes to find his new creation standing over his bed and the newborn tries to speak and even smiles at his creator. Frankenstein, in recounting the tale, doesnt see this as an act of a new being looking for the guidance and protection of his parent and the joy of finding him.
Through his language we can tell that Shelley tries to convey the disgust and contempt Frankenstein has for his creation: His jaws opened, he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks (p. 43). Frankenstein does not see a newborn trying to gurgle words to its father, he hears muttering. Frankenstein does not see a smile, but instead a wrinkled grin.
The fact that the creature is full-grown and somewhat more of a science project than a newborn baby does lower the parental expectations the reader has of Frankenstein. However, Shelley does convey the idea that Frankenstein is not living up to his responsibility to his creation. Through the language he uses, we can tell what Frankenstein feels for his creation. Shelley chooses the harsher words to convey the contempt that is there. Frankenstein wants no part of this creature and he runs from it, in his final flee from fatherhood: I escaped and rushed downstairs (p. 43).
It is interesting that Shelley has Frankenstein use the word escaped. This further shows his desire to be free of the responsibilities of fatherhood, to escape the duties he willingly brought upon himself. Frankensteins answer to the realization of fatherhood is to escape. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley has given us a picture of a father who is so shocked by the horrible appearance of the being that he has created, he wishes to escape the responsibilities that creating that life entail. We know that Victor Frankenstein became the creator of life willingly, but when he was faced with his offspring, he treated it with disgust and contempt.
The passage Shelley uses to illustrate this is the creation of the monster episode. Through Frankensteins actions and language we see that he is indeed remiss in his duties as a father. The consequences of this abdication of duties are the deaths of Frankensteins friends and family members, and ultimately his own personal ruin. Mary Shelley graphically demonstrates the price of being a deadbeat dad.