In this section you can read about all the main characters from Frankenstein:
- Victor Frankenstein
- Elizabeth Lavenza Frankenstein
- Alphonse Frankenstein
- Caroline Beaufort Frankenstein
- Henry Clerval
- the Dæmon
- the characters in general
(The links in the description refer to the full text of the novel from which the quotation is taken.)
Victor is born in Geneva as the eldest son in a distinguished family. As described by himself in the novel, he has a very pleasant childhood mostly thanks to two kind and indulgent parents and Elizabeth. Even as a child he has a violent temper, vehement passions and a thirst for knowledge. His first interest is poetry but after some time his attention focuses on science. This interest quickly turns into an obsession: he is completely dedicated to learning "the secrets of heaven and earth". His obsession is marked by radical changes in his character and health. He changes from a gentle, kind and healthy man to a selfish, sickly being who even loses contact with his beloved family for several years. Later, Victor says that he had been "misled by passion" and that he was under "the evil influence" of "the Angel of Destruction, which asserted omnipotent sway over me from the moment I turned my reluctant steps from my father's door".
It is only after the creation of the dæmon that Victor starts thinking about the consequences of his actions. The obsession had apparently blinded him from doing that before. He does not, however, take responsibility for what has happened. Actually, he seems quite eager to forget all about it, but of course the monster will not let him forget.
After the monster has told him his story, Victor does feel some compassion. He even feels responsible for his creation. However, the responsibility for his fellow human beings eventually takes over, as Victor decides not to comply with the monster's request after all. This sense of compassion for the dæmon completely disappears when Elizabeth is killed. The only thing that Victor can feel after that point is hate. His sole purpose in life, which used to be creating life from lifeless matter, now becomes avenging his family and friends by killing that newly created life: the monster.
Towards the end of his life, some of that violent hatred has disappeared but he does remain as passionate as ever. This results in some conflicting actions and comments made by Victor. On the one hand, him telling the story of his life can be seen as a very positive deed. By doing this, he ensures that the story is passed on to and serves as a warning for future generations. From this it might be concluded that he knows now that what he has done is wrong and that he finally takes responsibility for his actions. But on the other hand there is the scene on the ship when Walton's crew demands to return home. Victor responds to this by giving a very emotional and passionate speech. Among other things he accuses the men of cowardice and unmanly behaviour. If they were to abandon their expedition they would return home with a "stigma of disgrace". Judging by this speech, Victor has not learnt much of his ordeal. He apparently still feels that people should put their own feelings and desires above everybody else's. This is an interesting insight into Victor's selfish nature.
Another example of his selfishness is apparent in the way he deals with the monster's threats. It is obvious that the monster wants to hurt him. Victor believes therefore that it is only him that the monster wants to kill. It seems obvious, however, that the best way to hurt Victor is to hurt the people whom Victor loves. This is exactly what the monster does by killing Victor's friends and family. Victor, on the other hand, does not seem to realise this. If he had realised, he would have been more protective about for example Elizabeth. Essentially, there are two ways for Victor to escape from the revenge of the monster. One way is to kill the monster. Victor has tried this but the monster escapes him. The other way is to sacrifice his life for the life of his friends and family, in other words: to kill himself. By doing that, Victor would have taken away the means of revenge of the monster. That this tactic would have worked is proven by the final pages of the book. This drastic way of making the monster stop killing actually never crosses Victor's mind. He is not afraid to die however. When he is ill with fever, he even wishes he were dead: "Soon, oh, very soon, will death extinguish these throbbings and relieve me from the mighty weight of anguish that bears me to the dust; and, in executing the award of justice, I shall also sink to rest."
Elizabeth Lavenza Frankenstein
Orphaned at a very young age, Elizabeth lives with a Milanese peasant family before being adopted by the Frankensteins. She is brought to Geneva where they raise her as if she were their own. From the moment she enters the house, Elizabeth was meant to become Victors wife. Victor has always thought of Elizabeth as his ("No word, no expression could body forth the kind of relation in which she stood to me -- my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only."), therefore their marriage is inevitable.
A clear description of Elizabeth's appearance is given when her future adoptive parents first lay eyes on her: "this child was thin and very fair. Her hair was the brightest living gold, and despite the poverty of her clothing, seemed to set a crown of distinction on her head. Her brow was clear and ample, her blue eyes cloudless, and her lips and the moulding of her face so expressive of sensibility and sweetness that none could behold her without looking on her as of a distinct species, a being heaven-sent, and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features." Every word of this description can be seen as symbolic for the good, the angelic. As can be derived from other descriptions in the novel, Elizabeth embodies the perfect middle-class young woman. She is always calm and concentrated, she is unprejudiced, she loves poetry and the beauty of the countryside and she is forever loyal to her friends and family.
Victor's father Alphonse is a noble man and well-respected in the community. He is very protective and loyal towards his family and friends. For example, he always stood by his son when he was accused of murder, never questioning his innocence. He worships his wife Caroline as if to compensate for the sorrow she had to endure as a child.
Alphonse is patient, extremely benevolent and has great self-control. He can be regarded as a level-headed person as Victor states that his father "had taken the greatest precautions that my mind should he impressed with no supernatural horrors. I do not ever remember to have trembled at a tale of superstition or to have feared the apparition of a spirit. Darkness had no effect upon my fancy, and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm."
Caroline Beaufort Frankenstein
Being a caring person, Caroline as a young girl attends her sick father for several months. The circumstances are difficult for her but her courage pulls her through. She works hard and has numerous jobs that pay very little money.
After she marries Alphonse Frankenstein and finances are no longer a concern, she becomes a guardian angel to the ones less fortunate than her. She is tender, kind and indulgent towards her children. She is, in short, the perfect mother. The description of Caroline can be compared to Elizabeth's; both seem to be the definite image of femininity in eighteenth century middle to upper class ideology.
Henry is Victor's only friend. It is difficult to determine exactly why they are such good friends as the relationship seems somewhat one-sided. Throughout the book Henry stands by his friend: nursing him back to health and accompanying him on his travels.
Henry and Victor are opposites in many ways. It is clear that Victor admires Henry's sensibility, enthusiastic imagination and gentility. As opposed to Victor, Henry does not have an interest in science at all. He is more interested in literature ("heroic songs", "books of chivalry and romance"), language and nature. Although Henry too has an inquisitive mind and is anxious to gain experience and instruction, he never lets it interfere with his personal relations.
In the novel it is stated that Henry has a "clear insight into others". Because of this and also because of Victor's continuous bad health, Henry must have known that there was something terribly wrong with Victor. But Henry, being a loyal friend, never asks Victor about it. It is probably clear to him that Victor does not want to talk about it. Although one has to wonder what would have happened if Victor had confided in his friend. Maybe then Henry would not have had to pay the highest price for their friendship.
The outward appearance of the monster, who remains nameless, is described by his creator: he is created from various different body parts, he has yellow skin which "scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath", he has lustrous, flowing black hair and white teeth, he has a "shrivelled complexion and straight black lips." Combine these features with the fact that he is also very tall and the image of a monster is complete.
His appearance turns out to be the cause of all his problems. People are frightened when they see him, which keeps the monster from making contact with them. This inability of personal contact and the resulting isolation is what indirectly drives the monster to his crimes.
He has tried to communicate with people on several occasions but he keeps on being rejected. He has somewhat lost hope as he takes refuge in the hovel near the De Lacey's home. He observes them for months, learning their language and their habits. Through reading novels like Milton's Paradise Lost he starts wondering about himself and his isolation because of his apparent uniqueness: "I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence". It is obvious that he longs for some kindness, protection and company. These desires become even more evident when he reads the diary that Victor kept during his creation. From these papers, the monster learns that Victor was not at all happy with his creation. This makes him feel even more lonely and abhorred.
It is only when he is convinced of the De Lacey's goodness that he decides to try to make contact one more time. His initial talk with the old De Lacey is very positive. This is mainly because De Lacey is blind and therefore the monster's appearance cannot lead to any prejudiced ideas. The other family members return unexpectedly, however, and the monster is beaten out of the house. He still refuses to think evil of them and blames himself for being discovered. It is only when he finds out that the family out of fear has permanently left the cottage that the monster starts feeling negative emotions like hatred and revenge. These feelings are not directed towards the De Lacey family however, but towards his creator.
He later states that all the killings did not make him feel better. He says that he was "the slave, not the master, of an impulse which I detested, yet could not disobey", a state somewhat similar to the Victor's obsession with science. The monster, just as Victor, reaches a point where he has no feelings left except for hatred. When he sees that his final victim namely Victor Frankenstein, is already dead, he shows remorse. He has now accepted that there will never be any being who "pardoning my [the monster's] outward form, would love me for excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding." With an immense self-hatred, he promises Walton that he will "consume to ashes this miserable frame" so that future curious generations would not create "such another as I have been."
The characters in general
As is perhaps obvious from the character descriptions, most of the characters are so-called flat (or two-dimensional) characters. These characters are "built around 'a single idea or quality'" 1 and are not described in great detail. Their role in a literary work is usually to contrast with or to support the real protagonist(s). Flat characters therefore do not need to have the subtle representation and the developing character that round characters have.
In Frankenstein, the only three-dimensional characters are Victor Frankenstein and his creation. The others merely represent the stock types of goodness, benevolence and love.
- Abrams, M.H., ed. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 5th ed. United States of America: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1988.
1 "Character and Characterization", A Glossary of Literary Terms, ed. M.H. Abrams, 5th ed., (United States of America: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1988) 22-24.