Justice

Statue of Justice as seen on the top of the Old Bailey
Statue of Justice

Mary Shelley was brought up by parents who were keenly aware of society and the role of justice. Her father, William Godwin, was a political philosopher, and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a philosopher and feminist.

Mary Shelley's parents had taught her that all members of society should be valued regardless of wealth or their position in the class system. It is not surprising, therefore, that this is one of the key themes in Frankenstein.

How is the theme of justice shown in the novel?

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley examines justice from a number of angles. Some of the key aspects are:

  • the legal system
  • personal justice
  • collective justice

How does Shelley show this?EvidenceAnalysis
The legal systemAlthough there is a clear legal system in place, it is evident that it is less than perfect. Both Victor and Justine find themselves accused of murders they did not actually commit and are placed in prison. Justine, who is wholly innocent of William's death, is then executed.Before, I looked upon the accounts of vice and injustice that I read in books or heard from others as tales of ancient days or imaginary evils; at least they were remote and more familiar to reason than to the imagination; but now misery has come home, and men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other's blood.Elizabeth reflects on the guilty verdict and sentence of execution that Justine has received. Elizabeth has had a sheltered upbringing and to her, evil and injustice are things which only happen in stories. However, her recent experience has led her to change her opinion and she now realises that injustice is all too real. Ironically she compares humans to 'monsters thirsting for each other's blood.'
Personal justiceWhen Victor creates the Monster, his first act is to run away from it and deny any personal responsibility. The Monster, however, pursues him and demands personal justice from its creator. Above all, it seeks justice in the form of a companion - something which Victor at first agrees to and then backs down on."Unfeeling, heartless creator! You had endowed me with perceptions and passions, and then cast me abroad an object for the scorn and horror of mankind. But on you only had I any claim for pity and redress, and from you I determined to seek that justice which I vainly attempted to gain from any other being that wore the human form."The Monster's language here is rather melodramatic which reflects the strength of its feeling about the injustice it has suffered both from Victor and indeed the rest of mankind. Sentences are complex, showing the Monster's ability to construct a clear argument.
Collective justiceWhile justice is seen as something personal and individual, it is also something in which each individual shares as a collective group. The Monster's isolation is completed by the reaction he receives from mankind generally which cannot see beyond his hideous outward appearance.'I was roused by half a dozen of the sailors, who demanded admission into the cabin. They entered, and their leader addressed me. He told me that he and his companions had been chosen by the other sailors to come in deputation to me to make me a requisition which, in justice, I could not refuse.'Unlike Victor, Walton abandons his journey of discovery and decides to turn back. He does this at the request of his crew members who have grouped together to make a persuasive case. Shelley shows the reader that sometimes the needs of a collective group must outweigh the desires of an individual person.

Analysing the evidence

Question

What does Mary Shelley have to say about organised systems of justice?

  • Both Justine and Victor are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.
  • Justine, who is completely innocent, is executed while Victor, who bears a high degree of responsibility for Henry's death, is ironically released.
  • When Victor approaches the law to help him hunt down the Monster after Elizabeth's killing, the magistrate he talks to refuses to believe his story.

The reader is led to the conclusion that the legal system is flawed and that real justice cannot necessarily be found through a regulated system.