Prejudice in Frankenstein

An angry mob, from the 1931 film 'Frankenstein'. A crowd is gathered, and many men are brandishing flaming torches
The Monster faces prejudice from a violent mob

Prejudice and its effects are traced by Shelley in the novel and are centred on the experiences of the Monster. Rejected by his creator and everyone else he encounters, the Monster soon finds itself despised and alone in the world. It withdraws into a state of isolation and utter misery but this in turn leads to the development of an intense hatred and a desire for revenge. The central wrongdoer in its eyes is its creator, Victor.

How is the theme of prejudice shown in the novel?

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley shows how prejudice leads to feelings of loneliness and the desire to retaliate and destroy. Some of the key aspects are:

  • intolerance
  • isolation
  • hatred and revenge

How does Shelley show this?EvidenceAnalysis
IntoleranceAlthough Victor starts by trying to create a thing of beauty, he succeeds only in developing an enormous and terrifying Monster, repulsive to look at. Despite educating itself and being able to argue in a rational and civilised way, the Monster is judged almost solely by outward appearances and is shunned, beaten and even shot at by the people it meets.Suddenly, as I gazed on him, an idea seized me, that this little creature was unprejudiced, and had lived too short a time to have imbibed a horror of deformity. If, therefore, I could seize him, and educate him as my companion and friend, I should not be so desolate in this peopled earth........ He struggled violently. "Let me go," he cried; "monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me, and tear me to pieces -- You are an ogre."'Thinking that William Frankenstein (ironically he is also described as a 'creature') is far too young to have developed a sense of intolerance and prejudice, the Monster plans to have him as a friend or companion. Even at such a young age, however, William has been influenced by the prejudices of adults (probably through the fairy stories he will have heard) and is revolted by the Monster's outward appearance.
IsolationAs the Monster is not tolerated by so-called civilised people, it withdraws to remote and distant landscapes where it becomes solitary and bitter and has time to brood on the prejudice it has encountered. In desperation, it demands that Victor create a companion to ease its loneliness."We may not part until you have promised to comply with my requisition. I am alone, and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species, and have the same defects. This being you must create."The Monster tries to convince Victor to construct a companion for him. It uses both a threat ('We may not part') and a personal appeal ('I am alone and miserable') as part of its argument. The repeated use of the word 'must' shows that the Monster is, at this point, in control of the situation.
Hatred and revengeEventually the Monster develops a sense of hatred for mankind in general and Victor in particular, and does all it can to destroy his creator's peace of mind. The murder of Elizabeth turns Victor into a second instrument of revenge and the tables are turned as he now pursues the Monster to the frozen Arctic, vowing to destroy it for ever. "Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear; and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care: I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth." A fiendish rage animated him as he said this; his face was wrinkled into contortions too horrible for human eyes to behold.Once again, the Monster uses melodramatic language to make its point as its argument builds to a climax. It uses very strong verbs and nouns ('revenge', 'injuries', 'arch-enemy', 'hatred', 'destruction') to highlight its fury. The repeated use of the phrase 'I will' demonstrates the Monster's determination and power. Its inner rage is mirrored by even more sinister changes in its outward appearance.

Analysing the evidence

Question

Is the Monster the only character who suffers from prejudice?

  • As a stranger on the Irish coast, the local people are suspicious that Victor has murdered Henry (of course, they are in a way correct, but it has nothing to do with Victor being an unfamiliar person in those parts).
  • Justine is condemned to death partly because of her lack of social status.
  • The De Laceys are the victims of political prejudice. Ironically they later attack the Monster because of his hideous appearance.
  • Some of Victor's decisions are motivated by a fear of other people condemning him.

Shelley shows that prejudice is an evil which is experienced by many of her characters. The reader is made aware that prejudice is widespread and is not just something based on physical appearances.

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