The Theme of Guilt in the Novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley Analytical Essay

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Guilt is an intense emotion that allows an individual to either confront a situation and free themselves of guilt or avoid the emotion by placing blame onto others. Anyone can feel the feeling of guilt for something he did or failed to do. It is true that as a human being, we always feel unhappy or even worry if something bad happens because of our own actions.

Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein is rich in themes that illuminate the complexities and contradictions of the human experience. Yet, the theme of guilt and how it affects the behavior of human beings serves as a particularly significant one worthy of deeper exploration. The theme of guilt permeates the behavior and psychological motivation behind the actions of the characters in the novel. Specifically, the idea of guilt is expressed in Frankenstein with Victors guilt of neglecting the creature causing to have blood on his hands, risk of alienation, situations in families, society in general. Conversely, the theme of guilt is not entirely dark. Throughout the piece the author offers hope for salvation that prove pertinent in contemporary times. The novel by Shelley renders the theme of guilt in a manner that captures both the light and dark of the human experience and the capacity for individuals to regain a sense of hope and dignity through the adversity encountered over time.

The theme of guilt was expressed by Victor Frankenstein for the creature that he created, and the actions the creature committed. Victor’s intentions for creating the creature were right from the beginning, but the creature turned out to be something different from what he expected and brought harm to society. Victor demonstrated his guilt for the creature he had created by fearing it, “I escaped, and rushed downstairs. No mortal could support the horror of that countenance” (Shelley). Despite him being the person responsible for the looks and features of his creature, ironically, instead of liking what he created he feared it. After seeing his creature, he said that; “breathless horror and disgust crammed my heart”(Shelley). This event exactly showed that he was not happy for his creation. The description of the creature as having dark hair, yellow epidermis, black lips and eyes sunk into his sockets (Shelley). These features were not what he expected his “perfect” human to have.

Additionally, guilt was expressed by Victor after he abandoned his own creation. Immediately after creating it, he was not impressed by the looks and features of his creature, which forced him to abandon it. The creature was forced to wander on its own through Europe. His actions are irresponsible, he ignores taking care of his creation and neglecting it. When Frankenstein was on the mountain, and the Creature came running to him, the Creature told Frankenstein his feelings. Questioned him on why Frankenstein had left him alone but also demanded him to create him a female companion, “What I ask of you is reasonable and moderate; I demand a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself: the gratification is small, but it is all that I can receive, and it shall content me” (Klammer). The Creature said then he will leave Frankenstein alone, once he has someone to keep him company. Frankenstein began to wonder if he did what the creature told him. Would the monster really leave? He does not create this other creature for the monster. The creature then goes on a rage, he told Victor, “I may die; but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery.” (Shelley). Telling Victor, he will be cursed for not following what he has demand. There will be blood put on Victors had for this.

Furthermore, Frankenstein was guilty for the murders that the creature caused. William, Clerval, Elizabeth and Justine death were indirectly with him linked those he had earlier abandoned his creature and failed to be accountable for the creature’s activities. After the monster murdered his brother, Victor said; “I considered the being whom I had cast among mankind, and endowed with the will and power to effect purposes of horror, such as the deed, which he had now done, nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave, and forced to destroy all that was dear to me” (Shelley). Victor as well was aware why the monster was fiery, “Misery made [him] a fiend” (Shelley). This demonstrates that Victor knew that his actions towards his creature made him commit the murders. Victor made it clear that he felt that he was a murderer, that he had the deaths upon his love ones. This demonstrated that he was guilty for the crimes that his creature committed. He then gave a confession that showed that he was guilty for the deaths by saying that; “I did confess, but I confessed to lie. I confessed that I might obtain an absolution. Ever since I was condemned, my confessor has besieged me…until I almost began to think that I was the monster he said I was” (Shelley).

The creature in the story commits terrible killings that precipitate feelings of guilt and subsequent alienation. Overcome by guilt for the harm and grief caused to others, the creature ironically confronts a human sense of consciousness, whereby it must pay a penance for the pain endured by others in order to assuage the sense of alienation experienced. The theme of guilt related to alienation operates on multiple levels in the novel. Firstly, the monster ultimately commits suicide in the piece, as it becomes overwhelmed with guilt for the destruction enacted (Sarkar). Further, the monster symbolizes the guilt and subsequent feelings of alienation endured by Frankenstein at his own death stemming from his obsession in trying to create the creature, and the toll it has taken on those closest to him (Shelley). Finally, the guilt-inspired alienation also may well represent said feelings within Mary Shelley who separates from her own family to live with Percy Shelley in Switzerland where she creates the novel (Dussinger). Echoing the relationship with alienation, guilt also shapes ideas of family within the piece and beyond. Particularly, the character of Frankenstein encounters chiefly the impact his dedication to creating the monster has on his familial relationships. The murder by the creature of his bride Elizabeth Lavenza serves as the ultimate factor behind the guilt, which overtakes Frankenstein (Shelley).

However, this guilt and strain related to the family seems to manifest only later when the character is near death and must confront the reality of his life. Along these lines, Shelley herself encounters discord with her family, particularly her father, concerning her life choices and viewpoint of existence (Dussinger). As such, the Frankenstein, perhaps, serves as a symbol for how she coped with the guilt she managed in her own existence. The expression of guilt within the piece provides the foundation for the characters to strive for greater balance within themselves and society. For example, the creature in the piece possesses the potential for interacting in society guilt-free, if it better understands how to behave within accepted norms. Likewise, Frankenstein has the agency to prevent the tragedies that occur by tempering his ambition with greater consideration for the safety and livelihood of those around him, namely his best friend Henry and his bride (Claridge). For Shelley, too, the characters serve as a proxy for her own longing to achieve greater harmony with those around her in balancing her artistic ambition and personal vision for life with the expectations and wants of her father and husband. As such, the notion of guilt is not necessarily a negative emotion in this sense, for it compels the characters to confront discord in their life and assess what measures exist to achieve greater balance.

Despite the guilt experienced by the characters in the piece by Shelley and, in fact, the author herself, a path toward forgiveness and reconciliation emerges. As a representation for human beings in general, the monster and Frankenstein serve as models for people to seek contrition at any stage of their life, even near death, to free their conscious and soul. Again, the guilt experienced by the characters operates potentially in a cleansing fashion, as it compels people to confront an imbalance in their lives (Ping). Moreover, Shelley herself, perhaps, engages in the creation of the novel as a means of catharsis to work out the internal unease she endures in negotiating her artistic ambition with feelings for the loved ones in her life.

For people living in the present, the lessons gleaned from the piece related to guilt and its relationship to alienation, family and reconciliation are beneficial for living a more tranquil and enriching life. The dynamics explored reveal that people have the opportunity to experience redemption regardless of their behavior, if they seek it. In fact, the guilt experienced should be interpreted as a signal to address an imbalance somewhere in one’s life. At the same time, human beings must learn to identify when guilt is misplaced, for there are times when it is self-destructive to become overwhelmed by gratuitous feelings of shame or guilt. Irregardless, Shelley instructs on how human beings must better understand and regulate feelings of guilt in realizing a holistic life.

The piece by Shelley explores the theme of guilt in an approach that encapsulates the contradictory nature of human beings, as they struggle with good and evil. Nevertheless, they have the ability to recapture a feeling of hope and dignity through the hardship experienced over time. The theme of guilt is not completely dark, because the author provides hope for reconciliation and rebirth through work, which will serve people. Moreover, the lessons harvested from the novel provide a framework for human beings to better understand the tensions between individuality and social expectations as well as instances of frailty and the possibility of redemption. It may well be that other readings of the piece will interpret the theme of guilt differently. Regardless, the current interpretation proves persuasive in instructing human beings how to live better with more compassion and forgiveness toward oneself and others.


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The Theme of Guilt in the Novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley Analytical Essay. (2020, Sep 10). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/tht-theme-of-guilt-in-the-novel-frankenstein-by-mary-shelley/

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