In Frankenstein we see many moral issues being raised throughout the novel with various realist and non-realist techniques being used. We can see Sedgewick’s list of Gothic rules within the novel seeing these gothic techniques and realist techniques working together with each other, helping the reader feel sympathy for the characters and their situations.
Frankenstein is written in an embedded narrative with the story beginning in the epistolary style in Walton’s letters to his sister. One effect of this narrative is that we get to ‘see’ Victor’s character before his telling of the story. This narrative structure used makes it quite easy to forget exactly who is relating the story, which in turn helps to create sympathy for characters as the reader imagines that they are hearing the story directly from the person concerned. This should also make the reader aware that the accuracy of each account is to be questioned due to it being told through someone else.
On opening, the novel conforms to the realist genre with character names, dates and recognisable places mentioned within the letters while also using the gothic technique of embedding the narrative. The narrative is framed through Walton who refers to Victor as like ‘a brother’ whose ‘constant and deep grief fills [him] with sympathy and compassion’, (Frankenstein p. 15) guiding the reader to sympathise with Victor, described by Walton as ‘a noble creature’ who is ‘so attractive and amiable’.
There are many links between Victor and Walton and also between Victor and the Creature, creating a doubling effect, another gothic technique. Victor and Walton have both lost their mothers, are alienated from family and friends and are both exploring the unknown all helping strengthen the bond between them. Victor and the Creature are both passionate in their hatred and bitterness towards each other and the alienation they experience in their pursuit of each other. We see them using similar language in their descriptions of not only each other but also themselves with ‘wretch’ being commonly used throughout the novel, suggesting the similarities in their situations. Early on in the novel we see Victor referring to himself as a ‘creature’ (p. 19) rather than a ‘child’ linking him to the Creature. This also serves to emphasise the contrast of Victor’s happy upbringing to his abandonment of the Creature. By the destruction of Victor’s family, the Creature in effect takes their place, making sure that Victor is now bonded to him although out of hate rather than love, making hunting the Creature down his only concern, intertwining them.
The embedding of the stories is important as it enables the reader to ‘hear’ the voice, thoughts and feelings of the Creature. Without this, the reader would find it difficult to feel any sympathy toward the Creature. The Creature, supposedly a savage ‘monster’ encounters society and is treated with savagery. Whereas Victor sought to be alone, the Creature is seeking companionship and affection, which he hoped to find with the De Lacey’s being ‘struck by [their] gentle manners’ and ‘longed to join them’ (p. 87). Seeing the treatment the Creature receives from society shows the importance of outer beauty. He is rejected at every turn without ever being listened to which is why the De Lacey family is so important to him, the blind man is the only person to listen to him and not judge him by his appearance.
The Creature’s ‘heart beat quick’ (p. 108) at the time to ‘decide my hopes, or realize my fears’ (p. 108) guiding the reader to feel sympathetically towards him. Through the Creature’s story we learn of his gentleness, almost childlike and innocent and it is only through the treatment he receives from society that he becomes aggressive. The Creature is a result of the rejection of not only his creator, but also that of society. This raises the point of Rousseau’s nature verses nurture debate. It is not until the Creature encounters the De Lacey’s that he starts to feel lonely, which Rousseau argued that had humanity stayed in it’s natural state, much unhappiness would have been avoided. In the Creature’s eloquent account of sufferings, it is easy to forget that he is not only a murderer, but a murderer of a child.
Some of the most important moral issues raised within the novel are as relevant today as much as when Frankenstein was written. In creating the Creature, Victor is taking on the role of God, which comes with it’s own responsibilities, which we see him run away from being ‘unable to endure the aspect of the being [he] had created, [he] rushed out of the room’ (p. 39), calling the Creature a ‘demonical corpse’ (p. 40). This again shows the importance of appearance within society, a recurring theme through the novel and the main factor in the alienation of the Creature and the reason why Victor abandoned him. Through the eloquence of the Creature’s words Victor almost wants to ‘console’ him until he looks up at ‘the filthy mass that moved and talked’ (p. 121) so that he again felt nothing but ‘horror and hatred’ which invokes some sympathy in the reader for the Creature even after the crimes he has committed. We see the Creature being taught violence by the treatment he receives from society, raising the issue of whether society is in part responsible for the Creature’s actions and causing the reader to question exactly how much to blame the Creature really is. Shelley appears to be blurring the moral boundaries here.
Written during the age of Romanticism, we see nature, one of the great romantic themes being used to convey the emotions of characters a great deal. We see Victor’s mood being mirrored by the rain, which ‘poured down in torrents’ with ‘thick mist’ highlighting his ‘melancholy’ (p. 74) mood. We see the Creature’s mood being lifted after his rejection by the De Lacey’s by the first day of spring, feeling ‘thankfulness towards the blessed sun which bestowed such joy upon me’ (p. 115) again guiding the reader to feel sympathetically toward the Creature who can be cheered by simple nature.
The use of realist techniques within the novel are important in making the story seem believable or else the reader would be unable to feel any sympathy towards the characters. However, many of the realist techniques are also merged with the gothic, such as the murders, which guide the reader to question the Creature’s morality and to also feel some sympathy towards Victor who is now experiencing guilt for his actions, ‘William, Justine, and Henry – they all died by my hands’ (p. 156).
Shelley addresses the moral issues within the novel but does not provide any real answers but instead encourages the reader to make their own judgements, something that Forster encourages us to do in focusing ‘upon our personal encounter with a novel’ (The Realist Novel, p. 21). Overall, the Creature is the one who the reader feels most sympathy for. We see the Creature’s birth and the shaping and development of his character helping in creating sympathy for him as it makes him appear more real to the reader. He was created and abandoned through no fault of his own and no matter how hard he tried to become accepted by society, he was unfairly attacked. Victor evokes less sympathy as he continually moans about his situation. Victor comes across as very self-absorbed even stating that Justine ‘who on the morrow was to pass the dreary boundary between life and death, felt not as [he] did, such deep and bitter agony’ (Frankenstein p. 67). Frankenstein is not only a novel of conflict between Victor and his Creature and that of the Creature and society but also on how we judge people morally and the sympathy we give to them.