Exploring Monstrosity in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

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Some of the notions that people have always tried to define are good and bad. For example, when thinking about what can be associated with good things, words like kindness, care, and generosity come to mind. And when thinking about bad things, the word monster comes to mind. However, since the culture now defines monstrosity differently than before, it is interesting to find out that the true monster in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein is not the Creature but rather its creator, Victor.

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Monsters in culture have always represented others. The fear of monsters is simply the fear of the unknown and unexplored. Consequently, that fear disappears when the mystery is deciphered (Lehtinen 11). According to Lehtinen, when science started evolving in the late 19th century, understanding of what seemed strange before changed as well (12). That resulted in monstrosity being understood as ugliness of mind rather than physical ugliness. Thus, in the novel, Victor Frankenstein’s desire to imitate life and the following rejection of his creation fit the criteria of monstrosity much better than his Creature’s appearance.

In that regard, the inability to recognize the monster – who cannot be told apart from the rest by distinctive marks – is what makes them even more terrifying. This can be said about Victor Frankenstein: he is a young man from an upper-class European family who likes doing illicit things and hates societal norms and rules (Lehtinen 12). It is possible that this kind of attitude is even more difficult to understand than the similar attitude of someone who is rejected by the world due to their ugliness or oddness.

When going further, the concept of monstrosity can be compared to the concept of evil. It is a more complicated question: for one, the motivations behind the actions of those who do evil things are not completely incomprehensible (Lehtinen 13). According to Lehtinen, that means that since those who commit evil are not the others – they are not monsters – a dichotomy between the good ones and the evil ones is not as distinct as that between the normal and the monstrous (13), which is a sign that every person can be evil – even someone as smart and charming as Victor Frankenstein. Different scholars view evil as an “offense against the laws of God, nature and man” (Lehtinen 13). It is possible that this can be applied to Victor Frankenstein.

As has been mentioned above, monstrosity is otherness. That means that monstrosity challenges established rules. Lehtinen notes that the body of the Creature breaks the norms of what a human being has to look like – but Victor Frankenstein’s scientific overreaching threatens these norms deliberately (19). Threatening norms is also a key element of the definition of evil in theology – though they are called values there. However, that fits Frankenstein as well: “the sanctity of the divine creation and the nurturing of a child” is a suitable description of the central theme of the novel (Lehtinen 19).

What Frankenstein attempts to destroy is not the process of creation itself but rather the mystery of the process. It seems that Victor’s passion for knowledge and success is something that stands at the top of his desires – and sacred for him is not something to admire but something to decipher. He says that his “curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to [him]” are amongst the “earliest sensations [he] can remember” (Lehtinen 20).

Granted, Frankenstein’s ambitious attitude to explore the borders of normal is not what makes him the villain – it is his actions that lead him down the path of chaos. Lehtinen assumes that it is not Victor’s contemplations that amount to evil – it is his deliberate decision to act on his callings that do (21). It is almost as if Frankenstein’s goal is to dismiss God’s holy right to create and break the laws of nature itself by doing so. In addition to that, the sanctity of the dead is disregarded – though Frankenstein seems to have issues with it, as the following words demonstrate: “Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?” (Lehtinen 22). Still, it never stops him from doing what he intended to.


In conclusion, monstrosity is a complicated issue, and the views on it have changed with the development of science. If a true monster is someone whose soul rather than appearance cannot be understood – then Victor Frankenstein fits the criteria. He attempts to challenge the norms by taking God’s responsibilities of creating life, and he breaks the barriers which no one should attempt to break. It is a questionable act from the point of view of morality – and if someone decides to explore these more and more, very bad things might happen.

Work Cited

Lehtinen, Veera. “Victor Frankenstein as Monster: Evil, Cruelty and Monstrosity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” (2018).

Lehtinen, Veera. “Victor Frankenstein as Monster: Evil, Cruelty and Monstrosity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” (2018).