Frankenstein – By Mary Shelley

Discuss the themes of parenthood and creativity in the novel

One aspect of creativity is parenthood. Therefore the two subjects of the question can be linked. We can also create in an external way, as an artist does with a painting, and internally, as when we create or forge different aspects of our personality or skills. Although the story of Frankenstein offers so many possible ways of looking at creativity and parenthood, the particular direction that will be explored is in regard to a subjective creativity that produces change in the objective world.

In regard to this, Mary Shelley has placed at the very commencement of her book these words from Milton’s Paradise Lost –

Did I request thee,

Maker, from my clay

To mould Me man?

Did I solicit thee[1]

From darkness to promote me?

This is apparently a call from the human person to the Creator. The words ‘Did I request thee’ have a note of reproach. They reflect something of what may be called the pain of consciousness, the sometimes misery of having self-awareness. This is heightened by the words ‘From darkness,’ implying unconsciousness. Therefore the reproach is for having been brought into being from unconsciousness. In the story there is certainly an element of this. Victor Frankenstein at one point says to the creature he has given life – “Abhorred monster!  Fiend that thou art!  The tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes.  Wretched devil! You reproach me with your creation, come on, then, that I may extinguish the spark which I so negligently bestowed.”[2]

What Frankenstein has given  ‘the spark’ of life and consciousness to IS a reproach to him, but just as awful is Victor’s own self-rebuke. This is evident when, on witnessing Justine’s situation of public accusation as a murderess, and her sentence of death, Frankenstein thinks to himself –  “The tortures of the accused did not equal mine; she (Justine) was sustained by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore my bosom and would not forgo their hold.”[3]

With such sentences the story intimates the theme of creativity that produces agonising self remorse and a sort of morbid self-destruction. In the story Frankenstein, from the womb of his own urgent longings for invention or creativity that would bring fame and world recognition, gives life to a creature external to himself. This tremendous quest is certainly not fuelled by love for other creatures, or a desire to heal the sick. Frankenstein spends most of his years alone in his laboratory, not communicating with anyone. So what drives him? “I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation”[4] he says. But underneath such idealistic rationalisations lurk other darker drives. Perhaps they are the real parents of the creature that destroys all Frankenstein loves around and within him. In fact he realises this for himself in the scene where he gives life to his creature – “I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”[5]

So there had been some sort of glamorous illusion – ‘the dream’ – that had pushed him on. Only when this hidden creative force had accomplished its purpose did it drop its disguise or illusion. At that moment Frankenstein suddenly realises what he has done. Not only had he been driven by something dark and hidden for years of his life, but the dark urges and presence in his life had led him to create something, to be the parent of something, that became a central force in all he later experienced. Just after relinquishing his rationalisation that it was high ideals that had driven him, he says –

“I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams.  I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt.  Delighted and surprised, I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror…”

So here the dark creature, the loss of his mother, his fear of death, is felt. The terror that necessitated the illusive dream to hide the power of this darkness is felt. Too late. The creative act has been accomplished. Sex with the dark powers has been achieved. Enormous and passionate energies have flowed into the creative act. His own life energy has imbued something new with its separate existence. The dream portrays this in the form of Elizabeth. She is the illusive form cloaking the darkness. Once fertilised with the energy of his kiss and given form, the creature need no longer hide.

Taking the Creature Frankenstein has formed as an embodiment of his own previously unconscious fears and pain, as suggested above, the story unfolds what devastation this produces in his life.

There are twelve mentions of the word destiny in the book.  One of the first is where Frankenstein says, “… for when I would account to myself for the birth of that passion which afterward ruled my destiny I find it arise, like a mountain river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources; but, swelling as it proceeded, it became the torrent which, in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys.”[6]

Here Frankenstein is admitting that what he parented, and the drive to parent, are from ignoble and almost forgotten – unconscious – sources. He admits it was a passion that overwhelmed the best in him and in doing so destroyed his joy. The other side of this self-destruction is of course the nameless creature who was the offspring of this passion. It too names the sources of its madness and violence. Talking to Victor about the moment of rejection by Felix and his family, the creature says, “

“Cursed, cursed creator!  Why did I live?  Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed?  I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge.  I could with pleasure have destroyed the cottage and its inhabitants and have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery.”[7]

If the Creature is a manifestation of Victor Frankenstein’s own dark fears and pains; if he is indeed what has been embodied from those pains and dark terrors, then his curses express the forces of internalised destruction and ill will that Frankenstein becomes the victim of. The Creatures words are also telling us that its wretchedness arose from rejection and maltreatment. Therefore, as a symbol of Frankenstein’s externalised trauma, the trauma itself tells of the sources of its pain.

This very week a young man explained to me that from the pain of never having received love from his mother, an illusory quest began. The quest was to find his real mother and receive love. The pain driving the quest led to acts which not only destroyed any relationship he started with a woman, but also ravaged connections with family, his work situation, and any hopes of ordinary life. Frankenstein’s Creature does exactly this, and as Frankenstein admits near the end of the book, “… I must pursue and destroy the being to whom I gave existence; then my lot on earth will be fulfilled and I may die.”[8]

Frankenstein’s wretch is recognisably a creature of nightmare. Such beings often appear in dreams and have no other parent than our own fears and pain. In the following example we could easily substitute the name ‘Creature’ for the ‘Thing’.

“A THING is marauding around the rather bleak, dark house I am in with a small boy. To avoid it I lock myself in a room with the boy. The THING finds the room and tries to break the door down. I frantically try to hold it closed with my hands and one foot pressed against it, my back against a wall for leverage. I have one arm around the boy trying to protect him. It was a terrible struggle and I woke myself by screaming.” Terry F.

When Terry allowed the sense of fear to arise in him while awake, he felt as he did when a child – the boy in the dream – during the bombing of the Second World War. His sense of insecurity dating from that time had emerged when he left a secure job, and had arisen in the images of the nightmare. Understanding his fears he was able to avoid their usual paralysing influence.[9]

Therefore, so summarise, the themes I have highlighted with particular text show that:

Þ    Victor Frankenstein as a character is a metaphor representing the ability human beings have to use their passionate emotional and sexual energy to create a secondary personality. The parenthood in this case is that Frankenstein is the father of a shadow self.

Þ    The Creature was unwittingly created out of what were at first unconscious drives cloaked by a dream of love, idealism and fame. This force of creativity is extremely potent in human life, and is perhaps summed up in the words, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’

Þ    Frankenstein’s secondary personality was destructive because of rejection, terror, the fear of death and the loss of his mother.

Þ    The Secondary personality, represented by the creature is recognised by Frankenstein as an “Abhorred monster!” and “Wretched devil!”

Þ    Out of its pain the secondary personality destroys all that is good in the life of primary person.

Þ    Frankenstein attempts to correct this situation. Unfortunately he uses the very emotions and anger against the Creature that have given it life in the first place. It is not weakened.

Þ    The creature is recognisably the stuff of nightmares. Frankenstein also has his ‘back against the wall’ in dealing with his nightmare creature, just as Terry does in the example quoted. The creativity and parenthood in this case is that our unbidden passions and fears parent what feels and often is, a threat and an object of fear and destruction.

See: Frankenstein.


Mary Shelley. Frankenstein. The Gutenburg Project Electronic Edition. 1998. – Downloaded from Internet site.

Mary Shelley. Frankenstein. Wordsworth Editions Ltd. UK. 1993. ISBN: 1-85326-023-1.

Tony Crisp. The New Dream Dictionary. Little Brown. London. 1990. ISBN: 0-316-87957-6.


[1] Mary Shelley. Frankenstein. Wordsworth edition page 11.

[2] Mary Shelley. Frankenstein. Wordsworth edition page 77.

[3] Mary Shelley. Frankenstein. Wordsworth edition page 66.

[4] Mary Shelley. Frankenstein. Wordsworth edition page 38.

[5] Mary Shelley. Frankenstein. Wordsworth edition page 45.

[6] Mary Shelley. Frankenstein. Wordsworth edition page 31.

[7] Mary Shelley. Frankenstein. Wordsworth edition page 104.

[8] Mary Shelley. Frankenstein. Wordsworth edition page 162.

[9] Tony Crisp. The New Dream Dictionary. Page 270.

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