Ernest Frankenstein Character Traits & Analysis

Instructor: Clayton Tarr

Clayton has taught college English and has a PhD in literature.

In this study, we will examine the character of Ernest in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Although Ernest is a minor character in the novel, we will explore the ways in which he is crucial to the plot.

The Frankenstein Family

The Frankensteins are a rich, influential family from Geneva Switzerland. The patriarch, meaning the powerful father of the family, is named Alphonse, and the mother, who has an, even more, important role than her husband, is Caroline. Their oldest boy, Victor, is passionate, but impetuous, and goes off to the university where he eventually gives life to his creature. The youngest boy, William, is the favorite in the family. He is also the creature's first victim, and may have been killed accidentally. The Frankenstein family also features a girl named Elizabeth, who is adopted as either a cousin or a gypsy orphan, depending on the version of the novel. Eventually, every one of the Frankenstein family members dies, save the middle boy, Ernest.

Ernest in the Novel

If Ernest seems like a minor character, it is because he is. In fact, Ernest is mentioned only thirteen times in the 1818 edition of the novel. The first mention of Ernest comes during a letter from Elizabeth to Victor, which details family updates. She writes that Ernest, at sixteen, is quickly becoming a man and that he 'desires to be a true Swiss and to enter into foreign service.' Crucially, we also learn that Ernest never had Victor's 'powers of application. He looks upon study as an odious fetter.' This fact suggests that Ernest will never have the same obsessions over learning and scientific exploration that Victor has. Ernest is an innocent lover of the outdoors, who has no dreams of changing the world through education.

Ernest's next mention comes during the disappearance of William. During a walk, the young brothers had gone off together, but only Ernest returned. This is the point at which William meets the creature and is killed. One could speculate that, in some sense, this is Ernest's fault, as the older brother. If William had not met the creature, he would not have been murdered. And the creature, moreover, wouldn't have seen that his hands can destroy human life. Who knows what would have happened if Ernest had been more responsible?

Ernest's final role of any depth is to serve as a conduit of information for Victor, after the latter returns home to attend William's funeral. Ernest seems, in fact, to exist in this scene only to give details about Elizabeth's emotions and to provide information concerning the accusations against the family maid, Justine.

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