Justine Moritz in Frankenstein

Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

This lesson examines the character of Justine Moritz in Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'. Though a minor character, Justine plays a pivotal role in advancing the plot while exemplifying key themes of the Romantic movement.

Justine, We Hardly Knew Ye: Justine Mortiz in Frankenstein

Mary Shelley's 1818 classic, Frankenstein, gave to the world of literature some truly memorable characters. Even today, Victor Frankenstein and his monstrous creation are pop culture icons, appearing everywhere from film to television to cereal boxes.

One frequently overlooked character is Justine Moritz, a ward of the aristocratic Frankenstein family and the caretaker of Victor's youngest sibling, William. Though a minor character, Justine is instrumental in advancing the plot. She and William are the first dominoes to fall in the monster's horrifying chain of revenge.

Maybe even more important is Justine's illustration of Shelley's commitment to the Romantic movement, a philosophical and literary movement celebrating nature and those seemingly untouched by modern civilization: children, the poor, the sick, and the 'noble savage'.

Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley

The Poor Are Always With Us: Justine as the Scapegoat

Justine's death shows just how diabolical the monster has become. After all, until Justine and William die, we really only see the monster's softer side. We see him rejected by his creator, Victor, within moments of his birth. We see the monster mere hours later and still technically a newborn driven away by the brutal attacks of terrified townspeople.

We see the monster struggle but survive. We watch him develop a profound love for the DeLacey family, in whose home he hides for months, waiting and learning. We understand how he yearns for their acceptance and we ache for him when they, too, violently drive him away.

We experience the monster's disappointment--even if we feel some relief--when Victor refuses the his demand for a mate. And maybe we shudder when the monster vows his revenge, promising to leave Victor as alone and heartbroken as his creation.

But it isn't until we see what happens with Justine that we realize just how sinister the monster has become. Yes, the monster may have been born with an immense capacity to love. But suffering has corroded that love into an equally vast capacity for hate. His talent for revenge makes Don Corleone look like a cream puff.

William and Justine are the first to die in the monster's quest for revenge. But it's the manner in which they die that is most bloodcurdling. Not only does the monster strangle the innocent and lovely young William with his bare hands, but he ingeniously frames Justine for the murder. So airtight is the evidence the monster cunningly plants against Justine, she can't even dream of escape. She's quickly convicted and executed.

Justine's death demonstrates that Victor's enemy is not just some bloodthirsty brute. His vengeance is not the clumsy havoc of some powerful animal. Victor's enemy is strategic and subtle. He is formidable. He knows what he's doing and he has the power to do it. Justine's death suggests that Victor has unleashed a truly unstoppable force.

The monster awakens, from 1831 illustration

The Crushing Wheels of Progress

Justine also exemplifies Shelley's Romantic ideals. Frankenstein is set in the late 18th century during the Age of Enlightenment, and Victor in many ways embodies Enlightenment precepts that see progress, innovation, and the advancement of scientific knowledge as the heart of modern civilization. For the Enlightenment thinkers, only through the continuous march of progress will humanity and society evolve to their highest potential.

But the Romantics, like Shelley, were not so quick to jump on the Enlightenment bandwagon. They were skeptical of the Enlightenment belief that empiricism and rationalism would be the be-all-end-all of human endeavor. The Romantics feared the modernizing forces that took us away from nature.

The Romantics looked to those untouched by modernity, those who had not been corrupted by and made to conform to the teachings of schools, churches, and governments. They celebrated those who lived close to the earth and beyond the clutches of civilization: peasants, the young, and the sick. But the Romantics also feared that these untouched beings would be the first crushed in the unstoppable march of progress. Because they are not a part of it, they will inevitably become victims of it.

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