Main Characters in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

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

This lesson explores the main characters in Mary Shelley's 1818 masterpiece, Frankenstein. It also analyzes each key character and his or her role in one of the greatest horror stories of all time.

Mary Shelley published her first novel at the tender age of 20

It Takes A Village (To Raise A Monster)

When Mary Shelley first anonymously published her classic novel Frankenstein in 1818, she probably could not have imagined that she was giving the world one of the most iconic horror stories of all time. Now, nearly 200 years after the monster's hideous birth, he remains as captivating as ever. But who are the key players in Shelley's novel, and how do they fit into this tale?

Image from 1831 edition

Main Characters in Frankenstein

Dr. Victor Frankenstein

Of course, it all begins with Victor Frankenstein and his irrepressible ambition. A lifelong scholar, Victor was always drawn to the most obscure and shady scientists and philosophers of the ancient world. The Greek alchemists, who sought to turn base metal into gold, and the philosophers and metaphysicians who thought themselves able to unlock the secrets of the physical and spiritual world were the ones who really sparked Victor's passion.

When Victor goes to the university in Ingolstadt, Germany, however, he discovers what it means to be a true scientist in the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century. He learns how to use systematic, objective, and empirical observation in the study of the natural world through the scientific method.

Victor's professors have rejected the scientists Victor had loved as a child, so Victor turns to the new science, but his fascination with the darker, more dubious side of learning prevails. His mother's recent death helps turn that brilliant mind and more lurid interests in a still more dangerous direction. He becomes intensely interested in harnessing the power of life and death to create a new Adam, made in his own image, instead of God's.

The Monster

The monster is the terrible outcome of Victor's ostentatious ambitions, the reckless creation of science that has overreached its boundaries, the unleashing of that which science has no concept of and no powers to contain.

He is hideous and terrifying in his physical power. Victor immediately rejects him, and within hours of his birth, horrified townspeople drive him into the forest with screams and blows.

But the monster has a tremendous intellectual capacity, and an even deeper capacity for love. He learns to survive on his own in the wilds, even though he is still, technically, just an infant. He learns to speak and write by mimicking humans. And he learns to love by watching them as well.

When his every effort to be loved and accepted into the human family is violently spurned, hope and affection turn to hatred and revenge. He vows that if he must live a life of rejection, then the man who gave him that life will pay. He will experience the loneliness he has visited on his creature.

Robert Walton

Robert Walton is in many respects Victor's foil, a character that brings attention to another character in some way by providing a contrast. Walton's narrative begins and ends the novel, creating a frame narrative in which the bulk of the story is told in the middle, through flashbacks.

Walton is an ambitious sea captain who rescues a half-dead Victor from the Arctic, where Victor has pursued his creature for a final showdown. Victor recognizes his own reckless ambition in Walton and tells him his story to try to save the man from Victor's miserable fate.

The DeLaceys

The DeLaceys are the family who teach the monster to love and who show him the happiness he can never have. When the monster is driven into the forest shortly after his birth, he eventually stumbles upon the DeLaceys' home. He hides there for months. By watching them, he learns language and some basic writing; he learns the essentials of how humans behave with one another; above all, he learns of the comforts of home and family, something he longs for.

But when the DeLaceys discover him, they, too, drive him away, despite his pleas. That's when the monster's thirst for revenge ignites. The DeLaceys are a kind and virtuous family; if the mere sight of the monster prompts revulsion and hatred in people like these, then there truly seems to be no place for him on Earth.

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