Mary Shelley, in her book Frankenstein, makes several allusions to the fact that Victor Frankenstein is usurping the role of God in bringing his creature to life. The point of the book seems to be that a human who attempts to usurp the role of God will be heavily punished. Victor Frankenstein is severely punished. He loses everyone he loves before perishing himself in the arctic wastes. But did he really "play God" or did he merely unleash his own id and destroy himself?
Allusions to Frankenstein's identification with God are sprinkled liberally throughout the book. From an early age Frankenstein identifies himself with God through his study of metaphysics. "It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn (23)," Frankenstein says. From an early age it was the metaphysical secrets of life and death that obsessed Frankenstein. It was this interest that led him to study the alchemists. A choice that he believed brought about his own downfall.
Frankenstein fears for his sanity. He exhorts us more than once to "remember that he is not recounting the visions of a madman (37)." Yet he fears so much that he will be thought mad that he doesn't reveal that his creature killed William, even though it means the death of Justine, who was wrongly convicted of the murder. Frankenstein protests his own sanity so strenuously throughout the book that one begins to wonder if he is, in fact sane.
The image of Frankenstein as God is reinforced in the dialog between Victor and the creature when they meet on the summit of Montanvert (Chapter 10). The creature says:
I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perfo...
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...d friend, and the destined mate -- rivals for the affection of his parents and for success. It is significant that Frankenstein, although he knows of the creature's threats, does nothing to protect Elizabeth on their wedding night. In this way he is complicit in her death, and in his own destruction.
Frankenstein spends the rest of his life chasing the creature. He seems to want to confront and kill him, but it is not destined to be. In reality Frankenstein ostracizes himself from human society, even traveling to the uninhabitable North Pole. He never catches his creature. Instead he wears himself out, dying more of guilt and exhaustion than anything else. The creature, freed by Victor's death, retreats from the inhabited world searching for the death that he hopes will bring him relief.
Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein. (Bantam Classics, NY), 1981.
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