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Family Values and Frankenstein
My greatest memories are of my mother making pear pies, my father letting me help to fix the bathroom sink, and sitting down to dinner together. We don't always get along or support each other when we need it most, but I consider myself lucky to have two parents who love me and try to give me what I need to survive in this world. While my family is not perfect I appreciate what I do have in comparison to the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. With no father, mother, love, or acceptance, the monster is cast out into a world which judges him on his hideous appearance. He has no one to learn from or look to for advice, like I and most other American children do.
Times have changed since our parents were children and families today face different challenges than those of a decade or two ago. Over the past few decades the concept of family has been revolutionized. A "traditional" family no longer consists of two parents of the opposite sex in which the father is the "breadwinner," and the mother stays at home to raise the children. Today's family is as diverse as the world it must exist in. The important thing about today's family is that success does not just happen; a strong family takes effort.
The "secret" to attaining a strong family, according to the 1985 book Secrets of Strong Families, by Nick Stinnett and John Defrain, involves commitment, appreciation, communication, time, spiritual wellness, and coping ability (14). While this seems like a six-step program, it makes a lot of sense. The family must come first in family, thus, commitment. Sexual fidelity, traditions, and sacrifice make a family stronger by creating close ties with the family members (Defrain and Stinnett 21-39). Appreciation involves the children doing the dishes every once in a while, surprising your wife with flowers, or a trip to McDonalds. Communication is key in any type of relationship, especialy in a family. No one wants to be alone in this world, and communication helps to build a sense of belonging and solve problems (Defrain and Stinnett 62-63). Spending "quality" time together is important for a family.
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In doing a little research about families, their values, and what makes them strong, it seems easy to make a list of the things necessary to make a family "good" and check them off as you go along. But there is no one recipe for a strong family because people face different challenges such as divorce and raising a child by themselves. Divorce began to be popularized in the early sixties and today America has the highest divorce rate. It is easier and quicker to get a divorce here than in any other Western country with the exception of Sweden (Westheimer and Yagoda 50-51). The living arrangements for children today are far from "traditional". Almost 10 percent of American children do not live in a household headed by at least one of their parents. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and godparents have the responsibility of raising these children. Of those who do live with at least one parent, 70 percent live in two-parent families and 30 percent live in one-parent families. The change in family composition for black families has been drastic. Today, 63 percent of black children live in one-parent families and thirty-seven percent live in two-parent families. This is almost the opposite of figures in 1970 when 64 percent of black children lived in two-parent families and 36 percent lived in one-parent families (Westheimer and Yagoda 31).
While there is not a scale with which to weigh exactly how strong a family is, the family of Victor Frankenstein appears to be rather strong. His father is very kind and generous - which is exemplified in the rescue of his wife from certain poverty after the death of her father. The Frankensteins provide Victor and his siblings with much affection and a beautiful home. The couple "adopts" an orphan, Elizabeth, and she immediately becomes part of the family. Justine is offered a place in the family, although as a servant, when life with her mother becomes intolerable. Until the death of his mother, Victor is completely happy with his upbringing. "No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself. My parents were possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence...When I mingled with other families I distinctly discerned how peculiarly fortunate my lot was, and gratitude assisted in the development of filial love (Shelley 23)."
The question I ask myself is: If Victor was so happy with his family, why did he not tell them what was happening when he was making the monster? He does not write them, does not speak up at Justine's trial, and does nothing to protect them from the monster. He keeps this important secret from his family and then denies a family to his creation. This big secret of his ultimately leads to the death of his family and friends. Perhaps Victor does not learn the values of his parents he appreciates so well.
Another question I ask is whether or not Frankenstein should take responsibility as parent to his creation. In the traditional sense Victor is neither a father nor a mother, however, he is the creator and thus the person the monster will look toward for guidance. Perhaps Victor does not realize that what he creates will be human and will need his help in becoming mentally and socially educated. He does not stop to think what he can offer this creation which will make him the greatest scientist of all time; he only thinks of what the creation can offer him.
In her book The Value of Family, Dr. R. Westheimer cites propositions for the American family from the Council on Families in America. "In order to develop emotionally, socially, and morally", quotes Westheimer, "a child requires a strong, warm, lasting, and loving attachment with at least one and preferably two or more adults who are deeply committed to that child's well being (128)." Victor abandons his creation at birth who then must fend for himself. Although the creation is some seven-foot tall monster he is still mentally like a newborn. Without any kind of parent he is helpless and has no model from which to learn behavior and morals. The constant feeling of abandonment and knowledge that he inspires love in no human gradually turn the monster to feel a fierce rage which will end only in the destruction of the man who brought him into this world. Dr. Westheimer also quotes that "a basic social purpose of the family is to rear children to become adults who are self-confident, socially responsible, and capable of attachment and trust. The family, in short, carries the key social and moral responsibility for raising the next generation (128)." Apparently, the monster is neither self-confident or socially responsible because he is not accepted by mankind and, as a result, he kills. Even so, the monster claims to have a great capacity for love and becomes attached to the DeLacy family. He trusts them in the hopes that they will accept him if he presents himself to them gradually. When they do not, he realizes that he will encounter no kindness or compassion from anyone, especially his creator, his "father." Victor takes no responsibility for his creation and certainly falls short in educating or nurturing the monster. The care Victor takes in providing his creation with a intelligent brain only causes the monster to hate himself and Victor through reading Victor's journal and other books. In any sense, Victor fails miserably in providing a family for his monster.
There is no way to tell how much difference it would have made for Victor to be more responsible toward the human being he created. Personally, I think it would have made all the difference. If family is not important, then why are all of our earliest and greatest memories of our family? Victor Frankenstein grew up with a stable, supportive, loving family while he denies this to his creation. The monster wants love and companionship yet Victor denies him this also. If a child were to be abandoned at birth, certainly it would die because it could not protect itself. Even if a young adult were to be abandoned, he or she might survive, but would suffer emotionally. A family is what its members make it and with no effort, as in the case of Victor, there will be no rewards. My family has gone through times when we do not talk to each other and we say things we do not mean, but I know that I am loved. Someone who does not have the love and support of a family cannot be expected to survive, or, if they do, they lead very unhappy and dysfunctional lives such as that of Victor Frankenstein's creation.
Defrain, John and Stinnett, Nick. Ilg. Secrets of Strong Families. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1985.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Bantam Books, 1981.
Westheimer, Dr. Ruth and Yagoda, Ben. Ilg. The Value of Family. New York: Warner Books, 1996.