Nature vs. Nurture (or Lack Thereof)
Within the dawning of most people’s lives, childhood is often fondly looked back upon. Childhood is a time of intellectual absorption and serves as an open trove, just beginning to be filled with treasured memories of love and companionship. But what happens when a childhood becomes nothing more than a ridged scar left on one’s psyche? Childhood is the most important stage of development for human beings, if a childhood is filled with shattered dreams, abuse, and neglect, what is left of the human being? In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a story in which a man suffers the effects of isolation and results in the creation of a hideous yet gentle and kind creature who is shunned by society and is ultimately altered by the effects of loneliness and cruelty as well, two drastically different experiences of childhood are seen between Victor Frankenstein and his Creation. Shelley asserts the importances of companionship and love by warning the dangers of loneliness and neglect through the events of isolation and alienation.
Victor Frankenstein, explains to his new companion Walton his story of woe and sorrow, however he begins with the tale with his childhood. In every way possible, Victor had a model childhood in which his parents were attentive and unconditionally affection towards their son. ”Much as they were attached to each other, they seemed to draw inexhaustible stores of affection from a very mine of love to bestow them upon me. My mother’s tender caresses and my father’s smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me are my first recollections. “(27) Early childhood memories are what serve as a foundation for a person’s character as children grow older. Victor, who’s life was full of love is what made him the sincere and thoughtful man that his family and friends adored. However, after the death of his mother begins the journey towards education. This is the introduction of his first experience with isolation. Over the course of months in Ingolstadt, victor shuts himself off from the rest of the world, driven by an ambition that stemmed from and interaction from his childhood, “When I was thirteen years of age we all went on a party of pleasure to the baths near Thonon; the inclemency of the weather obliged us to remain a day confined to the inn. In this house I chanced to find a volume of the works of Cornelius Agrippa.[…] bounding with joy, I communicated my discovery to my father. My father looked carelessly at the title page of my book and said, ‘Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash.’ If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain[…] I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside and have contented my imagination”,(34) this serves as a prime example of the importance of childhood experience and how in an individual may be affected in the long run. Victor clearly acknowledges the fact that a compassionate version of this altercation would have ultimately changed the route in which his life goes. This shows that adults do not always realize the wait their words carry, or the impact it will have on their children’s lives. It is evident here that the mind of a child is pliable and easily manipulated in the hands of their caregivers. Perhaps the minute change in an event so subtle would have obliterated the dangerous ambitions Victor would later on develop.
Victor had a luxury his own creation was not blessed with, when Victor lost himself in the isolation from his loved ones and even the nature he felt so passionately about, he was lucky enough to have a companion pull him from the grips of loneliness and rescue his from the brink of insanity. Henry Clerval is the personification of compassion and love, one could conclude Henry is the nature that Victor had lost ties with while trying to unlock it’s secrets. Henry was the companionship not every being is fortunate enough to have, such as Victor’s own creation. While Victor had a caring family, a one true love, and a life long companion, the Creature had torment, beatings, and heartache. The creature, so desperate for love and friendship, lived in the seclusion of a dilapidated hut, although better than being exposed to the elements, was forced to make imaginary relationships with his neighbors. After months of being hidden and silently helping the villagers without them realizing his presence, the Creature decided he could not stand there ignorance of his existence. Although he developed the courage to introduce himself, aware of the difficulty the villagers would face in accepting, he was met with beatings and shrieks forms those he felt emotionally attached, pushing him into the revelation that he will always be an outcast, a monster.
When one becomes a parent, they are bestowed a responsibility to love and cherish the offspring they have brought into the world. Victor Frankenstein’s mother and father never faltered at this task, however, Victor himself struggled with the responsibility of creating life. Frankenstein’s Creation is ultimately born good, however, Victor would never be around to help this version of his creature flourish, for his initial reaction was of disgust and hatred. The neglect is what the Creature is brought up by, not only abandoned, but left nude, clueless to the outside world, and emotionally vulnerable as a result of his pure innocence . What makes Frankenstein’s creation a monster? The answer is nothing, when he is first born at least. What makes the creation a monster is his own individual choices fueled by a reaction to human cruelty and his own isolation.
The creature, although far from physically being a child, is still an infant in the world, someone just beginning their journey through life. This is the childhood of the creature, a childhood filled with pain, alienation, and isolation, all components of real life murderers and serial killers, “The child who lacks bonding and a sense of contact with others will internalize his fantasy and cloud the boundary between fantasy and reality […] of the killers interviewed in the FBI study, 71 percent reported a sense of isolation in their childhood. As they grew into adolescence, the sense of isolation apparently increased to 77 percent. “(281 Vronsky) The Creatures fantasy in which he takes comfort from his loneliness is his single sided relationship with the villagers, it is not until this fantasy is ruptured by beatings and the emergences of reality, the reality that he is hated for no reason other than he is hideous. Only after he is forced to swallow his reality, does he become the Monster everyone sees.
In the world outside of Mary Shelley’s novel, real life monsters are bred through the same isolation and neglect, easily prevented by love and companionship, that Frankenstein’s Creature suffered. An example of society beating someone into the role of monster just like with Frankenstein’s Creature is Carl Panzram. Panzram who wrote Killer: A Journal of Murder in which he discloses memories of a painful childhood riddled with mental, physical, and sexual abuse. “You know that I spent several years in one of those places [reform school] when I was a boy and the so called Training that I received while there is mainly the cause of my being the degenerate beast that I am today. I have thought about that system of Training young boys for all of my life and I know that the whole system is wrong. That system of beating goodness, religion and Jesus into boys in the 99 times out of 100 has the direct opposite effect of taking all of the goodness, kindness and love out of them and then replacing those with hate, envy deceit, tyranny and every other kind of meanness there is. “(Carl Panzram).Panzram, who experienced beatings as a result of petty crimes such as theft did the opposite of rehabilitate his behavior, instead it furthered his rage. In the case of the creature, the beating he suffered from a being he felt emotionally connected to along with the snide and hurtful remarks of a child who had never suffered the same pain as him triggered a desire for violence, just like panzram. In Panzram’s autobiography, he tells his readers that he responded to the kindness of his cell guard, the man who encouraged him to write. Panzram states that if the first institution he had been placed in had treated him as a human being like the guard had, he was certain his choices in life would have been very different. This begs the question, if the monster had experienced the love of his creator, his father, and the acceptance of society around him, would he still have become the monster everyone feared?
Panzram, when writing a letter from prison to the Society for the Abolishment of Capital Punishment, discusses how the way in which society reacts to criminals or “monsters” the the creatures case is much more damaging than reforming, “I have no desire whatever to reform myself. My only desire is to reform other people who try to reform me. and I believe that the only way to reform people is to kill em. My motto is, Rob em all, Rape em all and Kill em all. I am very truly yours signed Cooper John II Carl Panzram”(Carl Panzram). Panzram suffered both neglect and abuse in his early life along with isolation in his adult life, however Panzram fully believes that everyone is a monster, everyone including him. The creature, who suffered just like Panzram, believes that that humans are good, including himself, but he has fully accepted the inflicted role of monster ignorantly flung upon him. The isolation serves as his “reform”, in the sense that it is what caused the monster in him to crawl out of the good creature. ”When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.”(274)
Shelley has succeeded in the recreation of human suffering and has accentuated the importance of companionship. With the isolation of the Creature paralleling the real life case of notorious serial killer Carl Panzram along with the same treacherous outcome, shelley has most certainly warned her readers of the dangers of loneliness and neglect through isolation and alienation and overall cruelty and mistreatment of the misunderstood.