This site is owned and maintained by William Ames,
a member of the Modern Language Association

Presentation of Criticism of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

On Parent Child Tensions in Frankenstein: The Search for Communion, by Laura P. Claridge

From Studies in the Novel, Spring 1985, Denton Texas

Laura Claridge says in her opening paragraphs that Frankenstein is well known as a story influenced by Mary Shelley‘s own troubled family relationships, but she goes one step further to make a point that the real subject matter has eluded criticism. She says, "The story demonstrates the failure of human beings to parent their offspring in such a way that they will be able to take part in society rather than retreat into themselves."

Claridge cites the text of Frankenstein to support her statements from the perspective of a number of different characters. She shows how Victor Frankensteinís actions are the natural response to his own neglect as a child. Although Shelley characterizes his relationships as warm and nurturing, Claridge looks deeper to find that he is an object of love, like a plaything or a bauble for his parents. Victor‘s describes his relationships too lovingly as though his hyperbolic statements are hiding his true feelings of isolation. His credibility comes into question by his overly broad and generous statements of affection and by his curious lack of sibling friction. As described by Victor, his family life is a paradise, but his actions speak louder than his words. He is absent from his "loving" family for a good deal of time throughout the novel, and for a period of five years while at school, and only on the request of his father does he return home to attend the funeral of his brother. Claridge goes on to other characters to demonstrate the failure of family relationships throughout the text. She lists Beaufort and his daughter, the betrayal of Safieís interests by her father, Elizabeth as an orphan, Justineís dead father, and Clerval‘s poor relationship with his father. Claridge says that parental irresponsibility is the rule in Frankenstein. She even goes a step further by describing the relationship of Captain Walton with his sister Margaret as maternal. She seems to take the role of negligent parent in Walton‘s life.

Claridge says that Victor Frankenstein is formed by a motif of neglect, and that his abandonment of his own creation is a simple psychological response to his own surroundings. She sees his adolescence as a struggle to win approval of his father, and she uses examples from the text to support her thesis. In early chapters, Victor‘s quest for knowledge is a difficult one, and when he finally discusses his learning with his father, he is told to not waste his time on "sad trash". Victor is then left on his own to pursue knowledge, much like his monster. It is because of his father‘s insensibility that Victor is seized with his unstoppable zeal.

A neglected child will undoubtedly ask questions of its existence and seek answers. Victor‘s crusade for knowledge is a response to the lack of answers from his parents. Furthermore, the monster has similar feelings of emptiness and seeks enlightenment as well. To further the parallel relationship between Victor and his monster, Claridge shows how Victor‘s father acts irresponsibly and causes his abnormal behavior. Similarly, Victorís neglect of the monster leaves the monster in a state of abnormal behavior. She goes on to point out that two-thirds of the novel deals with retribution by the monster for Victor‘s "deficient infant care" and she comes to the conclusion that, ultimately, it is not the monster who is to blame for his vengeful actions, since his psyche was irreparably damaged by his overwhelming despair and isolation.

While Claridge describes Victor and his monster as two beings driven to extremes, she speculates that Waltonís place in the text serves as a kind of balance. Walton is ambitious, but not to the point of madness, unlike Victor. She also shows how Victor takes the role of monster when he tries to convince Walton and his men to recklessly continue towards the pole. Walton chooses the reasonable course of action, and as Claridge sees it, he assumes the role of responsible parent to his crew.

In summary, Laura Claridge sees Frankenstein as a story about human relationships and what can happen as a consequence of neglected psycho-social responsibility. She makes good connections of parallel characterizations that support her theme, and her arguments sound reasonable. So, in the eyes Claridge, Mary Shelley has written a story as a sort of therapy for her own disjointed life she sees Shelley as a victim in a long chain of neglect and irresponsible parenting.

The Norton Critical Editionof the 1818 text is, in my opinion the only edition to read . . . it is substantially more informative than any other edition I've read, and the 1818 text is far more powerful than the 1830.

Home|Forum|Guest Poets|Poetry and Literature |Sleeping Giant|Bill's Home Page | Modern War Poetry

This page is the Property of William Ames - All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 1996-2009
Poems with listed authors remain copyright of the author

Penn State pics |