The picture that Victor draws of his childhood is an idyllic one. Though loss abounds—the poverty of Beaufort and the orphaning of Elizabeth, for instance—it is always quickly alleviated by the presence of a close, loving family. Nonetheless, the reader senses, even in these early passages, that the stability and comfort of family are about to be exploded. Shining through Victor’snarration of a joyful childhood and an eccentric adolescence is a glimmer of the great tragedy that will soon overtake him.
Women in Frankenstein fit into few roles: the loving, sacrificial mother; the innocent, sensitive child; and the concerned, confused, abandoned lover. Throughout the novel, they are universally passive, rising only at the most extreme moments to demand action from the men aroundthem. The language Victor uses to describe the relationship between his mother and father supports this image of women’s passivity: in reference to his mother, he says that his father “came as a protecting spirit to the poor girl, who committed herself to his care.” Elizabeth, Justine Moritz, and Caroline Beaufort all fit into this mold of the passive woman.Various metanarrative comments (i.e.,remarks that pertain not to the content of the narrative but rather to the telling of the narrative) remind the reader of the fact that Victor’s narrative is contained within Walton’s. Victor interrupts his story to relate how Elizabeth became a part of his family, prefacing the digression with the comment, “But before I continue my narrative, I must record an incident.” Such guiding statementsstructure Victor’s narrative and remind the reader that Victor is telling his story to a specific audience—Walton.
Foreshadowing is ubiquitous in these chapters and, in fact, throughout the novel. Even Walton’s letters prepare the way for the tragic events that Victor will recount. Victor constantly alludes to his imminent doom; for example, he calls his interest in natural philosophy “the geniusthat has regulated my fate” and “the fatal impulse that led to my ruin.” Victor’s narrative is rife with nostalgia for a happier time; he dwells on the fuzzy memories of his blissful childhood with Elizabeth, his father and mother, and Henry Clerval. But even in the midst of these tranquil childhood recollections, he cannot ignore the signs of the tragedy that lies in his imminent future; he seesthat each event, such as the death of his mother, is nothing but “an omen, as it were, of [his] future misery.”
This heavy use of foreshadowing has a dual effect. On the one hand, it adds to the suspense of the novel, leaving the reader wondering about the nature of the awful tragedy that has caused Victor so much grief. On the other hand, it drains away some of the suspense—the reader knows farahead of time that Victor has no hope, that all is doomed. Words like “fate,” “fatal,” and “omen” reinforce the inevitability of Victor’s tragedy, suggesting not only a sense of resignation but also, perhaps, an attempt by Victor to deny responsibility for his own misfortune. Describing his decision to study chemistry, he says, “Thus ended a day memorable to me; it decided my future destiny.”Analysis
Whereas the first two chapters give the reader a mere sense of impending doom, these chapters depict Victor irrevocably on the way to tragedy. The creation of the monster is a grotesque act, far removed from the triumph of scientific knowledge for which Victor had hoped. His nightmares reflect his horror at what he has done and also serve to foreshadow future events in the novel. Theimages of Elizabeth “livid with the hue of death” prepare the reader for Elizabeth’s eventual death and connect it, however indirectly, to the creation of the monster.
Victor’s pursuit of scientific knowledge reveals a great deal about his perceptions of science in general. He views science as the only true route to new knowledge: “In other studies you go as far as others have gone before you, and...