DEADBEAT DAD Shellys Frankenstein as a Father Figure


In the world we live in, it is nothing new to hear of young men fathering children and then disappearing, leaving the child to be raised without a father. A term for these filial flunkies has even become a part of our vernacular; the “deadbeat dad.” Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a novel concerning the creation of life by a man, and his refusal to take responsibility for the life he has created. Victor Frankenstein, in his abandonment of his own creation at its “birth” and in his rejection of that creation when it seeks him out, is that parent who is not there for his child. Shelley’s Frankenstein, in those passages of the creation of the monster and the monster’s confrontation of Frankenstein, contain ample proof that Victor Frankenstein was indeed a “deadbeat dad.” Shelley shows that Frankenstein rejects his creation, is disgusted by it and doesn’t offer the parental guidance, love and compassion the creature so badly needs. Frankenstein’s abandonment of a being of his own creation directly leads to his personal downfall.

When the reader reaches the creation of the monster in the novel, it is known that Frankenstein has not previously fathered a child. Frankenstein is actively engaged in this task of creating a living being out of inanimate flesh, he wants to bring life forth, it doesn’t happen as an accidental occurrence. This is important to note in that Shelley sets up Frankenstein as one who willingly brings life into the world. Chapter Five begins with Frankenstein’s account of the night he created the monster, or as he says: “ It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils” (p.42). Right off, Shelley gives us two ideas about Frankenstein as a father figure. First of all, we know that Frankenstein looks back on that night he brought life into the world, and he remembers it as “dreary.” This immediately sets the scene as an unpleasant one, a tone that will last throughout this passage. Secondly, we know that Frankenstein has been indeed working for this end in that he calls it the “accomplishment of his toils.” Frankenstein then recalls how he felt about what he had accomplished: “How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?”(p.42). It would be an understatement to say he is disappointed. Frankenstein calls his creation of a new life a “catastrophe.” He describes the being he has willingly, even wantonly created as a “wretch.” It is interesting that Frankenstein describes the physical appearance only, and that is what is so horrific to him. Shelley uses this idea that Frankenstein sees his creation as a “wretch” and “catastrophe” to show that he is already, at the moment of creation, forgetting his parental responsibilities. The saying goes all children are beautiful to their parents…not so for Frankenstein.

After this description of how visually disgusting Frankenstein finds his own creation, he then talks about how hard he worked to bring it to life: “I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation” (p. 42). Once again we are told that Frankenstein wanted to accomplish this, he wanted to bring life into the world and now that it is here, staring him in the face, he doesn’t like how it looks. Furthermore, we get the feeling that he is resentful of the creature, because he has worked so hard, and the creature is such a disappointment to him. This feeling is increased in the continuation of that same line: “…now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream had vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (p.42). It is as if an exchange has taken place, the life, the “breath,” that Frankenstein gave his creature has been replaced with “horror.” With this passage, Shelley parallels the idea of expectation versus reality that occurs with new parents. Frankenstein’s dream of creating new life