Study Guide

Frankenstein Fate and Free Will

By Mary Shelley

Fate and Free Will

Yet do not suppose, because I complain a little or because I can conceive a consolation for my toils which I may never know, that I am wavering in my resolutions. Those are as fixed as fate, and my voyage is only now delayed until the weather shall permit my embarkation. (Letter 2.3)

Walton says that his resolutions (to reach the North Pole) are "as fixed as fate," but he stops short of saying that they are fated. Subtle but important: remember, he's the one who survives the end of the novel.

"I thank you," he replied, "for your sympathy, but it is useless; my fate is nearly fulfilled. I wait but for one event, and then I shall repose in peace. (Letter 4.29)

Oh, come on, Victor isn't even trying. He's evidently decided it's easier to blame fate than take responsibility for his actions—unless, that is, he really, genuinely believes that he was destined to create the monster.

Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate; I desire, therefore, in this narration, to state those facts which led to my predilection for that science. 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. I opened it with apathy; the theory which he attempts to demonstrate and the wonderful facts which he relates soon changed this feeling into enthusiasm. (2.6)

Ooh, check it out: Victor opens the book because the weather is bad. Guess who else creates a monster because the weather is bad? Mary Shelley. (Check out our "Nutshell" to learn how bad weather led to her "hideous progeny.") Fate? Accident? Volcanoes?

Such were the professor's words—rather let me say such the words of the fate—enounced to destroy me. (3.15)

Victor starts out by saying "the professor's words" but then he changes his mind and calls it fate. What's the difference? Is he suggesting that the professor was guided by fate, too?

Justine shook her head mournfully. "I do not fear to die," she said; "that pang is past. God raises my weakness and gives me courage to endure the worst. I leave a sad and bitter world; and if you remember me and think of me as of one unjustly condemned, I am resigned to the fate awaiting me. Learn from me, dear lady, to submit in patience to the will of heaven!" (8.24)

Justine think that her death is the "will of heaven," but… we're not so sure. It seems a lot more like an accident stemming from Frankenstein's meddling with the laws of nature.

Frankenstein, your son, your kinsman, your early, much-loved friend; he who would spend each vital drop of blood for your sakes, who has no thought nor sense of joy except as it is mirrored also in your dear countenances, who would fill the air with blessings and spend his life in serving you—he bids you weep, to shed countless tears; happy beyond his hopes, if thus inexorable fate be satisfied, and if the destruction pause before the peace of the grave have succeeded to your sad torments! (8.31)

Frankenstein has just told us that Justine was executed, and, well, he seems to be going a little crazy. He tells himself (and us) that the whole thing was to "satisfy" "inexorable fate"—but to us, it sounds more like he's just coming up with excuse after excuse.

"I gazed on my victim, and my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph; clapping my hands, I exclaimed, 'I too can create desolation; my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him.' (16.32)

Whatever Frankenstein thinks about fate, it seems like the monster has different ideas: he sees himself as a master of fate, not a victim. Instead of being destroyed by destiny, he "creates" desolation.

Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth." (17.5)

Notice how the monster rejects "abject slavery"? It sounds like going on a murderous rampage is his way of controlling destiny—of being a master rather than a slave.

For myself, there was one reward I promised myself from my detested toils—one consolation for my unparalleled sufferings; it was the prospect of that day when, enfranchised from my miserable slavery, I might claim Elizabeth and forget the past in my union with her. (18.11)

Frankenstein sees himself as a slave who's forced to create a female monster, but isn't that a very convenient excuse? "Oh, I couldn't help it, he made me do it." Not super convincing.

He had sworn to quit the neighbourhood of man and hide himself in deserts, but she had not; and she, who in all probability was to become a thinking and reasoning animal, might refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation. They might even hate each other; the creature who already lived loathed his own deformity, and might he not conceive a greater abhorrence for it when it came before his eyes in the female form? She also might turn with disgust from him to the superior beauty of man; she might quit him, and he be again alone, exasperated by the fresh provocation of being deserted by one of his own species. (20.1)

Oops. Frankenstein almost made a fatal error: forgetting that Mrs. Monster might have some ideas of her own. Maybe she doesn't want to move to South America. Maybe she'd prefer to stay right there in Scotland, or get a flat in London. Who knows?

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