Narrator in “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
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Mary Shelley uses three narrators in her complex narrative of Frankenstein to create a certain degree of objectivity- the novel starts with an epistolary structure with the letters of Robert to Margaret with include an account of the life of Victor and that of the narrative of the monster through the narrative of Victor. The narrative plot is can be said is made of concentric circles with Robert in the outer most circle, Victor in the second circle and the monster in the innermost circle.
In the outermost narrative of the four letters, which Robert writes to his sister Margaret, we move to an embedded narrative- the narrative of Victor and the account of the latter then serves in to frame the entrenched narrative of the monster. The narrative of Robert can be called a “Chinese box structure” as we have stories within stories. His narrative is a biographical one since he tells the story of Victor and that of the monster through the narrative of the latter. His narrative is important in the novel as it in through him that we come to know about the life and experience of Victor and the monster and his personal ambition. There is no chronology in his narrative- he accounts for the experience of Victor and the monster separately. Robert is a reliable narrator-he takes note of the storyline of Victor. Furthermore he relates both the narrative of Victor and the monster in a neutral way as he neither sides with Victor nor with the monster since he is related to neither of them. Yet some critics argue that Robert is not a wholly reliable narrator as in the beginning of the novel he admires Victor:
“My affection for my guest increases everyday. He excites at once my admiration…”
Moreover the narrative of Robert is not a verbatim reproduction of the narrative of Victor and the monster:
“…to record, as nearly as possible in his own words, what he has related during the day. If I should be engaged, I will at least make notes…”
His narrative may contain his interpretation of some events rather than it actually was in reality. However, though there are some flaws in the narrative of Robert he is a reliable narrator since he is not subjective. Besides, Mary Shelly would not have included Robert as a narrator and could have started Frankenstein with the life of Victor and the monster in a linear form plot like it is for the narrative structure of most of the novels.
Through the letter of Robert, the narrative of Victor is presented in as a subjective one since he describes his personal life with much pain and he is on the defensive. The narrative of Victor is linear- we are taken from the beginning of his tale to the end: his happy childhood and adolescence with his family, his education, his scientific obsession, the creation of the monster, his rejection of the creature, his mental agony, the murder of his close ones by the monster, his irritation and finally his death. His narrative shows his downfall staircase. The narrative of Victor parallels his egoistical obsessions. Robert sees Victor as an eloquent narrator since he keeps on listening to him without interrupting him. He is a subjective narrator since he evokes much pathos on Robert and the reader while relating his life story. For instance, his account of the death of William is written is highly disjointed language: the sentences are long and frequently broken up by semicolons, as though each is spilling into another and this indicates the distress of Victor. Robert describes the narcissistic narrative of Victor as “full-toned voice”.
However, the narrative of Victor to Robert is not fully subjective as he also recounts the narrative of the monster. There is change in the tone of Victor while reporting the narrative of the monster:
“His words had a strange effect on me. I compassionated him”
The objectivity of Victor is seen though his account of the narrative of the monster since he shows the suffering of the monster especially with the episode at the De Lacey family which is at the core of the novel. His narrative makes us sympathise with the monster while describing the bad experience which the latter faced. Through the anguish of the creature Victor shows his irresponsibility towards the monster. He could have excluded this part but he does not do so. Just like Victor the narrative of the monster too follows chronology in describing his downfall- it begins with his creation and rejection by its maker and ends with his deadly sorrow. Mary Shelley humanizes the monster by making him a narrator. Robert and the readers are surprised when the narrator speaks with eloquence and extreme sensitivity after Victor has painted him a cruel murderer.
Mary Shelley is Robert, Victor and the monster since she is the author of Frankenstein. She creates three narrators to give three different interpretations of the story and to create objectivity. Moreover she is playing with the readers by using three narrators. The tone of each narrator invites the reader to become the audience: first we are the readers of the preface and introduction of the author, then we become Margaret as she reads the letter of Robert, then we become Robert who listens to the experience of Victor and then we become Victor as he listens to the monster. At the same time we may find ourselves identifying with each narrator in turn. We may feel ourselves entering into the consciousness of Mary Shelley, Robert, Victor and the monster as they narrate their stories. Mary Shelley makes her reader playing several roles at once.
By using three narrators Mary Shelley creates objectivity as she makes her reader to think in huge circles of opposing forces. One force tries to keep the circle firm and closed but the opposing force breaks out the circle and makes the reader escape claustrophobia and makes the story reliable and interconnected.