Psychoanalysis of Victor Frankenstein Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
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In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein creates a monster that murders several people, and then flees through Europe to the Arctic Circle. In the beginning of the story, it seems that Frankenstein is simply a scientist chasing a pipe dream of finding the key to eternal life, but closer analysis of the text reveals that Frankenstein is not sane, and possibly suffering from one of many psychology disorders, causing hallucinations and psychosis, it is my contention, that Victor Frankenstein is his monster.
Sanity is defined as the quality or state of being sane or the soundness or health of mind by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Victor Frankenstein shows several obvious signs of being “not sane” by our standards, among them are the storage of corpses inside of his apartment and exhuming the dead for parts to build his monster.
The first bit of evidence we have to show that Victor Frankenstein is not sane is the fact that no one in the book notices that he is creating a monster until after he creates it. No one noticed him digging up dead bodies and keeping them in his apartment. “Darkness had no effect upon my fancy; and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm. Now I was led to examine the cause and progress of this decay, and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses. My attention was fixed upon every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of the human feelings. I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted;” (Shelley, p30) The science of anatomy wasn’t exactly on the forefront during the Victorian era, and while the scientist that were studying anatomy frequently relied on grave-robbing, it was at great risk to the grave-robber.
“Because fresh corpses were much sought after but rare, they correspondingly attracted a premium price. Seven to ten pounds per corpse was the going rate in the 1830s. However, decomposing corpses, if they were not too far advanced in putrefaction, could also be used and provided a useful income for the grave robbers or so-called ‘Resurrectionists’. Grave robbing was a relatively easy way to make money, and the perpetrators, if discovered, were far more likely to suffer retribution at the hands of an outraged public than they were to feel the wrath of the judiciary.
Exhumation was not technically a crime of theft and although grave robbers were occasionally punished through the courts the legal basis for such is uncertain. Until the law changed in 1820 legal consequences could only arise from grave robbing if any of the victim’s possessions were stolen from the grave along with the corpse.” (Magellan, Par 19) If people had noticed Frankenstein’s behavior, he would have probably been the victim of an angry mob attacking his apartment with torches and pitchforks. This lack of reaction from the townspeople leads us to believe that either Frankenstein’s actions are not being noticed, or that Frankenstein’s actions aren’t actions, but hallucinations inside of his own broken mind.
Causes of Victor Frankenstein’s insanity has many different causes, among them are the prolonged social isolation Frankenstein subjected himself to, and because his mind snapped between his desires and reality. Desiring something that you know is impossible is never a good thing for your physical or psychological health. With Frankenstein, he first had a desire to transmute worthless metals into valuable gold. When he realized this was not physically possible, he decided to study biology and anatomy, and came upon a new desire to re-animate the dead and work to make man live forever. All science we have says that this is not possible, and I think that Frankenstein knew that, but was still denying that fact, then his mind snapped in two. Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), more commonly known as split-personality or multiple personality disorder. Individuals diagnosed with DID demonstrate a wide variety of other symptoms including headaches, body pains, distortion of time, depersonalization, depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. (Wikipedia, Dissociative Identity Disorder) Frankenstein’s inability to physically capture the creature, but to have conversations and arguments with it, are underlying signs that Victor Frankenstein is the monster.
Social Isolation can also have incredibly devastating effects on psychological health. When a person is isolates themselves from the rest of the world for a long period of time, like Victor Frankenstein did to complete his work, there are several different psychological effects ranging from depression to vivid hallucinations, “Psychological problems reported included anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, withdrawal, regression, and hallucinations.”(Kellerman, Rigler, & Seigel par 1). Incredibly severe cases of social isolation can be seen in “feral children”. These children, who are isolated from contact and interaction with humans, whether by abandonment or neglect, have no linguistic ability, have countless psychological issues in our society once they are discovered, and in general appear to behave as wild animals. (Feral Children). It is possible that due to the isolation, Frankenstein’s alter-ego, the monster, does not have complex communication ability that most people have, and has to relearn how to interact with people by reading. There is also a chance that Victor Frankenstein could also have schizophrenia, either as a symptom of DID, or as its own mental illness.
“Schizophrenia is a group of serious brain disorders in which reality is interpreted abnormally. Schizophrenia results in hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behavior. People with schizophrenia withdraw from the people and activities in the world around them, retreating into an inner world marked by psychosis.” (MayoClinic, par 1)It is incredibly likely that Victor Frankenstein is suffering from schizophrenia. Symptoms of schizophrenia are “hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking with significant social or occupational dysfunction.” (Wikipedia, Schizophrenia) And applying this to Frankenstein it begins to make sense that all of his work is within his own mind. His conflict with the monster, chasing it to the Arctic Circle, but never catching it, all of these things point in the direction of either split-personality disorder or schizophrenia.
Another issue is the various murders by the monster throughout the story. The way the text is written is trying to make Frankenstein seem like the hero, especially after Elizabeth dies and Frankenstein chases the monster throughout Europe and Russia and finally to the arctic circle. However, if you consider that Frankenstein is schizophrenic, then you see that he murdered those people, but “Victor Frankenstein” thinks that it is his “monster”, when in reality, he is the monster.
Using these psychological disorders as a guide to diagnosing Victor Frankenstein, it becomes more and more obvious that he has Dissociative Identity Disorder. He is his monster but has no knowledge of it. He murdered those people, then chased himself across Europe, Russia, and finally to the Arctic Circle, where it would seem he regains control of his fractured mind.
“Dissociative Identity Disorder”. Wikipedia. 3 April 2009. 23 March 2009 .
Kellerman, J., Rigler D., Siegel SE. “The Psychological Effects of Isolation in Protected Environments.” American Journal of Psychiatry 134:563-565 (1977)Magellan, Karyo. “The Victorian Medico-Legal Autopsy”. 6 April 2009. 23 March 2009.
“sanity.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 23 March 2009http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sanity”Schizophrenia”. Wikipedia. 3 April 2009. 23 March 2009.
Mayo Clinic Staff “Schizophrenia”. MayoClinic. 31 January 2008. 23 March 2009 .
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.
Ward, Andrew R.. “Feral Children”. 6 April 2009. 23 March 2009 .