Isolation in "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley. The perception of being isolated and its dependence to endogenous and exogenous causes

Term Paper, 2016

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3


List of contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition ofisolation

3. Cause and development ofVictor Frankenstein's isolation
3.1 Victor Frankenstein's life before creating the creature
3.2 Victor Frankenstein while creating the creature
3.3 Victor Frankenstein's life between the creature's “birth” and the first conversation with the creature
3.4 Volume III

4. Cause and development of the creature's isolation
4.1 The creature's life until it meets Victor Frankenstein
4.2 Volume III

5. Comparison ofboth ways of isolation

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In Mary Shelley's “Frankenstein” Victor Frankenstein experiences self-inflicted seclu­sion which leads him to depression and further isolates him, whereas the creature suf­fers from exogenous caused isolation which ends in furiousness and grievance. The aim of this paper is to analyse the characters’ respective perceptions and handlings of isola­tion and to put them into dependence to endogenous and exogenous causes to prove if the types of causes truly have an impact.

Isolation is an essential topic in Mary Shelley’s novel. Examining the different causes of isolation and their impacts on the characters’ reactions, is insofar interesting as Mary Shelley makes Victor Frankenstein and his creature differ completely in the way of handling their isolation whereas in other respects ascribes a certain similitude to them.

Due to a lack of profound literature about the topic, the research paper will for the greater part consist of a self-analysis on the novel. Three essays about the monstrosity and alienation of the creature will support the analysis, namely Language and monstros­ity in Frankenstein by Peter Brooks, What made the monster monstrous by Ronald Brit­ton and The monster within: The alien self in „Jane Eyre” and „Frankenstein” by Ar­lene Young. Essays or reviews which make the isolation of Victor Frankenstein a sub­ject were hardly found. The findings about Frankenstein will therefore exclusively orig­inate from examining the novel.

Several reviews and articles about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein discuss the cause or perception of monstrosity in the novel, which will be of importance when examining the creature’s cause and development of isolation. The authors of the articles aforemen­tioned all agree on the point that the creature’s monstrosity is not intrinsic but a result of the rejection it experiences. Therefore its isolation cannot be self-inflicted but is existent in its being.

Based on the working definition of isolation for this research paper, the development of isolation will be outlined by identifying inducing incidents and processes. It will be pointed out how the characters respond to their isolation. The examination will proceed chronologically and is structured in certain life phases, so that causes such as certain occasions which set in during the development can be emphasized. Afterwards the re­spective perception and handling of isolation will be compared.

2. Definition of isolation

Social isolation includes aspects such as the lack of relationships, psychological barriers and physical barriers. The former is primarily determined through the type of relation­ship and the frequency of contacts within it. For instance, insufficient relationship to friends and family are considered to contribute to isolation. Furthermore being alone and in the course of this actually feeling alienation is characteristic for isolation. (cf. Nicholson, 1346)

The psychological barrier may be shown through the individual’s inability to make con­tact although it feels a need or desire for contact (cf. Lien-Gieschen, 37). Depression and a longing for psychological support are considered psychological components of isolation as well. (cf. Nicholson, 1346)

Social isolation is therefore defined as “a state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social con­tacts and they are deficient in fulfilling and quality relationships” (Nicholson, 1346)

3. Cause and development of Victor Frankenstein's isolation

During his lifetime Victor Frankenstein experiences isolation first on account of his laboratories; later due to depression. With that, his relation to friends and family as well as his self-perception and attitude to life change.

3.1 Victor Frankenstein's life before creating the creature

Frankenstein’s life before creating his creature is a life of harmony and satisfaction. He feels pride for his family and feels secure under the care of his loving parents (cf. Shel­ley, 18f). There is no pain, no hegemony or harshness amongst the family members. Instead, their relationship is full of affection and desire for each other (25f). During his youth, his relationship to his father is very close. Since his father looks after a proper education of his children (19), Victor is able to discuss literature and sciences with him (22f). Victor speaks of his father’s high reputation due to his integrity and his attention to public business, which implies that he holds him in high esteem. As the eldest child of the family he soon takes over his father’s labours (18f). Victor admires his mother, who partook for the children’s enjoyment, for being strong and benevolent (25f). Elizabeth, Victor’s cousin, is his playfellow and best friend ever since she joined the domestic circle as a little child. Victor is fond of her affectionate manner and feels very connected to her. Though their characters differ a lot from each other, he senses a har­mony in that difference (20). Victor’s gets along well with his younger brothers Earnest and William, but their relationship is not very close, which he ascribes to their age dif­ference and Earnest’s ill health. Still, he teaches them and takes good care of them. Vic­tor’s friend Henry Clerval is also considered a part of the family circle, since he is con­stantly with them. Victor sees his friendship to him as a compensation for the deficiency in his relationship to his brothers (21-25).

The harmonious family life gives Victor a sense of belonging and high quality relation­ships. He is content and loved; altogether his childhood forms a good basis for a fortu­nate adult life with loving people around him. These preconditions foreclose any rea­sons for and signs of isolation.

As Victor gets older and his interests for the studies of Agrippa and other natural scien­tists increases, he keeps issues concerning his readings a secret from his father for the first time. He remarks that their opinions differ and sees no sense in discussing his read­ings with him, knowing he would dislike them (32). Notwithstanding his father still has an impact on Victor’s course of education (25). Other than with his father, Victor keeps the closeness to Elizabeth and even divulges his secrets concerning his readings to her (23).

In general Victor is satisfied with his life and appreciates it (21). He is enthusiastic and follows his peculiar interest for natural philosophy with ambition. He bears a self­confidence concerning what he likes to do with his time and is hardly influenced by others. Nevertheless, he does not withdraw from his friends and family (22f; 29).

It is in this phase of his life, when first incidents occur which trigger the development of his isolation: Victor works himself up into the acquisition of knowledge about natural sciences and studies the works of several natural sciences with ardour. Soon he decides to devote his life to delving into the “elixir of life” (23) and thus make men invulnera­ble. He is enthused over the thought of gaining high esteem if he is successful: “(...) wealth was an inferior object; but what glory would attend the discovery, if I could ban­ish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!” (23) This decision can be seen as the essential reason for Victor ascribing tre­mendous importance to his research and getting lost in it with time.

It is not until his mother dies, that he experiences grief. He refers to the day of her death as the “first misfortune” (26) of his life and as portent of his future misery. Her death impacts his attitude to life; though he allows himself to grieve, he soon recovers and realises that he still has obligations to meet. Instead of mourning, he decides to continue life and consider himself fortunate compared to others (26). This attitude reflects Vic­tor’s rationality and positive attitude towards life. He knows how to maintain a balance between his emotions and his duties to not let momentary waves of feelings possess him which proves his clear-sightedness. He is hardly susceptible for being thrown out of balance and falling into depression.

As Victor departs to Ingolstadt for his studies, he does not regard himself suitable for a life apart from his beloved ones and fears loneliness: “(. ) I who had ever been sur­rounded by amiable companions, continually engaged in endeavouring to bestow mutu­al pleasure, I was now alone.” (28); “I loved my brothers, Elizabeth, and Clerval; these were ‘old familiar faces;’ but I believed myself totally unfitted for the company of strangers.” (28)

These initial worries soon disappear, as he recollects, that he is delighted with the ac­quisition of knowledge and has often wished to cast upon the world and that now, with his departure, the ideal opportunity to pursue these desires has arrived. From then on Victor starts replacing the missing companion of his family and friends with the inten­sive engagement in acquiring knowledge. He ascribes a high value to incidents which take him forward in gathering information about science and even describes some as life changing. “Thus ended a day memorable to me; it decided my future destiny.” (32)

3.2 Victor Frankenstein while creating the creature

During the creation progress one clearly notices how Victor places his pursuit above all else. He becomes solely occupied with sciences “in the most comprehensive sense of the term”, (32) meaning he puts all his love and engagement into his work. He gets de­lighted and eager about his application and is engaged with “heart and soul” (32). This attitude hardens with time and is the main cause for Victor’s isolation during this phase of life.

Victor neglects his friends and family. He knows that his father assumes him to be well as long as they are in contact, but will worry about a deficiency in his son’s overall con­dition if he neglected to get in touch. Nonetheless Victor does not visit home for two years. One sees how his attitude towards social contacts has changed completely. Whereas he put a high value in maintaining harmony and peace of mind in the past, he now shows no effort of maintaining his relationships. Though his father does not re­proach him for his ignorance, Victor finds his presumption unjust and wishes to defer his feelings towards his friends as family until his work is completed (32-38). This shows that he is very conscious about his ignorance and distancing, but does not actual­ly blame himself for it and does not actually care about his family’s worries This lack of contacts and engagement with others indicate the isolation he gets in due to his affection to his laboratory.

Victor’s attitude also changes in terms of his demands. Whereas he then thought he cannot be in company of any, but his familiar ones, he now regularly is around people and even finds a true friend in his instructor M. Waldman (32). Yet, Victor does not long for those relationships intrinsically; all his contacts are related to his occupation in science. His contacts seem to be means to an end which he only keeps as long as they serve for progress in his undertaking (32f.) Overall, these relationships are of low quali­ty, which is another indicator of his developing isolation.

Due to his proficiency Victor is kindly regarded by his fellow students and masters. He is aware of his talent and enjoys the recognition he gets for it (32). His self-conceit leads him to consider himself powerful and superior, and capable of creating anything and goes so far that he is elated with the thought of laying foundations of future success through his discoveries (34f). His positive feelings show that he does not suffer from being secluded.

Other months pass, during which he obsessively works on his creation and quits any contact to the outside world. “Forced” (34) by his objective he secludes himself from social contacts and spends days and nights in a solitary chamber on top of the house which is apart from the other apartments. Earlier pleasures such as the closeness to na­ture become trivial as well. During this time, his isolation reaches the climax of its de­velopment. “His employment completely takes him over, so that he decides to apply himself to nothing else “(...) until the great object which swallowed up every habit of my nature, should be completed.” (37) He becomes utterly addicted to his work. As he approaches the completeness of the creation the initial positive feelings turn to fear, which finally makes him sick. Since he had never experienced disease, he gets nervous. He realizes that he needs to ensure his good health and intends to do so right after his creation is complete (38). At this point, Victor still does not suffer from his isolation but rather from the fear of losing control over his body.

3.3 Victor Frankenstein's life between the creature's "birth" and the first conversation with the creature

After completing his creation Victor falls into a deep depression. As he sees his creature he is deeply disappointed by its ugly appearance and can hardly believe it to be the re­sult of months of hard labour and arduous dedication. Hence, he cannot stand his soli­tude anymore and for the first time during months longs for his beloved ones again. He wakes up from his trance and suddenly is aware of the misery he has put himself in through his occupation and hopes to be free soon. At this point Victor temporarily ends his isolation: During his depression his friend Henry nurses him and brings him back to life. Victor feels joy and happiness again and nearly becomes the cheerful person he was before. He eminently appreciates Henry’s care and is ashamed of having disap­pointed his friend with his grief (41-44). As he gets a letter from Elizabeth he immedi­ately answers wanting to relieve his family from their worries (48).


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Isolation in "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley. The perception of being isolated and its dependence to endogenous and exogenous causes
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
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isolation, frankenstein, mary, shelley
Quote paper
Melanie Bayo (Author), 2016, Isolation in "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley. The perception of being isolated and its dependence to endogenous and exogenous causes, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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