Playing God in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

                  by Tom Wolfsehr

Often the idea of playing God as a wrong comes up in    [student help]
discussions of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Invariably
it is Victor's creation of the creature or monster that is the
the instance spoken of. Here we want to point out that,
probably because we come to the novel with some           [kitchen door]
assumptions, we overlook a different act of playing God
in the novel. (This web site shows that Victor Frankenstein
invented the story of his having created his enemy and that
the evidence supporting this view fits Shelley's purposes
and was something she preserved. For a look at some of
this evidence click here.)
Besides being creator, God in the Hebrew and Greek Bibles
is judge. Playing at this aspect of God is what has been ignored
in discussions of  Frankenstein. Who is it that plays at being
the kind of judge God is supposed to be? Look at the end
of the novel at the point the monster confesses his guilt and
expresses his repentance. First Walton describes him as
uttering "exclamations of grief and horror". "That is also
my victim!" he exclaims and afterwards speaks of his
longing for the "pardon" of Frankenstein that is no longer
possible for Frankenstein to bestow. Whether or not
Victor Frankenstein would at that point be willing to
grant the monster's request were he still able to do so is
not clear by any means. But there is something less than
that pardon that Walton might provide as one who seems
"to have knowledge" of the monster's "crimes" and Victor's
"misfortunes". The monster's choice of words is important
to note, as his speech points to some critical machinery of
the story. Nothing the monster says to Walton resolves any
of the three major discrepancies in Victor's story. As long
as those dicrepancies remain unresolved, Victor's story
lacks the "internal evidence" he claims that it has and that
show it to be true. The part of Victor's story in which he
attempts to enlist the magistrate in his cause is important to
remember in this regard. If we ask what it was that caused
the magistrate to disbelieve Victor's story, we will find these
discrepancies to be the likely cause. The judge, were he
present, might ask the monster some questions about the
events leading to the murder of William, which is the first
of the discrepancies in Victor's story. It is worth noting that,
in speaking to Walton, the monster does not mention
William as one of his victims, while he does mention the
child whose life he believes he saved.
Walton plays at being God the judge when he relies on
a flawed account that is clearly intended as part of plan
to manipulate Walton with prejudice. Walton is an unjust
judge, refusing to give any credence to the sincerity of
the repentant monster. It is important too to see that, were
Walton to play the human judge, he would be able to
offer significant comfort and support to the process of
redemption. When he appears to be inclined in that direction,
however, his "indignation" is "rekindled" by the sight of
the lifeless form of Frankenstein. He says to the monster,
"It is not pity you feel; you lament only because the victim
of your malignity is withdawn from your power." The
monster's protestation of this judgment deserves as much
consideration as Victor Frankenstein's seriously flawed
account, but Walton does not allow it.
When we review the promises that Walton makes to
his sister as to how he will behave, we see that each
of those promises is broken in the final scene.

 [kitchen door] [student help]