Obsession: it is an amazing curse. When one is obsessed over a project, it can become an all-consuming focus to the exclusion of anything else. However, that single mindedness, if allowed to control one, can be harmful and eventually bring ruin.
Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein tells the horrific tale of the struggles between a scientist named Victor Frankenstein and the monster he creates and lends itself to a perfect example of how obsessions can destroy.
The main protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, becomes consumed with an experiment where he creates a hideous lifelike creature. As Victor realizes what he has done, by the end of the story his obsession has set off a chain of events that ultimately come back to destroy the doctor.
Frankenstein is a frame story told from Captain Robert Walton’s point of view in letters to his sister.
Walton is attempting to be the first person to reach the North Pole. Walton’s letters explain his own obsession with trying to reach the North Pole, everything he has done to prepare for this voyage, and the voyage itself.
It is during this that the reader is introduced to Victor Frankenstein floating adrift on a piece of ice, clinging to life. The severity of his condition is described by Walton as he writes:
“If you had seen the man who thus capitulated for his safety, your surprise would have been boundless. His limbs were nearly frozen, and his body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering. I never saw a man in so wretched a condition. We attempted to carry him into the cabin, but as soon as he had quitted the fresh air he fainted” (Shelley 14).
As the scientist slowly begins to recover, he and the captain form a friendship. After Walton explains his all-consuming desire to reach his destination, Victor decides to recount his tale of obsession, and how it led to his demise in hopes of persuading his friend to reconsider his voyage.
Victor’s story begins with his relatively normal childhood as the eldest of four children from a wealthy family. When he was thirteen, his family went on a vacation “to the baths near Thonon” (Shelley 22). One day he and his family are forced to remain in the inn due to inclement weather. While there Victor discovers the writings of Cornelius Agrippa with which he becomes fascinated.
He also begins to obsessively study the writing of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus. The preoccupation with these writings leads to his later passions of creating life and are the beginning of his own destruction.
At age seventeen Victor leaves home to attend the University of Ingolstadt to pursue a degree in natural philosophy. Immersing himself with his studies, he does not visit home for several years. It is during this time that he begins the project of a lifetime, attempting to create life. He passionately works on this project for two years, going days without eating and sleeping wherein his health pays the price.
After successfully creating life, Victor immediately becomes terrified of what he has done running to a different room and taking a nap. When he awakes, he is face to face with the being whose hideousness reviles him. Victor leaves the house and wanders around the city running into an old friend Henry Clerval, who came to Ingolstadt to attend college with Victor.
Upon returning to the young doctor’s apartment, due to the lack of self-care, Victor collapses into a mental state of madness where he remains for several months. Eventually Victor recovers allowing him and Clerval the opportunity to study together for several months. When the time comes for him to return home, he receives a letter of misfortune from his father explaining that his younger brother William has been murdered.
Once Victor finally arrives at home, it is late at night; therefore, he decides to spend the night outside the city in the woods where his brother was murdered. While out there, he sees the monster off in the distance. Upon seeing his creation, Victor is immediately convinced that the monster must have killed his brother.
A family friend is convicted, and although Victor knows she is innocent, he never says anything in her defense. The scientist never tells anyone about the creature and slowly pushes away his family and isolates himself in the mountains.
Shortly thereafter, Victor has a run in with the monster who subsequently relates his own story. After being abandoned the creature learns to live on his own but soon comes to the realization that people are afraid of and abhor him because of his appearance. Upon hearing his story, the reader can conclude that perhaps “the monster is evil not because of what he intrinsically is, but because of the consequences of Frankenstein’s obsession with creating him” (Levine).
The daemon then demands Victor create for him a companion threatening to kill everyone he loves if he does not. Although reluctant at first, he gives in to the demand. Deciding he needs more instruction from a college in London for this new creation, Victor meets his old friend Clerval, and they go on a tour of Europe. Victor tells Clerval that he wishes to spend a month exploring Scotland on his own and proceeds to go to a remote island where he can work in peace.
Once the second creature is almost complete, he sees his original monster watching through a window one night. Fearing what may come from this second monster forces Victor over the edge mentally causing him to destroy the second creature. The monster informs Victor that he will be with him on his wedding night.
Victor returns to the mainland and is soon imprisoned for the murder of his friend Clerval. Upon seeing the body, Victor collapses into a repeat of his previous mental breakdown. After some time, Victor is proven innocent, and his father arrives to bring him home. Once there Victor agrees to wed his adopted sister Elizabeth. On their wedding night, Victor heeds the fiend’s threat and stands guard outside the room; however, the daemon enters a different way and kills Elizabeth.
Upon hearing the news of Elizabeth’s death, his father passes a few days later. This sends Victor into a furious pursuit obsessed with catching his creation and making him pay. As the chase ventures further north, Victor’s health declines, and he is found floating on a piece of ice by Robert Walton’s crew. Victor dies a short time later after recounting his tale to Walton.
After hearing Victor’s tale and fearing a mutiny of his own men, the captain decides not to give in to his own obsession and returns home from his adventure.
In this novel Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with creating life and never stops to think about the consequences of his actions. “Frankenstein, who begins in a close domestic circle such as the creature yearns for and can never enjoy, leaves it for voluntary isolation to pursue his obsession (Garrett)” ends up creating a hideous monstrosity who becomes shunned and is treated with disgust.
However, the daemon is not evil ‘his only crime is his ugliness, and this is entirely the work of Frankenstein who has been careless in his haste of creation” (Levine). Because of Victor’s preoccupation to create a human form, with no thought for the creature’s own thoughts or needs, he does not take the time to think about the ramifications of his experiment.
Once life has been created, it becomes too late, and Victor is forced to deal with the aftermath. The obsessiveness and subsequent way he treats and then spurns the monster ultimately leads to Victor’s demise in both his mental and physical health, his relationships, and the destruction of his family.