In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, society continually regards Victor's creation as a monster, both physically and psychologically. Though the being has the physical characteristics of a monster, it is only after he is repeatedly rejected by society that he adopts the personality and behavior of a monster. Thus, society plays a large role in shaping the monster's personality and behavior. Because society expects him to act like a monster, he inevitably becomes one. The being is clearly a victim of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It is clear that the being has the physical characteristics of a monster. Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines a monster as "a person of unnatural or extreme ugliness, deformity, wickedness, or cruelty." The being is unnatural right from the very beginning--his "birth." He was not carried in his mother's womb and delivered as normal babies are. The being is merely a construction of random corpses' bodily parts sewn together and brought to life. Naturally his appearance is utterly grotesque, thus confirming his "extreme ugliness." Victor even remarks that "A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch" (Shelley 59). Though he displays all of the normal features of a man, his are heightened to a level of deformity. He has a gigantic stature and displays superhuman speed and strength.
Just as the being's external features are heightened, the being also exhibits heightened internal qualities of man, shown by his altruistic attitude toward humanity. The being tells Victor that his "soul glowed with love and humanity" (Shelley 91). The being enjoyed helping others. He provided the cottagers with wood for their fire so Felix could devote time to other household tasks. The being risked his own life and saved a little girl from drowning. All the being wanted in return was companionship and acceptance, neither of which he received. The creation says, "Let [man] live with me in the interchange of kindness; and, instead of injury, I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance" (Shelley 125). It is clear that initially the being was only monstrous in his appearance, not his actions.
However, because of the expectations held by an insensitive, hostile society, the being is forced to become a monster internally as well. The creature tries to find companionship many times, but he is only met with fear and hostility. Because the being cannot escape society's expectations regardless of his behavior, he eventually confirms them and acts accordingly. He completes Webster's definition of a monster as he commits wicked and cruel acts. The being has fallen into a self-fulfilling prophecy, "a groundless expectation that is confirmed because it has been expected" (Woolfolk 381).
From the very beginning the being was misjudged, because of his appearance. Even the being's creator fled when he saw him. Victor calls him a "wretch," "monster," "daemon," before the creation even does anything (Shelley 58). The being asks his creator, "Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?" (Shelley 113). Victor completely abandoned his creation, because he couldn't even bear to look at him. If Victor, the creator, regards him with horror, imagine the response of an unprepared society. Neither Victor nor anyone else considered the being's feelings. They only reacted to Victor's creation's appearance. Victor had "endowed [the being] with perceptions and passions and then cast [him] abroad for the scorn and horror of mankind" (Shelley 120).
When Victor abandoned the being, the creature left and wandered around aimlessly struggling to survive on his own without any concept of knowledge or language. When he reached a village, immediately:
children shrieked, and one of the women fainted. The whole village was roused; some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country and fearfully took refuge" (Shelley 95).Initially the being had been delighted by the sight of the village, but he was brutally driven from it for no reason other than his appearance. Because he appeared abnormal, they assumed he was evil. Just as society fears the creature, the creature fears society. The only difference is that the being has a reason to fear society; it attacked him.
The being regains faith as he believes that "When they [the cottagers] should become acquainted with my admiration of their virtues, they would compassionate me, and overlook my personal deformity" (Shelley 114). However, when the being finally gains acceptance from the old man, Felix, Safie, and Agatha enter and immediately assume that the being was attacking their father. It is appropriate that only the blind man is the one who can accept the being. He can judge the creature fairly, because he cannot see him. Not once is the old man frightened when he is alone with him. This shows how deceptive appearances can be. Expectations based solely on appearances are groundless. Because the being looks abnormal, the three cottagers assume that he is evil and wants to harm them. It is ironic that the creature was, in fact, trying to befriend them. After all, the creature had been helping them with their daily chores. The being is thanked by getting attacked as Felix "dashed me to the ground and struck me violently with a stick. I could have torn him limb from limb, as the lion rends the antelope. But my heart sunk within me as with bitter sickness, and I refrained" (Shelley 117). The being didn't even defend himself. Yet the being is the one who is regarded as a monster, not Felix, even though Felix ruthlessly attacked the being.
Despite this encounter the being performs another good deed; he risks his own life to save a little girl who is drowning. As he rescues her and attempts to revive her, the girl is torn from his arms and he is shot. The man automatically assumes that he was trying to kill the girl, when, in fact, he has saved her life. At this point, the being cannot avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy. When the being is punished for committing noble acts, why should he continue to repeat them? The monster discovers that performing good deeds causes just as much harm and certainly more suffering than doing evil. After all, he was hurt by the ones he had helped. Why would he ever want to do any good if man still rejects him? Because of his inability to befriend man, at least by doing evil, the monster will be able to attain satisfaction by destroying the one who has placed him in these unalterable circumstances. At least then the monster will deserve his mistreatment.
The monster's last attempt for companionship ends his search and thus marks the start of his evil acts. When he comes across a young boy, he decides that since the boy hasn't lived long enough to develop prejudices, this is his chance. The being tells the boy that he won't hurt him, but the boy responds, "monster! ugly wretch! You wish to eat me, and tear me to pieces--You are an ogre" (Shelley 123). The child thought the being wanted to eat him, when the being had only hoped to befriend him. As a result of these continuous rejections and unfair assumptions, the being vows for revenge. When the creation discovers that the boy is Victor's brother, he strangles him and his "heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph" (Shelley 123). The being then becomes a monster both externally and internally, ultimately confirming society's previously groundless expectations.
The monster moves from one horrid act to another, indulging in evil. First, he kills William. Then he frames Justine as the murderer and she is hanged for his crime. He warns Victor that "if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear;" (Shelley 125) and "if I have no ties and affections, hatred and vice must be my portion" (Shelley 126). He takes the lives of Clerval and Elizabeth-- both innocent victims. The monster intensely desires to be a part of society and if the only way he can participate in society is to indulge in evil, then he will. Thus, the being truly becomes the monster that society had feared from the start.
The danger of a self-fulfilling prophecy is that people become that which they originally were not. As a result, they are unable to live with the person that they have become. The being was not a monster on the inside initially. As the monster says, "I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend" (Shelley 90). Society created his misery by rejecting him. Thus, Victor created the being, but society created the monster. None of these tragic murders would have occurred had someone, anyone, accepted him. The being even says, "If any being felt emotions of benevolence towards me, I should return them an hundred and an hundred fold; for that one creature's sake, I would make peace with the whole kind!"(Shelley 125). His repeated rejections and his intense loneliness lead him to commit acts which he never thought himself capable of committing. Society's expectations are fulfilled, but at the expense of the creature's soul. The monster confesses to Walton, "My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy; and, when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change, without torture such as you cannot imagine" (Shelley 182). The monster has fulfilled the prophecy, but he cannot live with what he has become. Thus, the being ultimately takes his own life.