Eric Errthum
Due: 9-20-99

Fate vs. Free Will

People have argued the ideas of fate and free will for centuries. Few will totally resign to one idea or the other, claiming they believe in something in between. Similarly, few people can imagine living a life without one or the other. However, in Frankenstein, Mary Shelley creates just such a contrasting picture by allowing the characters of “Frankenstein” to represent the dif-ferent extremes of fate and free will.

First, there is the Frankenstein family (except for Victor, of course), who represent total acceptance of fate. Shelley gives them absolutely no power in their environment as they, one after one, fall victim to the monster. They do not seem to have any choice whatsoever regarding their own safety. It is because of their own ignorance of the monster and the hidden deeds of Victor, that they blindly accept that fate is controlling their lives and plaguing them with murders.

Through the Frankenstein family, Shelley is making a statement on blind acceptance of fate. She is implying that often when we believe fate is to blame, in reality, something we simply do not understand the true workings of (or are ignorant to) is the true cause of our happenings. In addition, because we stubbornly stick to the idea of fate and neglect any other source, we are unable and unfit to prevent further disasters. However, she also portrays the family as being almost perpetually joyful. It is only when “fate” strikes its blow that they become downtrodden. In other words, by accepting the fate that is handed to them, they are allowed to live a blissful life without worries.

On the other side of the fence, the monster has complete control over his life.  Although at first he is somewhat naive, he is able to make his own decisions and takes control of his life. He eats when he wants, goes wherever he pleases, and has no ties to the natural world to slow him down. He makes every action knowingly and willingly. He understands the risks involved in every one of his enterprises and becomes upset with himself alone when something does not go as planned. Moreover, unlike man who constantly curses an unknown and assumed all-powerful god for every misgiving, the monster curses his creator who he understands to be mortal and very weak-willed at times.

However, one may argue that the monster’s own emotions control him. Yet, even when he is driven by the bitter loneliness, or hateful revenge, Shelley still manages to portray his deeds as active instead of situationally forced. Except for his birth, at no other time throughout the novel does the monster seemed to be driven into his state of affairs. At the same time, it is this ability to choose his course of actions that brings him the majority of his woes. He deliberates over the possible outcomes of his actions and has the responsibility of their consequences.

Lastly, Victor Frankenstein stands for the bizarre mix of fate and free will. In a sense, he repre-sents the true aspect of humanity. He repeatedly makes the decisions that determine his life. Yet, he oddly chooses to let fate take control. Through his constant decision to remain silent about the monster’s existence, he allows the fate of the monster to run his life. Because of his fickle nature, he tends to blame himself for the minor problems and blame fate for anything too horrible to be responsible for. In this way, he uses his fate as a scapegoat for the things he truly has brought down upon himself.

So it is in this way that Shelley uses the characters of Frankenstein to contrast the worlds of fate and free will. The “ignorance is bliss” attitude of the fateful often leads to the “ignorance is deadly” reality. While the independent, self-controlling life brings with it the responsibility of ac-tions and the remorse of outcomes. And throughout all of it, there is humanity, lying some-where in the middle, stretched one way by the over powering need for control and pulled the other way by the carefree and irresponsible human spirit.