Throughout Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there is both an appreciation of the power of the unknown and an anxiety surrounding that power. Not only is Frankenstein portrayed as an irresponsible god figure due to his abuse of power, God himself is also portrayed as an irresponsible creator – God’s creation of Frankenstein led to the creation of the monster. These frames of creation cause the reader to question whether it is right to worship God as a creator if he can allow for evil to be created in the forms of Frankenstein and his monster. As the monster tells the story of his self discovery, he says “My person was hideous, and my stature gigantic: what did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them” (104). These questions of life’s purpose make the monster a relatable figure for the reader, for man also questions his existence in this manner. Just as the monster is unable to receive an answer from Frankenstein as to why he was created, man, including Frankenstein himself, is unable to gain any solace from attempting to communicate with God. This moment of reflection combines with many similar moments throughout the novel to emphasize the point of view that there is no comfort to be gained through belief in God or a creator. Rather than simply ignore or discredit religion, Shelley weaves religious themes into the text of Frankenstein to reveal the negative repercussions of faith in a higher power, making the novel not just a cautionary tale about “playing God” but a cautionary tale about trusting God.
Early on in the novel as the monster forms its identity, considering all of the values and morals of his personal “higher power” only confuses it – before he was confronted with the fact that Frankenstein was his creator, the monster developed his own sense of morality and compassion. The simplistic and introspective nature of the monster allows him to understand morality and humanity without being taught by Frankenstein. Within the monster’s story, he states that he “could not understand why men who knew all about good and evil could hate and kill each other.” These ideas came purely from his own mind and his own interpretation of the books from which he gained knowledge. It was only after he came to the realization that this creator despised him that his values became confused and he lashed out unto others.
Once he begins to understand this rejection, the monster exclaims, “Cursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God in pity made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid from its very resemblance” (104). In his adoration of man, or in this case Frankenstein as a creator, the monster becomes too obsessed with the idea of perfection and is unable to cope when he believes that he does not match this perfection. Just as the monster fears that he is much too inferior to his creator to be a worthy creature, Frankenstein fears in the early parts of his life that he will not amount to anything extraordinary. With the desperate and raw language of the monster, Shelley shows that there is a destructive side to religious belief and blind idolization of a creator. If the monster had been accepted by Frankenstein as an equal spirit, or if he had just been told to accept that he was a different kind of creature, it is likely that he would not have believed that he was so far removed from the beauty of man.
By demonstrating that Frankenstein has the power to create life, Shelley undercuts the legitimacy of a singular higher power. If Frankenstein is able to shift from man to creator, there is less of a sense of divinity surrounding God as a creator. At the conclusion of the novel, Shelley clearly presents the ideas of a removal of God as a means self-realization. Once the monster kills Frankenstein, he begins to regret his obsession with destroying the man. Of his pursuit of his creator, the monster says, “A frightful selfishness hurried me on, while my heart was poisoned with remorse… 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” (188). The monster is able to understand himself in a clear way after he was able to exact revenge on his creator, and ultimately finds that he is not as cruel and evil as man made him seem. The rejection and unachievable expectations that he was given by Frankenstein cause him to change into a different being, just as attempting to achieve godlike status caused Frankenstein to change into a man obsessed with power and void of compassion. Though the monster expresses his sadness for the loss of his creator, only when the god figure is abolished does the monster feel free of its oppression and see his life as complete.
Frankenstein is a novel that both understands the power of religion and questions the validity of the power that is held by a creator. In showcasing the effect of godlike power on both the monster and Frankenstein himself, the novel causes readers to question how much they trust in their creator to guide them and take responsibility for their creation. Moments of reflection from Frankenstein and his monster show that the presence of a God is not always comforting; rather, it can cause any being to become obsessed with looking outward for validation of its existence rather than turning introspectively and finding solace in the self. Shelley mirrors the relationship between the monster and Frankenstein with the relationship between Frankenstein and God as a way of exposing the destructive nature of religion and an all-powerful creator in the lives of men.