Frankenstein and Fire

In Volume II, Chapter III of Frankenstein, the creature tells the story of his first encounter with fire. The warmth makes him comfortable, so he sticks his hand in, which burns him. He tells Victor, “How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!” This really affected me for two reasons.

First, it really made me understand the creature’s plight: animated as an adult, but as a blank slate, he has all the reasoning capabilities of an adult without any of the context a child gets to develop. We’ve probably all felt warm clothes fresh from the dryer and then pulled them close- it’s such a nice feeling! Frankenstein’s creature is doing just that, but when he gets burned, he doesn’t treat it the way a child treats touching a hot stove (something else I’m sure we’ve probably all done)- instead, he is surprised at the way a single phenomenon can create two different effects depending on one’s proximity. That’s not how children typically reason. Consequently, I was able to pity the creature while understanding one of the most disturbing things about his character.

Second, I felt Shelley had drawn a parallel in the creature’s actions and the characters of both Frankenstein and Walton. Both Frankenstein and Walton are entranced by the object of their desires, willing to put themselves through terrible hardships to meet their goals. Frankenstein finds his psyche unable to withstand the creature he’s created, and Walton finds the Arctic so challenging that he must turn back. Finally, the creature’s desire to get close to the fire’s comfort only to be burned also echoes each character’s cravings for human intimacy, only to experience loss.

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