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Chapter 12

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 12 of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein.

Frankenstein | Chapter 12 (Volume 2, Chapter 5) | Summary

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Summary

One day, the Monster saw a beautiful young lady arrive at the cottage, to Felix's great delight. She is Safie, the woman Felix loves. Safie does not speak French, so Felix used a book called Ruins of Empires by the Comte de Volney to teach her the language. From listening to their lessons over two months, the Monster learned to speak and read French too; he also learned about world history and mused on the nature of humanity. "Was man, indeed," he thinks, "at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?" These thoughts prompted the Monster to look inward, and he realized that he had nothing that would gain mankind's respect: "no money, no friends, no kind of property." He asked of himself, "Was I then a monster?" This knowledge tortured the Monster, and he yearned to once again be ignorant, knowing only the feelings of hunger, thirst, and cold. He also longed for "friends and relations," for another "being resembling" him, and for interaction with others.

Analysis

Again, the Monster's situation parallels Victor's, as they both seek education and then come to realize that knowledge changes a person. Knowledge is desirable, but too much knowledge or knowledge used unwisely brings misery, as Victor's abuse of science to exceed the powers of humanity shows. More knowledge also makes the Monster unhappy, when he learns about what he does not have. Knowledge used for good, however, is beneficial, as is shown by the Monster helping the De Laceys (or as in the appreciation of Victor's improvements to the scientific instruments at Ingolstadt). Speaking through the Monster, Shelley explores the mixture of good and evil in everyone and in humanity as a whole.

Both Victor and the Monster are set apart from humanity: the Monster by his hideous appearance and Victor by his monstrous creation, the effort of keeping it secret, and the tragedy it causes. The link between the Monster and his creator is central to Frankenstein. Part of the impact of the novel is the fact that Victor never realizes how similar he and his Monster really are, which in this chapter is shown by the Monster's thirst for knowledge, paralleling Victor's, and recognition that knowledge sometimes can bring pain as well as pleasure.

Mention of Ruins of Empires is significant. The book was a radical denunciation of the religious and political status quo in the world and was published two years into the French Revolution. It protests the tyranny of hierarchies and demands their destruction. Godwin knew the work; a friend of his made the first English translation. Percy Shelley knew it as well, and it influenced his political thought.

Safie's arrival and reception provide a contrast to the Monster. She is accepted, in part because she is beautiful. Victor rejected the Monster because he is hideous (and the De Laceys will in a few chapters do the same). This differential treatment exemplifies the injustice of humankind that the Comte de Volney describes on an individual scale.

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