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Frankenstein | Chapter 20 (Volume 3, Chapter 4) | Summary

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Summary

In front of the magistrate and several witnesses, Victor learned that the body of a handsome young man washed ashore. Initially, the men assumed the victim had drowned, but they soon discovered that he had been strangled. Victor's reaction to the strangling news caused suspicion, as does his arrival by boat and his horrified reaction to seeing that the murdered man was Henry Clerval. The villagers assumed, based on circumstantial evidence (including seeing a man in a boat), that Victor was the murderer; Victor figured it was the Monster.

The accusation and his grief at the loss of his best friend sent Victor into terrible illness, which lasted two months. During this time and in delirium, he confessed, in his own language, that he was the murderer and fantasized that the Monster was coming for him. Regaining some of his health, he realized that he had been imprisoned and that a nurse was sent to watch over him. She and a doctor treated his illness. Mr. Kirwin, the magistrate, became sympathetic to Victor's plight and explained he had sent for Alphonse Frankenstein to be at his son's side. After Alphonse arrived and told Victor that the family was well, Victor began to improve physically.

At a grand jury hearing, Victor was exonerated when it was proved that he was not at the scene—he was in his laboratory on the Orkney Islands. Fearing the Monster intended to destroy the rest of his family, Victor hurried home with his father. Tormented by fears the first night on the ship, he took laudanum, a drug, to help him sleep, but even double the usual quantity did not give him peace.

Analysis

By killing off Victor's friends and family, the Monster shows Victor what it feels like to suffer loss, to be lonely and isolated, deprived of companionship. It is perhaps the worst punishment the Monster could inflict. The theme of isolation and human companionship, woven through Frankenstein, is especially apparent in this chapter. Victor suffers for two months alone. He is heartened by the appearance of his father, but even his presence cannot lift the sense of guilt and despair that Victor feels—nor can it dispel his sense of foreboding, that more death and suffering is to come. The created being has once again proven to be a force of destruction. Victor's triumph over death has led to death.

Victor's arrest and trial recalls Justine. She, innocent of a crime, is found guilty; Victor, who is ultimately guilty, is declared innocent. Justine issues a false confession. Victor confesses in his delirium, and that confession is both untrue (he is not directly responsible for killing Henry; the Monster is) and true (by creating the Monster and rejecting him, he is ultimately responsible). Justine suffers the human punishment of death; Victor goes unpunished by his fellow humans, although the Monster sees to it that he suffers. Indeed, Victor punishes himself, saying, "The cup of life [i]s poisoned for ever," and he feels no difference between being in nature or prison. But he wishes to die, hoping for an end to his misery and suffering and, presumably, feeling that his death will cause the Monster to stop killing those Victor loves.

Victor's repeated collapses suggest that his health issues may be a response to stress, as his physical and psychological breakdowns coincide with encounters with the Monster. By this time, Victor is in such debilitated mental condition that he has "fits" and "paroxysms of anguish," is suicidal, and needs help to keep from hurting himself.

The themes of disillusionment and connection to nature combine here. Victor is so overcome with disillusion that prison is as welcome to him as "the divinest scene in nature." Here he is Adam, fallen in sin and expelled from the Garden. Nature no longer provides a balm to his soul or a boost to his spirits. Nature is dead to him.

The light and darkness symbol appears in this chapter as well. When Victor is exonerated and released from prison, the sun is shining. Rather than reveling in the light and feeling joy, however, he sees "nothing but a dense and frightful darkness." Rather than the cheerful sun, he see two orbs, which are eyes. Sometimes they are Henry's and sometimes the Monster's. Victor has fallen into the darkness and feels despair.

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