Irony is a literary device by which language or expectation is undermined in a narrative. There is a significant use of irony in the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Frankenstein’s first name, Victor, is ironic because in the end, he is not at all victorious. While Frankenstein attempts to control the principle of life and death by reanimating a dead body, the result of his experiment gains control over him. Finally, while Frankenstein’s creature looks hideous and awful, he is mostly good at heart. The reader’s expectation of his moral wickedness is undermined.
The first example of irony in Frankenstein is that of the title character’s very name. With a name like “Victor” the reader might anticipate that eventually the character with that name will be victorious, but in the novel, Frankenstein finds himself in jail, loses everyone he loves, and dies. The protagonist says “But I was doomed to lived… and found myself...surrounded by gaolers, turnkeys, bolts, and all the miserable apparatus of a dungeon” (Shelley 130). When Frankenstein’s wife is horribly murdered by the Creature, Frankenstein says “Why am I here to relate the destruction of the…purest creature of earth! She was there, lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hanging down, and her pale and distorted features half covered by hair” (Shelley 144). Victor Frankenstein is certainly not victorious at all as his loved ones perish.
Another ironic element of the story is that while Frankenstein is trying to dominate the principle of life and death by playing God and reanimating a corpse, this very corpse gains control over Frankenstein. The reanimated Creature controls Frankenstein by telling him to make a companion for him or else he will murder everyone Frankenstein cares about. The Creature says “Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master;-obey!” (Shelley 122). This shows that when we try to play God and try to create our own human being or creature, it does not end well. We end up becoming slaves to sin, or in this case, he becomes a slave of a monster.
The third example of irony in Frankenstein is the disparity between the Creature’s outward appearance and inward qualities. The Creature’s description paints the picture of a nightmare:
“His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth were of pearly whiteness; but these luxurances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips” (Shelley 35).
The Creature seems like the most horrid, hideous, and unattractive monster imaginable, but in reality he is not corrupt at heart. All the Creature wants to do is live a good life without anyone rejecting him, “But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched me in my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses” (Shelley, 86). The Bible says, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). The way people judge one another is flawed, but the way God sees them is perfect.
In Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, there is much irony, but three clear examples suggest themselves: the irony of Frankenstein’s first name Victor, the irony of the Creator being subject to the Creation, and the irony of the Creature’s appearance, so frightful and evil looking, but he is merely human.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. Third, Dover Publications,