Analysis of a Minor Character
It can be said that Frankenstein is a story about man’s struggle to overcome and harness nature. It is a story of nature vs. nurture, and of science’s ability to both facilitate and limit man. Frankenstein strives to create life without a woman and then leaves it to its own means of survival and education. Though left to his own devices, the creature discovers a family (the DeLaceys) from whom he learns to articulate his inner-most needs and desires. Though his observations of the family did much to fill him in on his lack of communication as well as a support system, it was the arrival of Felix’s fiancée that opened his eyes to his innate desire for companionship, his ability to learn a means of communication, and his ultimate understanding of the possessions which manifest in a man, without which he might have never understood his own feelings or the way to Victor’s.
At the arrival of Safie to the DeLacey home, she is completely illiterate in French and cannot communicate with her peers in the same way that the creature had observed them communicate with each other. “I soon perceived, that although the stranger uttered articulate sounds, and appeared to have a language of her own, she was neither understood by, or herself understood (Shelley 87.) It is here in the story that the creature realizes his potential to learn, as Safie would have to, in order to communicate finally with the family he wanted so to be a part of. The DeLaceys proceed to teach her the language and it is through the observations of these teachings that the creature is able to acquire a basic understanding of the language. Furthermore, it is by reading the books assigned to Safie that the creature is introduced to many connotations of words (daemon from “Paradise Lost”) as well as philosophical narrations of mankind’s struggles.
“These wonderful narrations inspired me with strange feelings. Was man indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base” (Shelley 89.) Language is a powerful tool, and while all that the creature sought was an ability to join the picturesque family he so longingly watched everyday, he was plunged into a cruel understanding of himself. “These words induced me turn towards myself” (90.) It is interesting how once identified, a feeling is given reign to fully bloom. The creature realizes his own feelings and questions his place not only in society, but in mankind. The question of man vs. monster permeates his thoughts and he begins to understand what differentiates the two. He learns of men overcoming and being overcome by evil, and above all, by love.
Love is a constant underscore in this story of Frankenstein and his mysterious creature. At sight of the happiness Safie’s arrival brings to Felix, the creature realizes his own longing for a companionship that can give to him that nature of happiness. He learns to recognize beauty not on a page, but first-hand. Not as a description, but as an experience. It is as if Safie (the creature’s observations of her) brings to life for the creature the feelings of longing, desire, and loneliness that were once merely an array of words with no power behind them.
This experience brings about a shift in the novel, where the creature decides he must use his mastery of language to read Victor’s journal and find him in order to demand that a companion be created for him. Furthermore, it is arguable that without his newfound knowledge of love and loss, the creature would not have known how to leverage Victor’s involuntary feelings in order to become his master. It would be naïve to say that the creature did not know exactly what he was doing when chose to leave Elizabeth strangled on their wedding bed. It seems that Mary Shelley created Safie’s character as a means to teach the creature of everything nature could not. The name Safie is actually a Greek word for learning, which is exactly what the creature inherits just by observing her, and it is through this knowledge of the limitations of man (love) that he brings about Victor’s very demise.