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Chapter IV.

Published onJun 17, 2019
Chapter IV.

Chapter IV.

“I lay on my straw, but I could not sleep. I thought of the occurrences of the day. What chiefly struck me was the gentle manners of these people; and I longed to join them, but dared not. I remembered too well the treatment I had suffered the night before from the barbarous villagers, and resolved, whatever course of conduct I might hereafter think it right to pursue, that for the present I would remain quietly in my hovel, watching, and endeavouring to discover the motives which influenced their actions.

“The cottagers arose the next morning before the sun. The young woman arranged the cottage, and prepared the food; and the youth departed after the first meal.

“This day was passed in the same routine as that which preceded it. The young man was constantly employed out of doors, and the girl in various laborious occupations within. The old man, whom I soon perceived to be blind, employed his leisure hours on his instrument, or in contemplation. Nothing could exceed the love and respect which the younger cottagers exhibited towards their venerable companion. They performed towards him every little office of affection and duty with gentleness; and he rewarded them by his benevolent smiles.

“They were not entirely happy. The young man and his companion often went apart, and appeared to weep. I saw no cause for their unhappiness; but I was deeply affected by it. If such lovely creatures were miserable, it was less strange that I, an imperfect and solitary being, should be wretched. Yet why were these gentle beings unhappy? They possessed a delightful house (for such it was in my eyes), and every luxury; they had a fire to warm them when chill, and delicious viands when hungry; they were dressed in excellent clothes; and, still more, they enjoyed one another’s company and speech, interchanging each day looks of affection and kindness. What did their tears imply? Did they really express pain? I was at first unable to solve these questions; but perpetual attention, and time, explained to me many appearances which were at first enigmatic.

“A considerable period elapsed before I discovered one of the causes of the uneasiness of this amiable family; it was poverty: and they suffered that evil in a very distressing degree. Their nourishment consisted entirely of the vegetables of their garden, and the milk of one cow, which gave very little during the winter, when its masters could scarcely procure food to support it. They often, I believe, suffered the pangs of hunger very poignantly, especially the two younger cottagers; for several times they placed food before the old man, when they reserved none for themselves.

“This trait of kindness moved me sensibly. I had been accustomed, during the night, to steal a part of their store for my own consumption; but when I found that in doing this I inflicted pain on the cottagers, I abstained, and satisfied myself with berries, nuts, and roots, which I gathered from a neighbouring wood.

“I discovered also another means through which I was enabled to assist their labours. I found that the youth spent a great part of each day in collecting wood for the family fire; and, during the night, I often took his tools, the use of which I quickly discovered, and brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days.

“I remember, the first time that I did this, the young woman, when she opened the door in the morning, appeared greatly astonished on seeing a great pile of wood on the outside. She uttered some words in a loud voice, and the youth joined her, who also expressed surprise. I observed, with pleasure, that he did not go to the forest that day, but spent it in repairing the cottage, and cultivating the garden.

“By degrees I made a discovery of still greater moment. I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds. I perceived that the words they spoke sometimes produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers. This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it. But I was baffled in every attempt I made for this purpose. Their pronunciation was quick; and the words they uttered, not having any apparent connexion with visible objects, I was unable to discover any clue by which I could unravel the mystery of their reference. By great application, however, and after having remained during the space of several revolutions of the moon in my hovel, I discovered the names that were given to some of the most familiar objects of discourse: I learned and applied the words fire, milk, bread, and wood. I learned also the names of the cottagers themselves. The youth and his companion had each of them several names, but the old man had only one, which was father. The girl was called sister, or Agatha; and the youth Felix, brother, or son. I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned the ideas appropriated to each of these sounds, and was able to pronounce them. I distinguished several other words, without being able as yet to understand or apply them; such as good, dearest, unhappy.

“I spent the winter in this manner. The gentle manners and beauty of the cottagers greatly endeared them to me: when they were unhappy, I felt depressed; when they rejoiced, I sympathized in their joys. I saw few human beings beside them; and if any other happened to enter the cottage, their harsh manners and rude gait only enhanced to me the superior accomplishments of my friends. The old man, I could perceive, often endeavoured to encourage his children, as sometimes I found that he called them, to cast off their melancholy. He would talk in a cheerful accent, with an expression of goodness that bestowed pleasure even upon me. Agatha listened with respect, her eyes sometimes filled with tears, which she endeavoured to wipe away unperceived; but I generally found that her countenance and tone were more cheerful after having listened to the exhortations of her father. It was not thus with Felix. He was always the saddest of the groupe; and, even to my unpractised senses, he appeared to have suffered more deeply than his friends. But if his countenance was more sorrowful, his voice was more cheerful than that of his sister, especially when he addressed the old man.

“I could mention innumerable instances, which, although slight, marked the dispositions of these amiable cottagers. In the midst of poverty and want, Felix carried with pleasure to his sister the first little white flower that peeped out from beneath the snowy ground. Early in the morning before she had risen, he cleared away the snow that obstructed her path to the milk-house, drew water from the well, and brought the wood from the outhouse, where, to his perpetual astonishment, he found his store always replenished by an invisible hand. In the day, I believe, he worked sometimes for a neighbouring farmer, because he often went forth, and did not return until dinner, yet brought no wood with him. At other times he worked in the garden; but, as there was little to do in the frosty season, he read to the old man and Agatha.

“This reading had puzzled me extremely at first; but, by degrees, I discovered that he uttered many of the same sounds when he read as when he talked. I conjectured, therefore, that he found on the paper signs for speech which he understood, and I ardently longed to comprehend these also; but how was that possible, when I did not even understand the sounds for which they stood as signs? I improved, however, sensibly in this science, but not sufficiently to follow up any kind of conversation, although I applied my whole mind to the endeavour: for I easily perceived that, although I eagerly longed to discover myself to the cottagers, I ought not to make the attempt until I had first become master of their language; which knowledge might enable me to make them overlook the deformity of my figure; for with this also the contrast perpetually presented to my eyes had made me acquainted.

“I had admired the perfect forms of my cottagers—their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions: but how was I terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification. Alas! I did not yet entirely know the fatal effects of this miserable deformity.

“As the sun became warmer, and the light of day longer, the snow vanished, and I beheld the bare trees and the black earth. From this time Felix was more employed; and the heart-moving indications of impending famine disappeared. Their food, as I afterwards found, was coarse, but it was wholesome; and they procured a sufficiency of it. Several new kinds of plants sprung up in the garden, which they dressed; and these signs of comfort increased daily as the season advanced.

“The old man, leaning on his son, walked each day at noon, when it did not rain, as I found it was called when the heavens poured forth its waters. This frequently took place; but a high wind quickly dried the earth, and the season became far more pleasant than it had been.

“My mode of life in my hovel was uniform. During the morning I attended the motions of the cottagers; and when they were dispersed in various occupations, I slept: the remainder of the day was spent in observing my friends. When they had retired to rest, if there was any moon, or the night was star-light, I went into the woods, and collected my own food and fuel for the cottage. When I returned, as often as it was necessary, I cleared their path from the snow, and performed those offices that I had seen done by Felix. I afterwards found that these labours, performed by an invisible hand, greatly astonished them; and once or twice I heard them, on these occasions, utter the words good spirit, wonderful; but I did not then understand the signification of these terms.

“My thoughts now became more active, and I longed to discover the motives and feelings of these lovely creatures; I was inquisitive to know why Felix appeared so miserable, and Agatha so sad. I thought (foolish wretch!) that it might be in my power to restore happiness to these deserving people. When I slept, or was absent, the forms of the venerable blind father, the gentle Agatha, and the excellent Felix, flitted before me. I looked upon them as superior beings, who would be the arbiters of my future destiny. I formed in my imagination a thousand pictures of presenting myself to them, and their reception of me. I imagined that they would be disgusted, until, by my gentle demeanour and conciliating words, I should first win their favour, and afterwards their love.

“These thoughts exhilarated me, and led me to apply with fresh ardour to the acquiring the art of language. My organs were indeed harsh, but supple; and although my voice was very unlike the soft music of their tones, yet I pronounced such words as I understood with tolerable ease. It was as the ass and the lap-dog; yet surely the gentle ass, whose intentions were affectionate, although his manners were rude, deserved better treatment than blows and execration.

“The pleasant showers and genial warmth of spring greatly altered the aspect of the earth. Men, who before this change seemed to have been hid in caves, dispersed themselves, and were employed in various arts of cultivation. The birds sang in more cheerful notes, and the leaves began to bud forth on the trees. Happy, happy earth! fit habitation for gods, which, so short a time before, was bleak, damp, and unwholesome. My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature; the past was blotted from my memory, the present was tranquil, and the future gilded by bright rays of hope, and anticipations of joy.

Josephine Wallace:

Something’s character is not wholly determined by its nature, but also by its environment as it progresses through life, and if something is nurtured properly, it may become good, no matter the evil in it;s nature upon birth, however good may turn evil in the same way. In Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, Frankenstein’s monster is a clear example of this. At the beginning of the monster’s tale, he appeared to be lonely and wanting of love, however due to the violent reception’s that greeted him every which way. We can also see this truth in the possibility of a future ruled by hiveminds. Hiveminds could have the power to transform good people and evil people alike into mindless drones, ruled by one person, who may be good or evil themselves.

Philosophy & PoliticsTechnology
Frankenbook Editor:

Until this point in the novel, the creature was simply surviving—carrying out his biological imperative for self-preservation. Once he begins using tools and contributing to the cottagers’ well being, he truly evolves by changing, growing, and adapting to his environment.

Want to learn more about how technologies—from fire to CRISPR—define the human experience? Watch “Tools of Our Own,” featuring commentary by Kate Krueger, a molecular biologist at New Harvest, and Genevieve Dewar, a paleoanthropologist and archaeologist at University of Toronto, Scarborough.

Watch more episodes of our Reanimation! series on our Media page.

Liz and James Fiacco:

Much like the creature, recent machine learning models learn language by observing human language. Furthermore, both come into the world without innate knowledge given by their creators. Their understanding of language is solely the result of their observations of the words they hear and the contexts in which those words are uttered. They don’t choose to exist with these limitations; they simply can’t know anything else.

The incomplete understanding that the creature acquires through observation is actually fairly similar to how errors are commonly made by machine learning algorithms. For instance, the creature hears the young man called “Felix,” “brother,” and “son,” but does not immediately know that one of these words is a name, while the others describe two different relationships. The creature is deprived of the necessary information to make these connections, and because Victor abandons him, he lacks a teacher to help correct these kinds of errors, which makes learning language far more difficult.

Similarly, machine learning algorithms that are given human feedback or annotated data frequently learn much more quickly than those without these kinds of inputs. A supervised learning algorithm can be trained to do a more sophisticated tasks, such as determining implications between sentences, using human-annotated data.

To explore machine learning and language yourself, you can play Lab Assistant, a game we created based on language processing technology, where you teach a slime creature powered by artificial intelligence how to help you solve puzzles. The creature also starts as a blank slate, only learning vocabulary as it observes how you use it. Part of our goal in designing Lab Assistant was to make an intelligence that the player is inclined to nurture, rather than abandon like the creature in Frankenstein. You can download the game here, for free. (Note: Lab Assistant currently only works on Windows machines.)

Equity & InclusionInfluences & Adaptations
Mary Margaret Fonow:

Here the creature refers to one of the fables by Aesop (620–560 BCE). A farmer’s donkey becomes jealous of the famer’s affection for his pet lap dog. The hard-working donkey tries to get the farmer’s attention by imitating the lap dog’s playful behavior. When the donkey jumps up on the farmer, expecting to be petted, bystanders become fearful and attack the donkey for acting uncharacteristically. One popular interpretation of the moral of the story is not to try to be someone you are not. Mary turns the meaning of the fable on its head by focusing on the injustice that happens when a creature’s efforts to obtain affection are rebuffed and punished. There are many instances throughout the novel where the creature witnesses others expressing love and kindness toward one another, and so he desires to be treated the same. When his bid to be admitted into humanity is rejected, he lashes out. Mary suggests outrage is one possible reaction to rejection and exclusion.

Equity & InclusionMary ShelleyPhilosophy & Politics
Adam Hosein:

The creature here perceives the human tendency to distinguish between members of the in-group and members of the out-group and to fear and despise the latter: “othering,” as it is sometimes known. He also suggests, plausibly, that othering occurs where the" target is not simply different from the audience but also not understood, and he hopes to overcome this gap in understanding through communication with the cottagers. As his monologue continues, parallels are drawn between his situation and that of various outsiders and outcasts in history who have also been othered: immigrants (Safie and her father), the poor, the lowborn, and the orphaned. Mary Shelley herself is not immune from this tendency: see, for instance, her rather broad generalizations about women in Islam and her apparent approval of European colonization.

We must recognize that other people, especially those different from us, are not just sources of exclusion and anguish. The creature’s monologue is also a story of human development—from securing the most basic means of survival to engaging with language and literature—and it emphasizes, too, the essential role of communing with others unlike us in achieving self-consciousness and fulfillment. Thus, it reveals the creature’s deep desire to interact with humans, a different species, and then with a created romantic partner of a different sex.

For another view on how being perceived by others is both essential to achieving self-consciousness and a potential source of deep despair, given our dependency on them for our sense of worth, one might compare Sartre’s theory in Being and Nothingness ([1943] 2012).

Equity & InclusionPhilosophy & Politics
Sally Kitch:

Although compassion—empathy or sympathy with the plight of others—and other positive sentiments and virtues may seem inherent personal characteristics, Frankenstein makes clear that circumstances can inspire virtues, such as compassion, and changed circumstances can eradicate or obscure them. The creature’s observation of the cottagers’ poverty as well as of their compassionate behavior toward their elderly relative instructs him in compassion. He stops stealing their food for himself, as he had previously done, and secretly provides them with firewood. But as the novel progresses, the creature suffers increasingly from feelings of abandonment, which inspire acts of revenge against Victor. He can remember that he was once compassionate, but he knows he is no longer so. “I am malicious because I am miserable,” he explains. “[I]f I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear” (here). Victor likewise demonstrates compassion when he is happy with himself and the world but intense selfishness and unconcern for others (especially Elizabeth) when he isn’t.

If virtue is even partly circumstantial, then all who act in the world, including scientists, must recognize that judgments about their own worth and the value of their work require close scrutiny. Victor acted alone, without consulting anyone about the value of his invention or its potential unintended consequences. If he had conferred with a community of thinkers and innovators with cooler heads, perhaps he could have rekindled his own compassion and avoided the cascading tragedy that emanates from his solitary creation.

Philosophy & Politics
Jameien Taylor:

We can think of kindness from two different perspectives: terminating and ongoing. A terminating perspective focuses on an individual act of kindness as not being valuable in itself but mainly valuable in the aim it will achieve. Conversely, an ongoing perspective privileges both the individual act itself and the accumulation of acts over time, which might lead to some particular aim. Both perspectives are rooted in a need to do for others, but the former rejects kindness as a process. The creature seems to understand kindness as a process. Through his many encounters with the family, he develops an ever-deepening recognition and awareness of them as individuals doing for one another. This recognition is significant because spending the time to build awareness of others is part of the mechanism of kindness: thus, when the creature spends this time, he has already begun the process of kindness himself. He progresses from simply recognizing and becoming aware of others to not only refraining from stealing their food but caring for them by chopping wood and leaving it for them at their doorstep. As we can see, he feels tremendous gratification from his actions. Ongoing kindness involves all of the features the creature experiences: recognition, awareness, and care. Scientific endeavors outside of Victor’s might be equally rewarded by using ongoing kindness as an ethical approach to research. By recognizing the possible implications of our scientific endeavors, being aware of not only the benefits but potential detriments, and acting with care, we might experience the “true pleasure” in being in service for others.

Equity & Inclusion
Nicole Piemonte:

The creature experiences fear and terror because his reflection reveals that he looks much different from others whom he has encountered. In this way, his self-knowledge is informed by others—that is, he sees, knows, and understands himself as society sees, knows, and understands him. This scene suggests that individual or personal identity is developed in part via cultural constructions of what it is beautiful, normal, acceptable, moral, and so forth. We come to know ourselves—and even to fear ourselves—through our encounters with others, and what society deems as “normal” often influences our self-perceptions.

Motivations & SentimentsScience
David H Guston:

The creature is a good if simple empiricist, understanding words for concrete objects but having more difficulty with words that represent abstract concepts. Perhaps at this stage in his development, he—much like Victor—can master objects but not feelings, causes but not concepts.