'Frankenstein' Characters

Descriptions and Analysis

In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, characters must reckon with the conflict between personal glory and human connection. Through the story of an alienated monster and his ambitious creator, Shelley raises themes such as familial loss, the search for belonging, and the cost of ambition. Other characters serve to reinforce the importance of community.

Victor Frankenstein

Victor Frankenstein is the main protagonist of the novel. He is obsessed with scientific achievement and glory, which drives him to discover the secret of manifesting life. He devotes all his time his studies, sacrificing his health and his relationships for his ambition.

After spending his adolescence reading outdated theories on alchemy and the philosopher’s stone, Frankenstein goes to university, where he succeeds in germinating life. However, in trying to create a being in the mold of man, he fashions a hideous monster. The monster runs off and wreaks havoc, and Frankenstein loses control of his creation.

Out in the mountains, the monster finds Frankenstein and asks him for a female companion. Frankenstein promises to create one, but he does not want to be complicit in the propagation of similar creatures, so he breaks his promise. The monster, enraged, kills Frankenstein’s close friends and family.

Frankenstein represents the dangers of enlightenment and the responsibilities that come with great knowledge. His scientific achievement becomes the cause of his downfall, rather than the source of praise he once hoped for. His rejection of human connection and his single-minded drive for success leave him bereft of family and love. He dies alone, searching for the monster, and expresses to Captain Walton the necessity of sacrifice for a greater good.

The Creature

Referred to as “the creature,” Frankenstein's unnamed monster yearns for human connection and a sense of belonging. His terrifying façade frightens everyone and he is chased out of villages and homes, leaving him alienated. Despite the creature's grotesque exterior, however, he is largely a compassionate character. He is a vegetarian, he helps bring firewood to the peasant family he lives near, and he teaches himself to read. Yet the constant rejection he suffers—by strangers, the peasant family, his master and William—hardens him.

Driven by his isolation and misery, the creature turns to violence. He kills Frankenstein’s brother William. He demands that Frankenstein should create a female creature so that the pair can live away from civilization peacefully, and have the solace of each other. Frankenstein fails to deliver this promise, and out of revenge, the creature murders Frankenstein's loved ones, thus transforming into the monster he has always appeared to be. Denied a family, he denies his maker a family, and runs to the North Pole where he plans to die alone.

Thus, the creature is a complicated antagonist—he is a murderer and a monster, but he began his life as a compassionate, misunderstood soul searching for love. He demonstrates the importance of empathy and society, and as his character deteriorates into cruelty, he stands as an example of what can happen when the basic human need for connection is not fulfilled.

Captain Walton

Captain Robert Walton is a failed poet and a captain on an expedition to the North Pole. His presence in the novel is limited to the beginning and ending of the narrative, but he nevertheless plays an important role. In framing the story, he serves as a proxy for the reader.

The novels begin with Walton's letters to his sister. He shares a primary trait with Frankenstein: the desire to achieve glory through scientific discoveries. Walton greatly admires Frankenstein when he rescues him from the sea, and he listens to Frankenstein’s tale.

At the end of the novel, after hearing Frankenstein's story, Walton’s ship becomes trapped by ice. He is confronted with a choice (which happens to parallel the thematic crossroads faced by Frankenstein): go ahead with his expedition, risking his own life and those of his crewmen, or return home to his family and abandon his dreams of glory. Having just listened to Frankenstein’s tale of misfortune, Walton understands that ambition comes at the cost of human life and relationships, and he decides to return home to his sister. In this way, Walton applies the lessons that Shelley wishes to impart through the novel: the value of connection and the dangers of scientific enlightenment.

Elizabeth Lavenza

Elizabeth Lavenza is a woman of Milanese nobility. Her mother died and her father abandoned her, so the Frankenstein family adopted her when she was just a child. She and Victor Frankenstein were raised together by their nanny Justine, another orphan, and they have a close relationship.

Elizabeth is perhaps the primary example of the abandoned child in the novel, which is populated by many orphans and makeshift families. Despite her lonely origins, she finds love and acceptance, and stands in contrast to the creature’s inability to find true familial connection. Frankenstein constantly praises Elizabeth as a beautiful, saintly, gentle presence in his life. She is an angel to him, as his mother was as well; in fact, all the women in the novel are domestic and sweet. As adults, Frankenstein and Elizabeth reveal their romantic love for each other, and get engaged to be married. On their wedding night, however, Elizabeth is strangled to death by the creature.

Henry Clerval

Henry Clerval, the son of a merchant of Geneva, is Frankenstein’s friend from childhood. He serves as Frankenstein’s foil: his academic and philosophical pursuits are humane, rather than scientific. As a child, Henry loved to read about chivalry and romance, and he wrote songs and plays about heroes and knights. Frankenstein describes him as a generous, kind man who lives for passionate adventure and whose ambition in life is to do good. Clerval’s nature is then quite in contrast with Frankenstein’s; instead of searching for glory and scientific achievement, Clerval searches for moral meaning in life. He is a constant and true friend, and he nurses Frankenstein back to health when he falls sick after creating the monster. Clerval also accompanies Frankenstein on his travels to England and Scotland, where they separate. Whilst in Ireland, Clerval is killed by the monster, and Frankenstein is initially accused of being his murderer.

The De Lacey Family

The creature lives for some time in a hovel joined to a cottage, which is inhabited by the De Laceys, a peasant family. By observing them, the creature learns to speak and read. The family is comprised of the old, blind father De Lacey, his son Felix, and his daughter Agatha. Later, they welcome the arrival of Safie, an Arabian woman who fled Turkey. Felix and Safie fall in love. The four peasants live in poverty, but the creature grows to idolize their compassionate, gentle ways. They serve as an example of a makeshift family, dealing with loss and hardship but finding happiness in each other’s companionship. The creature longs to live with them, but when he reveals himself to the peasants, they drive him away out of terror. 

William Frankenstein

William is Victor Frankenstein's s younger brother. The creature happens upon him in the woods and tries to befriend him, thinking that the child’s youth would make him unprejudiced. However, William is terrified of the ugly creature. His reaction seems to suggest that the creature's monstrosity is too much for even the innocent. In a fit of rage, the monster strangles William to death. Justine Moritz, the orphan nanny, is framed for his death and later hanged for the alleged crime.