What Makes a Monster and What Makes a Man? Exploring the Relationship between the Creator and the Creation in Three Gothic Novels

Veronica B. Rosenberger '13, Gettysburg College

English honors thesis


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray all tell tales of both men and monsters. Identifying which characters fit into which category, however, requires further analysis. Each story presents its own interpretation of the creation process pursued by very different creators and yielding very different creations. Victor Frankenstein is motivated by pride, scientific curiosity, and the hope of healing the human faults to build a huge creature out of corpse parts that becomes so ugly in life that no one can treat this monster with anything but fear and rage. Henry Jekyll is driven to resolve his inner spiritual conflict between the good and evil halves of his soul, and that leads him to unleash upon the world a being of pure, demoniacal malevolence. Artist Basil Hallward and philosopher Lord Henry Wotton take under their wing the young, beautiful Dorian Gray and influence him so strongly with their love and moral curiosity that he turns to a life of inescapable and damnable immorality. Can these creations be fully blamed for their actions? In each case, these monsters come from highly faulted creators that will not or cannot take the necessary action to see their creations through to success. These creations become monsters because they have no choice, yet if the creators are truly responsible for the beings to which they give life, does that not make them the monsters? The works of Shelley, Stevenson, and Wilde function as a clear warning. If a creator fails to provide his creation with the responsibilities called for by the creation process, the creature will fail. And, if the creation fails, so does the creator.