Who is the True Protagonist?
A woman screams in fright as she runs away from the beast behind her. The looming figure has grotesque and inhuman features; the image of an evil monster. This situation is one we are all familiar with. There is a monster who is automatically seen as the villain and then the poor victim who must rise to the occasion and vanquish the monster. However, while it may be assumed that in Mary Shelley's, Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein is the protagonist of the novel, his lack of character change and inability to make decisions makes it more likely that the true protagonist of the story is none other than the monster, leaving Frankenstein to adopt the role of antagonist.
A protagonist is described as being the main character of a story, but more than that, a protagonist is one who elicits and undergoes change. Frankenstein, while of course being the main character of the story -- well one of the main characters -- lacks the initiative to step up and make deliberate changes and does not go through any particularly notable growth throughout the course of the novel. His personality is largely ruled by self pity and his continued obsession with the monster. It is unfortunate that such a brilliant man could be so narrow minded, such as when he, with out a doubt, believed that the monster had been the murderer of his younger brother, without having any proof at all. While he was right in the matter, he was not correct about the exact reason why the monster would commit such a deed. It goes without saying that Frankenstein's character remains mostly consistent throughout the whole book. He starts out alone and excluded from society, pitying himself for creating such a monstrous creature and goes on for the rest of the novel to feel the same way. His perspective on the monster is also unchanging. Even when it is revealed to him that the monster was originally a pure soul and not the evil malicious being he believed him to be, he refused to acknowledge that it was mainly his fault that the monster ended up the way he did. His refusal to ever accept anything other than what he believed to be true, even till his dying day, exemplifies the fact that he never learned the pivotal lesson associated with protagonists.
In addition to the fact that he never changed, Frankenstein also failed to deliberately bring change any of his surroundings. As in the case of Justine, he gave himself half-hearted excuses for not acting to try and save the young girl's life. "My own agitation and anguish was extreme during the whole trial. I believed in her innocence; I knew it. Could the demon who had (I did not for a minute doubt) murdered my brother also in his hellish sport have betrayed the innocent to death and ignominy? I could not sustain the horror of my situation, and when I perceived that the popular voice and the countenances of the judges had already condemned my unhappy victim, I rushed out of the court in agony. The tortures of the accused did not equal mine; she was sustained by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore my bosom and would not forgo their hold." (pg. 71-72) Even then, moments after Elizabeth's heartfelt speech in defense of Justine, he feels hopelessness. However, he never even attempted to second Elizabeth's claim that Justine was innocent, he simply resigned himself to the fact that no matter what he said Justine would be condemned, not actually knowing what the result of his actions would have caused. The reason for his lack of action simply being that he was really a coward on the inside. This, along with many other ignored opportunities for action, such as his total failure to provide Elizabeth with protection from the monster and more, prove that Victor Frankenstein is not the true protagonist of the story. Instead he is left the title of antagonist, doomed to be in conflict with the monster till the day he died.
But why is it that the monster would make a better protagonist than Victor? Well the fact of the matter is that the monster exhibits many more of the traits that designate a protagonist than Frankenstein does. For one, his personality actually goes through changes as he experiences character growth. When the monster left Frankenstein, he had but the mind of an innocent newborn. As he wandered through hills and forests he could not help but be amazed by the simplest of things, as all children are. The simple crackling of a fire and the rising of the moon, were enough to bring wonder into his life, and for the time he was content living in blissful ignorance. Even after his unfortunate run-ins with villagers, at which the seeds of truth were planted in his mind, he was able to retain his kind, gentle, and innocent state of mind. "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...I had been accustomed...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 neighboring wood...I (also) often took his tools...and brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days." (pg. 99) It is obvious how much he cares about the cottagers to anyone who reads this passage, even showing empathy for others.
However, this side of him seemed to have died the day he was rejected by the very family he had grown to care so much about. "I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those rage and revenge...from that moment I declared everlasting war against the species (man), and more than all, against him who had formed me and sent me forth to this unsupportable misery." (pg. 126-126) It is this event that results in his drastic change in personality, leading him from the kind and gentle soul that he was, to the hate and revenge-filled creature he became.
Second, he makes conscience decisions in order to change his circumstances. He constantly makes the effort to amend his situation, in order to keep himself from being so lonely. Though his attempts at procuring for himself a companion, be it through the interaction between him and other people, or through his attempt at convincing Frankenstein to create him one -- "You must create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you alone can do, and I demand it of you as a right which you must not refuse to concede." (pg. 134) -- were unsuccessful, they were at least attempts on his part. Something Victor was to much of a coward to even try. Moreover, even once he knew that there would be no chance of him receiving his companion, he still took matters into his own hands by implementing the second part of his desires, to extract his revenge on Frankenstein for the many miseries that he caused him.
Lastly, the monster actually learned a valuable lesson by the end of the book. With the death of Frankenstein the monster is finally able to realize just why he could not find pleasure in the death of the man who had been the cause of all his sufferings. He realizes that revenge is not something that can ever bring happiness to anyone, because once the object of revenge is gone, there is nothing left to live for, and the crushing power of loneliness returns. "For a while I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. They were forever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned." (pg. 211)
With all the evidence laid out, it is hard to disagree that the monster actually deserves to be called the protagonist far more than Frankenstein does. A change in character, attempts to change their circumstances, and a valuable lesson learned just before a tragic ending, all the characteristics that a prominent figure in literature needs to be considered a protagonist, and the monster possesses each and every one. It is therefore proved that a normal approach at determining Mary Shelley's true intentions as to who is the true protagonist in the novel is, cannot be applied here.