The Various Shades of Empathy
The ways in which an individual’s resilience is shaped by empathy. (June 2014)
Over the years, scientists have wondered as to what an individual’s resilience is reliant upon. They have studied the human psyche, yet have still been unable to decipher how an individual’s resilience is shaped; however, it is now a common belief that an individual will show greater resilience when motivated by empathy towards another individual. An example of such an occurrence is portrayed by The Monster, in Mary Shelly’s novel, Frankenstein;Or, the modern Prometheus. The Monster is a creature that is even detested by his own creator, prompting him to believe that he is alone in the world, and believing that he has no purpose in life. The discovery of a secluded, remote, cottage is able to spark hope within the monster, a hope that allows The Monster to continue living his dreaded life: the hope of empathy. The Monster becomes dependent on this empathy for his joy, as well as his purpose, causing a drastic change within him when he experiences a loss of that empathy. Through The Monster’s demonstrated resilience in the presence of empathy, and his change of character when he loses that empathy, Mary Shelly, in her novel Frankenstein, demonstrates that an individual’s resilience may be a reflection of their empathy towards others, allowing the individual to accomplish tasks which they had previously thought impossible; however, if the individual is to ever lose that empathy, their resilience may be motivated by thoughts of vengeance for the empathy which they had lost.
The Monster, after his creation, was deserted by his own creator due to The Monster’s own hideousness, his first experience of humans, which causes the monster pangs of sadness and confusion as to who he may be in the world. The monster is struck by a realization of how different he is from other beings in the world, when he tries to enter a village, only to be thrown out by the villagers. Void of empathy, the monster wishes for death, without purpose in his own life, and without any show of love towards himself, even by his own creator. The Monster is not only confused as to how the world works, but is also confused by death itself. The lack of empathy leaves the monster without strength, as The Monster only continues to live due to the pain he feels from hunger; unable to see any purpose of his life, and is plunged into the pit of despair, wallowing in it as a pitiful and weak creature. The Monster is able to survive cold and solitary environments, uninhabited by humans, believing that it would be his refuge. In doing so, The Monster is showing weakness, as he refuses to follow his dreams of socializing with the inhabitants of the world, due to his horrid countenance, despite his kind and amiable demeanor. The Monster experiences a revitalization of hope when he discovers empathy for a trio of cottagers who are secluded from any village. Over the course of the months following this discovery, the monster is able to continue living and gain knowledge from the residents of the cottage, his resilience being motivated by his newfound empathy towards the cottagers, as well as his hope for empathy from the cottagers. The Monster, despite not being acquainted with the cottagers, is able to feel sadness when the cottagers are sad, and is also able to, for the first time, feel happiness when the individuals experience it as well. Witnessing the beauty and kindness of the world, The Monster desperately clings to empathy, finding refuge, as well as strength, inside of it. His empathy becomes his only purpose for living, providing The Monster resilience. Becoming reliant on empathy, The Monster does not approach the cottagers, in fear of losing his empathy towards them and being reduced back to the creature that was wallowing in the pit of despair. Through his change of character, The Monster demonstrates how the introduction of empathy within an individual’s life may be able to provide that individual with resilience. When The Monster was void of any sort of empathy, he was weak, just a weak-willed, confused, creature that is trapped within despair; however, after the discovery empathy, The Monster transforms into a kind and amiable individual, one who also thirsts for knowledge. By clinging to hisdream of receiving empathy, The Monster is setting himself up for disaster, as he has now become reliant on that empathy for strength, tying his purpose with that empathy. If The Monster were ever to lose his empathy or his hope, he may become a beast who would angrily take vengeance for his loss, or desperately try to find more empathy.
Motivated by his hope for the kindness and love of the cottagers, The Monster endeavors to become acquainted with them and once again, after all the misfortunes that befell him before, enter the society of humanity. His mission ends in failure, and after being thrown out by even those whom he had the greatest trust in, the monster loses nearly all his hope for being accepted by humanity. The Monster returns to his previous character, as a solitary monster, migrating to solitary regions where he may die. He stumbles upon a small child, William Frankenstein, a brother of The Monster’s creator. Upon realizing these details of the child, The Monster strangles the child to death, as vengeance against his creator who had left him without empathy. Despite his capacity for kindness and love, The Monster is still able to commit this horrendous act against his creator, taking pleasure in the grief that his actions cause his creator, providing the example of how different individuals may be when they experience a lack of empathy. The Monster soon returns to his creator, Victor Frankenstein, in the hope of persuading his creator to make a female monster whom The Monster may be able to find empathy in, promising his creator that he and his companion would live in solitary conditions, away from humans. When Victor agrees to do so, The Monster has once again found the promise of empathy, and follows his creator through his (Victor’s) journey in England. The Monster survives even the most uncomfortable of situations for months, without issuing a single complaint to Victor over his retarded approach towards the creation of a companion for the Monster. As aforementioned earlier, The Monster’s finds resilience in the hope for empathy from his companion, as The Monster has never been shown any sort of kindness from any living being. As such, the promise of empathy means a great deal to The Monster, and he will undergo any arduous task in order to be given the rewards of empathy, even braving the coldest and most solitary of living conditions, over long periods of time. During this time, The Monster does not cause any harm towards any living being, despite all the evils the world has done to him, albeit his kindness and amiability traits have disappeared. Making the same mistake as he had done with the cottagers, The Monster becomes reliant on this hope for his strength and inaction against humanity, creating a dangerous situation if Victor fails in making a companion for The Monster. Sadly, these events prove true, and The Monster, once again, and as a final change, becomes what the world truly thinks he is: a monster, void of any empathy.
The Monster’s final change leaves him as a creature who takes pleasure in the suffering of others, mainly his own creator. The Monster wishes to, as revenge against having his own life robbed of empathy and love, leave his creator in the same condition. This lack of empathy is able to motivate The Monster to commit murders and cause endless grief, leaving The Monster with as much strength and purpose as he had when he had hope for empathy. This absence of empathy leaves The Monster with the will to live, as his only purpose now in his life is to bring his creator into the same condition he is in. This is a mission that The Monster does not fail to accomplish, and soon Victor Frankenstein is bought to the same plane that The Monster had been living in: motivated only by revenge for his loss of empathy. Through both their changes into one, final, stage, one could argue that empathy is the sole virtue that determines an individual’s resilience, whether it be due to a hope for, in presence of, or even a lack of, empathy. Even Victor, a human, is able to trek the path of The Monster, despite the dangers that the harsh conditions present to Victor’s human body. Like The Monster, Victor only wishes to take revenge, and then die. Through the changes and actions of the two individuals, who can be said to be opposites yet both self-described as “miserable-wretch”, it can be seen how the resilience of an individual is completely reliant on empathy, regardless of the kind of empathy.
An individual’s resilience may be motivated by their empathy, whether that be the lack of it, hope of it, or in the presence of it, as shown through The Monster’s, and later, Victor’s, experiences. The Monster was born a creature that was void of any sort of empathy, and he does not have a purpose; however, upon discovery of empathy, it becomes his purpose to live. When The Monster loses that empathy, he becomes a wild beast, wanting to reclaim any sort of empathy, and soon able to find that kind of hope in a new companion that Victor had promised to create for him. The Monster finally degenerates into a monster, when he loses that hope as well, completely motivated by thoughts of revenge against Victor, bringing Victor to the same plane. Through the actions of The Monster, it can be seen how individuals may be motivated by empathy from other individuals, or even a lack of it. Scientists will continue to study the human psyche regarding resilience, but, as Mary Shelly has shown in her novel, Frankenstein, resilience is solely reliant on the various types of empathy that the individual encounters.