the flames of motivation: polished critical

prompt: …the nature of motivations that direct an individual’s course of action.

text: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Motivations provide the clearest understanding of what an individual desires in life. The actions that follow provide the clearest understanding of the lengths one willing to go to live following their motivations. By nature, motivations are dynamic and will change as one grows their understanding of the world and themselves; however, certain motivations can be so ingrained into an individual that it is difficult, if not impossible, to change them. This is connected with the ideals by which one lives and the value one puts on certain elements of life. Mary Shelley, in her novel Frankenstein, explores this concept with Victor’s Frankenstein’s creation. Abandoned on his first day on Earth, the Monster desired companionship above all else; however, the very nature of his existence put him at a disadvantage preventing him from creating the ties he desired. To attain the relationships he wished to foster, others needed to accept him which was difficult due to his grotesque appearance. The precedent had already been set with his own creator abandoning and others followed suit; this desire for companionship remained constant in his life despite the outcomes that occurred each time he tried to pursue it because, without it, the Monster had no other purpose. Shelley explores the idea that when an individual pursues a motivation that they believe defines their existence, they are willing to go to extremes to achieve what they desire. They refuse to change their motivations as doing so would mean defying what provides them a purpose in life, thus they continue to alter their course of action past the point at which their actions stop working for them and instead work against them.

Humans are social beings who depend on others and the Monster’s understanding of this provided the basis for his motivation. He came into the world as a result of Victor’s desire to distinguish himself in the scientific community but was rejected soon after because he was not something that Frankenstein could present with pride. Despite this, he remained optimistic. Similar to a child, innocence dominated the early part of the Monster’s life as he lacked both understanding of society and himself. He was unaware of his appearance, blissfully one might say, and when he came across an old man who had fled upon seeing him, he was “somewhat surprised” and only fled when villagers attacked him. He was “miserable” because of the “barbarity of man” and resolved to stay in a hovel. The Monster was distrustful of humankind because of the malicious treatment he had received and instead took to observing them instead. But this was the first point of his downfall as he was forced to see the love he could never experience. He saw them helping and supporting each other in their times of hardship–he felt “sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature,” a mixture of “pain and pleasure” that forced him to stop looking as he could no longer “bear these emotions.” This choice to look in the first place sparked a fire in the Monster–fire, a “cause that should produce such opposite effects.” He changed his course of action to pursue the “fire” of companionship to seek its warmth: its ability to sustain life. His first encounter with fire allowed him to survive, his first encounter with companionship allowed him to live. His first encounters with humans showed him pain and suffering, but the De Lacey family showed him that the opposite does exist and thus he found his motivation–a reason to exist outside of the hovel he found asylum in. Motivations provide individuals a guide by which they can choose how to act, they can be temporary or be something that attained within a short period, or, like in the Monster’s case, be constant. When a motivation becomes a significant part of an individual’s identity, they shape their course of action following this desire. The trouble is when a motivation stems from what is perceived to be their purpose in life, individuals can be blinded by their motivations and not act appropriately. 

The Monster’s actions, much like his motivations, stemmed from a place of innocence as he tried to attain a sense of companionship with the De Lacey family. He had begun to develop his understanding of humans and though he sought their company, went about it a more subtle manner. After observing them for some time, he was able to distinguish the cause of unhappiness for the family: poverty. He was “deeply affected” by this and thus acted by alleviating some of their labours: collecting wood. The monster remained distant and never interacted with them outright because of reactions he had received from others; however, he maintained the impression that “his friends” were superior to them and would eventually accept him despite the “deformity of his figure.” His motivation was only further fueled by the acceptance of Safie–an Arab girl who, like him, was also considered an outsider. She was different in both her skin colour and her language, but she was welcomed and taught. The Monster took advantage of this and used this to improve his own abilities until he could understand and read their words. This allowed the Monster to read books that he had found in the forest: Paradise Lost, Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter. These books “raised [him] to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk [him] into the lowest dejection” as he was forced to contemplate both the existence of the characters of the novels as well as his own. He began to understand the deeper complexities of the human experience and the reasons he was hated; however, this did not deter him from desiring companionship. His motivations led him to the point at which his attention was “solely directed towards [his] plan of introducing myself” until he acted on this desire and went into the cottage. This interaction did not go according to his plan and he was forced to leave the cottage before “his protectors” did the same. His actions failed to provide the results he desired and he was burned by losing the semblance of companionship he had; thus, he burned the cottage symbolizing that rather than being deterred by his failure with the De Lacey’s, his motivation was still burning–larger than ever. But, he had also been burnt. When one’s purpose comes from a motivation, they will often refuse to reject the pursuit of said motivation even if it results in failure. This stems from a basic desire to accomplish something in one’s life. Therefore, an individual will forego any understandings of the world that contradict their desires and act on their motivations alone forgetting that results are dependent on society. Eventually, this can lead to individuals taking extreme measures in the face of failure in a desperate attempt to live following their motivations. 

The Monster’s extreme actions came into play when he asks Victor to create him a woman–similar to how Adam had Eve. His motivations still stem from a desire for companionship; however, he realizes that the only way he can have his actions cause the results he desires is if it is done with a being similar to his own disposition. Humanity, in the Monster’s mind, has proven to be simplistic in their desire for aesthetics and commonality. Thus, to achieve the results of his motivation, it must be done with someone who shares the same source of existence as him; they would have each other. When Victor refuses to comply because he could not get himself to create another “demon,” the Monster resorts to violence to force him: killing both Henry and Elizabeth. This, however, only proves to Frankenstein that he was correct in his stance and rather than create the Monster a female companion, he pursues his original creation to kill him. This, in a twisted way, provides the Monster with the closest thing he has to companionship in his life. He has someone in his life thinking about him and seeking him out–albeit not in a positive manner. His motivation comes from a desire for companionship which causes him to change his course of action from purely running from Victor to creating a game in which he leaves behind supplies to ensure the chase does not end. Inevitably, however, a destructive path only leads to a destructive end as Victor falls ill in the pursuit of his creation and dies aboard a ship having shared the story of the mistake he made in making the Monster. Upon finding Frankenstein’s body, the Monster is forced to see how his course of action failed to provide him what he desired. His motivations rooted in companionship caused him to act in extremes and instead of gaining what he wanted most, he lost the only thing he had: his tie to the world, his creator. As a response to the fate he has succumb to, he tells Walton he intends to kill himself; he jumps off the ship and floats away on an iceberg. He has lost the closest thing to a companion he had and thus has also lost purpose in life. He lost the flame that gave him life–both the warmth and pain it provided. The Monster sets off on the ice-dominated Arctic without the motivation that got him there in the first place. Motivations provide the precedent by which one lives; they act with this guide in place but when individuals fail to consider the impossibility associated with this motivation, they are susceptible to acting irrationally. This irrationality takes root in extreme actions that can ultimately undermine the motivations they originally sought to promote. 

In her novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley develops the idea that if an individual’s motivation is connected to their perceived purpose in life, they will be reluctant to change it even in the face of failure. This can entail an individual constantly changing their course of action until it no longer supports their motivation but, in fact, harms it. The Monster shifts from pursuing his motivation innocently to maliciously but both fail to provide him the result he desired: companionship. He could not control the De Lacey’s, Victor, or himself as his motivations blinded him from accepting the reality of his situation and the impossibility of companionship in his life. The duality of fire and companionship were quite apparent in his life: fire both provided him warmth and burned him when he got too close; companionship provided him warmth and burned him when he got too close. Extremes never represent the appropriate course of action when it comes to anything–especially not motivations that can permanently alter one’s perception of their existence.


(So rather than editing my original cold piece, I ended up doing a kinda different essay, which meant this took much longer than anticipated. I also don’t know if this is any good and I will revisit this later to edit, but I am far too tired to do it now–this weekend has been a grind. I think it is good enough to submit for now; my brain is too tired to argue the other way. That being said, I don’t think it is good-good. Take this into consideration if you read this. It is a bit harder to use comments on one essay to improve another–just a smidge. Good thing this isn’t the only time we are polishing criticals!!)




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