Guiltlessly Culpable

Frankenstein is a novel characterized by an unusually layered narrative structure. Narrators exist within narrators, narratives are passed from one character to another, and a distinct gap exists between the telling of the story and the historical unfolding of events. This patchwork narrative structure enables Victor Frankenstein to tell the tragic events of his life and to interrupt his tale with reflections on his fate. Initially, Frankenstein’s interruptive comments serve to insist that his destiny has been irrevocably determined and to deflect moral culpability for his actions. As the novel progresses, however, these metanarrative comments demonstrate his cognizance of his guilt, occurring with increasing frequency at moments in the tale in which Frankenstein exhibits escapist tendencies.

In the opening chapters of his narration, Frankenstein uses metanarrative comments to warn Walton of his (Frankenstein’s) doom and to frame his argument that he is not responsible for the tragedy he has experienced. These opening interruptive comments do not occur when Frankenstein exhibits escapist tendencies. Rather, they occur when he makes choices that he believes seal his fate. He describes his decision to study natural philosophy at...

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