Frankenstein Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-20

Chapter 17:

Frankenstein resumes his narration at the start of this chapter. Bewildered by the creature's story and enraged by his account of William's death, Victor initially refuses to create a female companion for him. He argues that their "joint wickedness" would be enough to destroy the world. The creature replies by saying that he is only malicious as a result of his misery: why should he meet man's contempt with submission? If he is met with hatred, he can only respond in kind. He appeals to Victor for sympathy, and asks Frankenstein to provide him with a lover to share in his suffering. If he complies, the creature promises to quit the company of mankind forever.

Frankenstein cannot help but see the justness of this argument. Though he feels a certain compassion for the creature, the "loathsomeness" of his appearance soon replaces his sympathy with horror and hatred. The creature continues to plead, saying that his "vices are the children of a forced solitude"; in the company of another his virtues would come forth, and he would thus become "linked to the chain of existence and events" from which he is now excluded.

Victor is torn. He thinks of the creature's supernatural strength, and about the great destruction he still might cause. He therefore determines to comply with the creature's request, in order to save both his family and the rest of humanity. The creature says that he will anxiously observe his progress and then leaves him. Victor descends the mountain with a heavy heart, and returns to Geneva haggard.


The most important feature of this chapter is the way in which the creature convinces Frankenstein to comply with his request. Throughout the better part of their exchange, the creature's tone is reasonable in the extreme: in fact, his desire for a companion seems almost noble. In this way, he will divest himself of his longing for violence and revenge, and lead a blameless life.

By aligning his maliciousness with his misery, he is implicitly blaming Frankenstein for what he has become: such an accusation, however, is effective in evoking the sympathy of both Victor and the reader. The creature often refers to Frankenstein as "you, my creator": this doubled form of address does not only serve to remind Victor of the responsibility he bears for giving the creature life; it is also a complimentary title that implores him for help.

As he speaks, the creature's syntax becomes almost Biblical in tone: he frequently uses the verb "shall," which has the ring of both prophecy and command. He is thus subtly informing Victor that he has no choice in this matter: his acquiescence is already a foregone conclusion.

Chapter 18:

Weeks pass, and Victor cannot bring himself to begin his work. Though he fears the creature's wrath, his abhorrence for the task proves insurmountable. He realizes that several months of study are required before he can begin composing the second creature; he determines to study in England, as the discoveries of an English philosopher will prove essential to his research. He endlessly delays asking his father for permission to do so, instead electing to remain in Geneva. His home is greatly beneficial to his health and spirits, and he has once again grown strong and cheerful. When his melancholy overtakes him (as it inevitably does), he takes refuge in solitude, and his good humor is soon restored.

The elder Frankenstein, who has observed these changes with pleasure, takes Victor aside and asks him about his recent desire for solitude. He wonders if Victor has perhaps decided that he does not wish to marry Elizabeth, but has not told his father out of fear of disappointing him. Victor reassures him that nothing could be further from the truth: he longs to marry Elizabeth, but must first satisfy a desire to visit England. The idea of marrying his beloved with his hateful task still uncompleted is unbearable to him. Victor disguises his true reasons for going abroad to his father, and the elder Frankenstein immediately consents to his request. It is decided that he and Elizabeth are to be married immediately upon his return to Geneva.

Henry Clerval is enlisted to accompany Victor on his journey; Victor is initially displeased at this, as he had wanted to undertake his task in perfect solitude. He is thrilled upon seeing Clerval, however, and reflects that Henry's presence will keep the creature from observing the progress of his work.

Though Victor is haunted by the fear that the creature will wreak havoc upon his family in his absence, he recalls that the creature has vowed to follow him wherever he might go. He abhors the idea of traveling in the monster's company, but realizes that it will ensure the safety of his loved ones. At this moment, he feels himself to be "the slave of [his] creature."

Victor and Clerval meet at Strasbourg, and travel by boat through Germany and Holland, and thenceforth to England; they arrive at London in December.

As he recalls their journey, Frankenstein is struck by the great difference between Clerval and himself. Clerval was entirely alive to the natural landscape, which he loved with unparalleled ardor; Victor, by contrast, was wracked with melancholy, and felt himself a "miserable wretch." Victor mourns over the memory of Clerval, whom he still considers a man of peerless worth and beauty of soul.


Victor's decision to marry Elizabeth immediately upon returning from England seems foolhardy: he has no way to know what will become of his pact with the creature. The marriage, for both Victor's father and Victor himself, represents the fulfillment of all the family's hopes and expectations: it will serve to restore order to the Frankenstein household after the terrible events that have befallen them. The union of Elizabeth and Victor will affirm that nothing has changed, that life continues as usual: it thus serves as a blatant affront to the creature's desire to revenge himself upon his creator. Indeed, marriage can only be grossly offensive to the creature, which has been deprived of all hope of love and companionship. It is important to note that Victor's marriage is dependent upon the creature: that is, he and Elizabeth will only be united if the creature is given his mate.

Frankenstein's happiness, at this point in the novel, is inextricably bound up with that of his creation; thus he feels himself to be the creature's slave. The two are now doubles for each other: like the creature, Victor suffers from an impenetrable solitude; like him, his romantic happiness is dependent upon the compassion of another; like him, he feels himself to be a "miserable wretch" unfit for human society. The question of who is the creator, who the creation will only become more confused as the novel builds to its inevitable conclusion.

Victor's questionable sense of ethics re-emerges in his decision to conceal his true reasons for journeying to England. He openly expresses fear that he may be exposing his family to danger ­ and yet he never thinks to alert them to the threat. No reason is provided to account for this deliberate omission. The reader can only take it as yet another illustration of the narrator's selfishness; the fact that he ends the chapter by speaking of Clerval in the past tense, as a mere memory, foreshadows the catastrophic consequences that this deception will have.

Chapter 19:

In London, Clerval occupies himself with visits to learned and illustrious men; Victor cannot join him, however, as he is too absorbed in the completion of his odious task. He reflects that the trip would have given him indescribable pleasure while he was still a student; now, however, he wants only to be alone, as "an insurmountable barrier has been placed between [him] and [his] fellow men."

To Victor, Clerval is the image of his younger self: he is full of excitement and curiosity, and is at present making plans to travel to India. The two men receive a letter from a mutual friend inviting them to visit him in Scotland; though Victor detests all human society, he agrees to go, so as not to disappoint Clerval. He also looks forward to seeing the mountains once more.

The pair sets out for Scotland at the end of March. Victor reflects that he was "formed for peaceful happiness," having spent his youth in the enjoyment of nature and the contemplation of human accomplishment. Now, he feels himself to be a "blasted tree," an example of wrecked and forsaken humanity.

Clerval and Frankenstein spend time at Oxford, where they wonder over English history; for a brief moment, Victor "dares to shake off his chains" and is nearly happy. Almost immediately, however, he recalls his task, and is cast back into his former despair.

The pair finally arrives in Scotland. Victor is overcome by fear that he has neglected his work too long, and that the creature will visit his wrath upon his family or his friend. He awaits his letters from Geneva with tormenting anxiety, and follows Henry about as though he were his shadow.

After visiting Edinburgh and a number of other cities, Victor leaves Henry, having resolved to finish his work in a remote part of the Scotch countryside. His friend urges him to hurry back, as he will grow lonely without Victor's company.

Frankenstein devotes most of his mornings to labor, and walks the bleak and stony beach at night. His horror at his task increases daily, in stark contrast to the enthusiasm with which he undertook his first experiment. He grows progressively more anxious and terrified that he will meet his monster. He looks upon the new creation with a mixture of hope and "obscure forebodings of evil."


The symbol of the blasted tree is crucial to understanding what Frankenstein has become. A tree is a living organism that branches and spreads itself widely. One that is "blasted" is split down the middle, severed from its roots, unable to register sensations. The happiness that Victor once so casually enjoyed is now tainted by memories of the past and visions of the future. He can no longer find solace, since his soul cannot take pleasure in the manner it once did.

Frankenstein says that a "bolt" (as of lightning) has entered his soul. The reader cannot help but recall that the creature was brought to life by means of lightning: once again, Victor and his creature have become inextricably entangled. Both are separated from humanity by, in Victor's words, "an insurmountable barrier": for the creature, that barrier is his ugliness; for Frankenstein, it is his guilt. Victor's journey through Northern Europe seems to be a condensed version of the creature's own journey: both reflect on how they were once able to find consolation in nature and stories of human accomplishment (recall the creature's discovery of the satchel of books); now, nothing can ease their suffering.

The Scotland in which Frankenstein undertakes his second experiment is "a desolate and appalling landscape"; it thus mirrors the desolation and horror in Victor's heart. At chapter's end, the reader shares in the narrator's "forebodings of evil."

Chapter 20:

It is night. Frankenstein sits in his laboratory, contemplating the possible effects of this second experiment. He becomes increasingly horrified by his task and finds himself tormented by a number of questions: will this second creature be even more malignant than the first? Will she, unlike her mate, refuse to quit the company of man? Will they ultimately despise each other's hideousness as a mirror of their own? Frankenstein is repulsed by the thought that the two monsters might beget children and thereby create a new race that could ultimately destroy all humanity. Victor decides that unleashing such a scourge upon mankind would be of the utmost selfishness.

He glances up at the window to see the creature grinning at him from behind the glass. As the monster looks on, Frankenstein tears the half-finished creation to pieces. The creature howls in fury and despair, and then disappears.

Several hours later, the creature visits Victor while he is sitting in his laboratory lost in dreary contemplation. The creature reproaches him with having broken his promise, and asks if all his hardship and suffering has been for naught. When Frankenstein vows never to create another being like him, the creature calls him his "slave" and reminds him: "You are my creator, but I am your master." Seeing that Frankenstein will not be moved by threats, the creature swears that he will have his revenge upon his creator; he leaves him with a chilling promise: "I will be with you on your wedding-night."

Frankenstein passes a sleepless night; he weeps at the thought of how great Elizabeth's grief would be if her lover were to be murdered. He resolves not to fall before his enemy without a struggle.

A letter arrives from Henry, begging his friend to join him in Perth, so that they might proceed southward together. Victor decides to meet him in two days time. While disposing of the remnants of his second creation, Victor is overcome with disgust; he feels as though he has desecrated living human flesh. He resolves to dispose of the remains at sea.

At about two in the morning, Victor boards a small skiff and pilots it far away from shore. He disposes of the remains, and sails onward; he soon grows tired, however, and falls asleep in the bottom of the boat.

Upon awakening, Victor is terrified to find that his fragile ship has drifted into treacherous water. He thinks of how his death would leave his family at the mercy of the creature; the thought is torture to him, and he is nearly driven mad by it. Despite his misery, Victor still clings to life: he rejoices when he is out of danger, and manages to arrive safely on Irish shores.

A crowd of people observes his approach with suspicion; they rain verbal abuse upon him and cry that he is a villain. A bewildered Frankenstein is told that he must go see the magistrate, as he is suspected of being responsible for the death of a man who was found murdered the previous night.


Victor's decision to abandon his second experiment fills the reader with ambivalence. While he seems to be motivated by humanitarian concerns, it is also clear that he will expose his family and friends to grave danger if he does not comply with the creature's request. This possibility, however, appears not to have occurred to Victor: he inexplicably assumes that the creature's wrath will be visited upon him, and not upon Elizabeth, on his imminent wedding-night. The reader, however, can only expect the reverse: in destroying his second creation, he has destroyed the creature's bride and any chance the creature might have of happiness; the creature, we imagine, will respond in kind.

The creator and his creation continue to uncannily double one another, though their relation is now hopelessly confused: Victor is now the creature's "slave," and his life is entirely of the creature's design. It is no longer clear who is the creator, who the creation; who is the father, and who the child.

Of course, Victor's relation to the creature is closer to that of a mother than that of a father: it is, after all, a mother who "bodies" a child forth. Victor now stands in a subordinate position with relation to his creature ­ a position that is fraught with implications of femininity. Some commentators have read the creature's promise "to be with [Victor] on his wedding-night" as a sexual threat, a means of claiming Victor's body as well as his soul. The film version of Frankenstein, directed by James Whale, also interprets this threat as a sexual one; Whale, however, regarded the relation between the creator and his creation as homoerotic. If the creature places himself between Victor and Elizabeth (and if Victor places himself between the creature and his bride), they do so in order to have each other all to themselves. The monster, like Stevenson's Mr. Hyde, can be regarded as the wicked part of Victor's own character; it has been tiresomely common for critics and readers to regard homosexuality as the most evil act of which man ­ and the creature ­ could be capable.

Victor's near-death at sea is strangely ironic: Frankenstein might have perished, thereby robbing the creature of his longed-for vengeance. In this way, he could have escaped the creature and saved his defenseless family; instead, he stubbornly clings to life and, miraculously, is able to pilot the boat to shore. The narrative suggests that Frankenstein's fate lies in his creation's hands: he will not be spared the final catastrophe.