Frankenstein and the Jellyfish

Parenting is an often discussed topic in relation to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, particularly Victor’s lack of parenting towards his creation, but what about how Victor was parented? Alfonse and Caroline Frankenstein’s parenting style has much to do with Victor’s behaviour and ultimately can serve as a warning for readers to beware of bad parenting!

Victor’s account of his excellent upbringing and childhood often goes unquestioned. We willingly take his word that it was all sunshine and roses, but we shouldn’t. To any child unconditional love and having everything your heart desires is awesome, so of course Victor would claim he had an excellent youth. The problem is Victor is not looking at his childhood from the proper perspective because he is overtly biased. I assert that his upbringing is the root of the problem. Victor is a spoiled brat and it’s because of his parents.

Parenting experts have written volumes on the effectiveness or lack thereof of various parenting styles. Most would agree that an Authoritative style (Coloroso’s back bone parent) is the standard by which we all should live. They also go to great lengths to describe the other styles that sit at opposite ends of the parenting spectrum – Authoritarian and Permissive. Barabara Coloroso, in her book, kids are worth it! calls the Authoritarian parent the brick wall, while the Permissive parent is dubbed the jellyfish. Shimi Kang, MD and prominent psychiatrist, also calls Permissive parents jellyfish, but prefers to refer to Authoritarian parents as tigers and Authoritative parents as dolphins. Regardless of the various terms, Caroline and Alfonse Frankenstein exhibit jellyfish traits in their upbringing of Victor and this is where the problems begin.

The problem with being a jellyfish parent is that it more often than not creates spoiled brats who have a hard time accepting rules and being patient due to the lack of rules and over-indulgent nature of jellyfish parents. Subsequently, children also have trouble making good decisions, they don’t accept authority well and have difficulty working with others because they expect to get their own way all the time. They may even have angry outbursts when they don’t get their own way. In relationships, they often struggle, being unable to give and take, expecting their partner to jump at their every whim similar to what their parents did. Shimi Kang, M.D., a psychiatrist and the author of The Dolphin Way stresses that parental permissiveness leads to overindulgence which in turn creates a child with poor impulse control.

Victor describes his parents as very loving – even doting, which could be considered overindulgent. His father, Alfonse, was presented as a man who devoted himself to his wife and children to the extreme: “There was a sense of justice in my father’s upright mind, which rendered it necessary that he should approve highly and love strongly” (Shelley 41). Both Alfonse and Caroline “[drew] inexhaustible stores of affection from a very mine of love to bestow them upon [Victor]…[he] was their plaything and their idol” (Shelley 42). The Frankensteins even go so far as to provide Victor his very own living doll – Elizabeth Lavenza, given to him as his present. Aside from the feminist implications that could be drawn from that scenario, it also paints a picture of the absolute indulgence given to Victor as a child, which he later admits completely:

No human could have passed a happier childhood than myself. May parents possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence. We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed.  (Shelley 45)

Victor himself gives us a clear description of the over-indulgent nature of his parents, a typical trait of the permissive jellyfish parenting style.

Jellyfish parents typically do not give enough instruction, provide unclear expectations and goals, while also allowing too much autonomy too early. Victor concedes that “to a great degree [he was] self-taught with regard to [his] favourite studies [because] [his] father was not scientific, and [he] was left to struggle with a child’s blindness” (Shelley 47). Victor was definitely given free reign at an early age in regards to his own education with little guidance from the adults in his life. This autonomy and lack of guidance resulted in Victor’s poor judgement and decision making skills. He never learned to temper his fantasies with a good dose of reality, instead spending his time searching for “the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life” (Shelley 47). When his father finally spoke up commenting negatively on Victor’s choice in reading Cornelius Agrippa, Victor became insolent, purposely throwing himself headlong into further study of the defunct natural philosophers. He has a moment of clarity into the powers of parenting when he exclaims,

If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me, that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded,…I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside…It is even possible, that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin. (Shelley 46)

Thus, Victor’s parents, by giving him every opportunity and allowing him the power and freedom to learn as he desired, gave him little guidance or explanation in how to use those opportunities resulting in his inability to consider consequences and take responsibility.

Victor’s descriptions of his childhood, while not only providing evidence of the over-indulgent, lackadaisical nature of his parents, also gives us insight into the outcome of their jellyfish parenting style. Even at an early age, signs were beginning to show. Victor admits “My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement” – definitely reminiscent of the angry outbursts typical of the over-indulged child who lacks impulse control and resorts to temper tantrums (Shelley 45). Furthermore, there is little question that he has difficulty with taking responsibility. He not only ignores his own family for expansive amounts of time, he abandons the creature – shunning his responsibility to it – and runs away to avoid taking responsibility. He avoids owning up to the creation of the monster – even at the price of Justine’s life further compounding his lack of responsibility. Overall, Victor behaves like the spoiled child that he is and has never grown out of.

Victor is solely responsible for the disastrous events and untimely deaths of his loved ones at the hands of the creature, but ultimately it is his upbringing that precipitated his downfall.

Coloroso, Barbara. Kids Are Worth It: Raising Resilient, Responsible, Compassionate Kids. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2001. Print.

Kang, Shimi K. The dolphin way: a guide to raising healthy, happy, and motivated kids. New York: Penguin, 2015. Print.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Johanna M. Smith. Frankenstein: complete, authoritative text with biographical, historical, and cultural contexts, critical history, and essays from contemporary critical perspectives. Second ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. Print.

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