The context of Frankenstein » Literary context » The doppelganger
A doppelganger is a German term, literally meaning a ‘double-goer', an apparition or double of a living person. Such a figure haunts the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge's poem of that name:
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head,
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.
‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', lines 445-51
The idea of the doppelganger can be interpreted in a number of ways:
- it can be seen simply as a double, an alternative version of the individual concerned;
- it can be seen as a complement, a version of the individual that possesses different qualities and thus completes the personality;
- it can be seen as an opposite, a being that possesses all the qualities that the individual lacks and most abhors.
Use of doppelganger concept in Frankenstein
The use of the doppelganger in Frankenstein comes closest to the third of these interpretations:
- the monster becomes a kind of external embodiment of Frankenstein's increasingly divided and conflicted personality
- he is living proof that Victor has become separated from the best in himself and the potential for using his intelligence and skill for beneficial purposes
- as he obsessively pursues his studies, Frankenstein divides his head from his heart; his intellect and desire for scientific knowledge separate from his emotions, affections and responsibilities to other people.
- the monster's ugliness makes him the image of a purely intellectual, heartless Victor, the opposite of the young man who begins his studies with hope and the desire to contribute to the improvement of humanity.