What truly makes Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein an entertaining novel, in my opinion, is the mental development of each of the characters throughout the story. The best way to display such psychological progress is to compare events and thoughts from the book to Sigmund Freud’s theories on the conscience. Freud’s “id” is shown through primitive actions of certain characters; those that involve little judgment and rely on instincts rather than informed decisions.
The “ego” can be observed through basic thoughts and decisions that are made without the influence of conscience.
The “super-ego” is, in fact, conscious thought itself, often characterized by the guilt or other feelings that come as a result of the “id” and “ego”. As you will see, Freudian theory has an important place in the literary masterpiece that is Frankenstein. While the idea of the “id” is probably the least prevalent of the three in Frankenstein, it still plays a major role in shaping the characters, most specifically, Frankenstein’s monster.
Id” is most commonly applied to instinctual actions and those taken simply out of a need for survival and instant gratification. The monster finds himself satisfying his “id” when teaching himself the basic means of living and human action. These skills give him what he needs to live and obtain his necessities, but contribute nothing to his ultimate consciousness. Much as the “id” is associated with primitive inhuman desires, Frankenstein’s monster takes on a bestial and primitive image.
Next among the three parts of Freud’s psychic apparatus is “ego”. “Ego” is applied to the organized and realistic part of a character’s mentality and, unlike the “id”, requires judgment and next-level thinking. Victor Frankenstein’s willing development into a scientifically learned being and then his venture into creating life from inanimate body parts accurately shows the more advanced, yet still somewhat surface, thought process of an “ego”-influenced being. Additionally, it is Frankenstein’s “ego” that distances him from his family and friends.
At this point he has the capacity to make decisions and act on them, but not consider or feel what might come out of them. Victor Frankenstein’s “ego” soon turns into “super-ego” as the consequences of his actions become visible. The “super-ego” plays the moral role of the three, allowing for emotional comprehension of the events that unfold. Guilt seems to be a common thread between the “super-egos” of Frankenstein and his monster. Victor is overwhelmed with guilt upon realizing that his creation is responsible for the deaths of his brother, father, friend, and wife.
He even seeks a temporary release from the guilt in isolation and appreciation of nature. The monster finds himself in a very similar situation, facing the guilt of actually killing the ones that Frankenstein loved, and thus reducing his creator’s life to one without substance or anything to be emotionally attached to. Obviously, the mental punishment of guilt plays a large role in forming the “super-egos” of both protagonist and antagonist. Freud’s theories on the subconscious and conscience set the foundation for Shelley’s novel.
His “id” characterizes the monster’s initial struggle for survival in an unfamiliar world. His “ego” is played out by Frankenstein’s obsession with biological sciences and later creation of a monster. His “super-ego” encompasses the basic actions taken in the previous two, but also adds an ethical and emotionally conscious element to the consequences. It is apparent that Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche almost perfectly outlines the basic psychological activities in and between the characters of Frankenstein.