Chapter 4

Synopsis of Volume 2 Chapter 4

The creature is moved by the affection the family show to one another. When he realises that they have barely enough to eat and have to work very hard, he secretly collects firewood for them each night.

He realises that they communicate through speech and that he must acquire language if he is to make contact with the family

Commentary on Volume 2 Chapter 4

satisfied myself with berries, nuts and roots … brought home firing: these details demonstrate that, in his early days, the creature responds to people with kindness and sympathy.

articulate sounds: in his book Political Justice Mary Shelley's father, William Godwin, emphasised the importance of language in the development of human society (see Author section: William Godwin). The creature is reliving that development, first through speech and then through his desire to read.

I viewed myself in a transparent pool: for the first time the creature realises how repulsive he is. In Paradise Lost, Eve has a parallel experience but reacts very differently:

A Shape within the wat'ry gleam appear'd
Bending to look on me, I started back,
It started back, but pleas'd I soon return'd,
Pleas'd it return'd as soon with answering looks
Of sympathy and love …
Book 4, lines 461-4

Aesop photo by Shakko available through Creative Commonsthe ass and the lapdog: a reference to a fable by Aesop.

More on Aesop:

Aesop, who may have lived in the 6th century BCE, is often thought to be the author of most of the best-known fables from classical times – or at least the person who first wrote them down. They would have been available to Shelley and her contemporaries in both English and French versions. The tale of the ass and the lapdog is not one of the better-known fables.

A farmer had a favourite ass and went to visit him in his stable, taking with him his lapdog, which danced about and was rewarded with some food and a seat on his master's lap. The ass decided to try the same thing, but when he danced and tried to climb in his master's lap, everyone laughed at him and he was beaten. The moral of the fable is that clumsy jesting is not funny.

fit habitation for gods: a ironic reference to Paradise Lost, when Raphael describes the fall of the rebel angels into Hell.

Hell at last
Yawning receiv'd them whole, and on them clos'd,
Hell their fit habitation fraught with fire.
Book 6, lines 874-6

Investigating Volume 2 Chapter 4

Think about the different ways in which the monster's education is advanced in this chapter:

  • by his observation of the de Lacey family;
  • by contemplating his reflection.

How is the fable about the ass and the lapdog relevant to the creature's situation?

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