Setting (Time, Place, Influence)
Mary Shelly set “Frankenstein” in the 18th century in places she experienced in her travels through Europe. The book begins on a ship in the arctic, a scientific exploration for Walton that relates to the science of Frankenstein’s discoveries which were quite significant for the times. Frankenstein describes his home in Geneva, with warmth and happiness illustrating his life before the creation of his monster. The monster and Frankenstein travel throughout Europe, the Swiss Alps, Ingolstadt, England, Germany, and Scotland. When Frankenstein encounters the monster in Chamonix, Shelly describes the fierceness of nature, similar to the nature of the monster. The sea of ice described foreshadows the end of the book. (LL)
The narrative of Frankenstein shifts between three storytellers: Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and the Creature.
In the beginning Robert Walton writes letters from his ship bound for the North Pole to his sister in England. In his notes he recounts the struggles of the expedition and his longing for a friend. He and his crew rescue Victor Frankenstein from the grasp of the frigid ice, upon when Frankenstein begins to share his life story, and Victor becomes the narrator. Victor talks about his childhood in Geneva and young adult life when he works to acquire the knowledge necessary to uncover the "secret of life." Upon the completion of this horrible deed, the Creature awakens, and Victor, unable to face this monstrous creation, falls deeply ill. Deciding to return to Geneva, Victor soon discovers that his brother William has been murdered, and Justine has been accused of the crime. Victors knows that the Creature is responsible, but despite this, Justine is convicted and sentence to death. Alone in the mountains, Victor runs into the Creature who begs him to listen to his story. Here, the narrative switches to the monster as he explains his reasons for killing William. He asks Victor to create a mate for him. The point of view switches back to Victor and he obliges, yet soon destroys the second creature in a fit of rage. The Creature then kills Henry and Elizabeth, and Victor's father dies of grief. Victor vows to devote the rest of his life to following the monster. Upon completion of the story, Robert regains control and tells of Frankenstein's death and the appearance of the Creature on the ship. The creature shares his deep remorse and suicidal feelings with Robert before disappearing. THE END. (KWatts)
Victor Frankenstein is the protagonist of Shelley's novel and the ultimate narrator of the story. In the early part of his narrative, Frankenstein is portrayed as a student of outdated forms of science with a very strong desire to learn. He leaves his home in Geneva, Switzerland for college at the university of Ingolstadt. It is here that Frankenstein is introduced to more modern sciences, and eventually begins his feverish work to create life from death. His obsession with this work gives us a look into the kind of god complex that drives Frankenstein to create the monster, as he relishes the power of creating a "new species" that he believes will "bless [him] as its creator and source" (32). Once the monster is created, however, Frankenstein abandons it, and begins his ordeal. Following the death of his younger brother William and the execution of family friend Justine, Frankenstein slips into a persistent depression that he never really recovers from. The conflict between his responsibility to his creature and his absolute loathing for it is evident after the longest of their encounters, in which Frankenstein hears the story of his creature and agrees to create a wife for it. During a trip to England with his best friend, Henry Clerval, Frankenstein begins to create the wife of the creature, only to destroy it later in the process. The destruction of the creature's wife cements the fate of Frankenstein, and leads to the subsequent deaths of his closest friends and family members at the hands of the creature. The loss of everything closest to him brings Frankenstein to a desperate and fruitless search for revenge against the monster he created. (RLucas)
Shelly’s portrayal of Frankenstein at first leads the reader to believe he is an amiable young man, but when his obsession with creating new life takes control and he then betrays the creature he creates, his actions leave a negative impact on the reader that is never redeemed. This negative view is only propagated when Victor is described through the eyes of his monster as a heartless father, who abandoned his child upon beholding him, and thus each action of Victor is judged in a new light. Frankenstein considers himself a slave to his own creation saying that if the monster were to be destroyed it would "put an end to [his] slavery forever" (105). Yet, his cries that he is the victim of fate, and not of his own hands, are poorly received after his actions of abandonment and disloyalty to the creature are revealed and his life ultimately ends with a quest for vengeance that he is unable to fulfill, showing how stagnant his character truly is. (Molly T)
Alternatively, Victor Frankenstein can also be viewed as both courageous and responsible for his decision to terminate work on his project to create a female mate for his creature. Succumbing to his creature’s demands would have certainly been the easy road to take; the creature agreed to elope to South America with his new companion and bother Frankenstein no more if he would only follow through with his promise. However, Frankenstein shows his commitment to his “duties towards [his] fellow-creatures” by recognizing the danger of creating another monster that could be even more violently inclined than the one he has already created (151). He also fears that a “race of devils would be propagated on the earth,” threatening the very existence of man (114). His decision to refuse his creature’s wishes and accept the consequences shows that he has learned his lesson and now understands the proper boundaries of science, nature, and human knowledge. He consciously chooses to live in misery so that his monster can have no further influence on the world. (Hadley)
Standing roughly eight feet tall and crafted out of recycled body parts, the creature is the living product of scientist/ alchemist, Victor Frankenstein’s, experiment. After the immediate desertion by his creator (terrified by the hideousness of the monster) the creature is left alone, forced to fend for himself in the unfamiliar world. The Creature’s sheer ugliness quickly expels him from any association with mankind, prompting him to seek revenge through killing those closest to his creator, Victor Frankenstein. In chapter ten the creature addresses his frustration and recognizes his rejection when he voices, “I ought to be [Frankenstein’s] Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel” in a biblical allusion to the story of Adam and Eve. (rlovejoy) feel free to add..
Shelley uses the Creature to show the extremes of man and its culture. The Creature is brought into the world without a mother or any guiding figure and thus all he knows is based on what he observes out in the world. Driven mad by loneliness and the ache of abandonment, the Creature ends up killing most of Victor Frankenstein's family. His crimes are not because of an inbred evil nature but a result of the torture that is his pitiful life. (SarahB)
Through Mary Shelly’s manifestation, of what she describes as a grotesque looking Creature, she creates a character to play a part in her novel but through the Creature she also makes a statement. The Creature, an inhuman being with human passions, was conjured against his own will and starts his life on Earth by being introduced to the isolation and loneliness which encompasses his view of the world he lives in. And unlike the majority of human children he is not given any essential guiding light where he may learn to decipher right from wrong. The Creature is not a human being but expresses and contains human emotion and the desire to intertwine himself with human society, but when a pitiless society rejects him because of his appearance he is forced to venture out on his own. After being rejected by society and his own creator, Victor Frankenstein, the Creature directly and indirectly wreaks havoc on all people Victor Frankenstein considers to be close to him as an act of revenge for his own depression. (EBush)
Mary Shelley uses the Creature to demonstrate the dangers of power. The wretched appearance of the Creature exemplifies how gross it is for a human to seek so much power. Aside from a grotesque appearance, the Creature is also stronger, faster, and bigger than Victor Frankenstein, showing that Victor's knowlege/creation holds more power than Victor does. To further construe Shelley's point of the dangers of power, the Creature destroys Victor mentally and physically throughout the novel. Through the creatures own power and appearance, Mary Shelley warns the reader that too much power has the ability to destroy and overpower those who have it or seek it. (AW)
Elizabeth is a cousin, sister, and a lover for Victor Frankenstein. She became a part of the Frankenstein household when she was young and was considered as Victor’s future wife since then. In Victor’s eyes, Elizabeth was the celestial and beautiful creature whose gentleness “subdue[d] me [him] to a semblance of her own gentleness” (38). However, Elizabeth becomes a victim of Victor’s own creation, the monster, on Victor and Elizabeth’s wedding night because the monster was angered by Victor, who not only abandoned him but deprived him of the happiness from a companion, which Victor himself sought through marrying Elizabeth. Moreover, the death of Elizabeth contributes to the complete destruction of Victor’s soul and turns him into a revenge machine whose only goal was to destroy the monster. If the characters were to symbolize traits and characteristics of Victor Frankenstein, Elizabeth would symbolize purity and gentleness because of her purity and her resemblance of Frankenstein’s mother. (Tai)
Henry Clerval is Victor Frankenstein’s boyhood friend, and he nurses Victor back to health when he falls ill after the artificial birth of the Creature. The two attend college together at the University of Ingolstadt in Germany. Later, Clerval joins Victor on what is intended as a two-year tour of Europe but is interrupted when Clerval is brutally murdered by the Creature as Frankenstein remains obstinate and refuses to create a mate for the Creature.
Shelley depicts Clerval as an alternate persona of Frankenstein without the burden of the Creature. While Clerval seeks “the land of knowledge,” Victor ventures without bound and proclaims that “darkness (has) no effect upon (his) fancy,” never fearing the consequences for wandering into the unknown (36)(30). Clerval, originally condemned to be a merchant like his Father instead of going to the university, “repeats (Victor’s) favourite poems, or (draws Victor) out into arguments, which he (supports) with great ingenuity,” showing his breaking from the mold, like Victor, of traditional occupations of the time (44). However, Clerval retains sense and reason, and because he never upsets the laws of nature and humanity, he fulfills his intellectual goals through searching for knowledge and remains unscathed contrary to Victor’s need to transcend science’s boundaries. Nevertheless, Victor and Henry are linked since both “are consumed with great ambitions” (Levine 211). The final display of emotion that links Clerval and Frankenstein is at Henry’s death when Victor falls ill, showing the demise of both men at the Creature’s hands, conveying Shelley’s portrayal of Clerval as a double of Frankenstein. (C.Chiaroni)
When Justine was young Frankenstein’s mother took her into the family because of her own family complications. Justine grew up with Frankenstein and Elizabeth as their slightly subordinate sister figure. Justine was put on trial for the murder of the William, the Frankenstein’s youngest child, and found guilty. She eventually wrongfully confessed to the murder of Frankenstein’s younger brother because of fear of the church, excommunication, and hell fire. Justine is the second character we see that is unjustly murdered because of Frankenstein’s abandonment of his creature. Although Justine was like a servant to the family, when she died Frankenstein was equally as devastated as when any other member of his immediate family members died. (MMcG)
William, “that sweet child, whose smiles delighted and warmed my heart, who was so gentle yet so gay” (44-45), as Victor’s father describes him, is Victor’s youngest brother. The first victim of the creature’s wrath towards his creator, William is the ultimate face of innocence in the novel. His name is, in fact, derived from that of one of Shelley’s deceased children. His death, which causes immense distress among the Frankenstein family, is somewhat of a wake up call to Victor, who at that point realizes the consequences and the potential for future consequences of his creation. (CBerk)
Robert Walton is an ambitious explorer who will stop at nothing to discover a passage near the pole although he often feels depressed and a “bitter want of a friend” (Shelley 10). His initially apparent purpose is the storyteller of Frankenstein’s adventures, which he does through his journals and letters to Margaret, but as the novel progresses, Shelley increasingly develops Walton as a double character of Victor Frankenstein. Both posses an ambition that beacons them to stop at nothing until their goals are fulfilled, and both are left alone, without companions, due to this insatiable passion. It is not until Frankenstein’s deathbed, when he is depicted as the protagonist of a modern tragedy by “seem[ing] to feel his own worth, and the greatness of his fall,” (147) that Walton’s true significance becomes apparent. As Frankenstein urges Walton, his newfound friend, to “seek happiness in tranquility, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries,” (152) we learn Shelley’s moral lesson. Like in Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Frankenstein plays the Mariner, who shares his story so that the wedding guest, or Walton, can emerge, “a sadder and a wiser man,” (Coleridge line 624). (Gaustin)
Felix, Agatha, "the old man", and Safie
The Creature upholds this family with the highest amount of respect and love, and would do anything for his “protectors.” He discovers the old man, Felix, and Agatha after being repeatedly rejected from all aspects of society, and finds refuge in the hovel attached to the family’s cottage. After being eschewed by his creator, The Creature is vulnerable, and seeks both understanding and acceptance. Within their midst The Creature feels secure, and it is by keenly observing their everyday actions that he learns about humanity. He begins to assist Felix with chopping the wood, and lives off of berries from the woods rather than eat their scarce supply of food. When Safie joins the family, The Creature recognizes the hardships that the family has been forced to endure, and empathizes with them, as both the family and The Creature have had to deal with the repudiation of the people around them. The Creature grows extremely fond of the little family, and we begin to catch glimpses of his first feelings of adoration and love towards a human-being.
After watching the family for so long, The Creature truly begins to believe that if he were to reveal himself to them, they were so gentle and good-natured that they would accept him into their home and eventually deem him as a part of the family. His plan was to befriend the old man first, who was blind and therefore would not judge him by his outward appearance. However, though the old man was friendly to him, the other family members were horrified by the monster they perceived, and The Creature ran from the family, never to return to the only place he had ever felt at home. This rejection affected The Creature more than any before, as he had cared deeply for the little family who did not return his feelings. He felt nothing but hatred for all humans, and it was at this point that The Creature became a Monster. (ElizC)
Mary Shelley uses the creature’s interaction with the De Lacey family to convey that all beings have the capabilities for both good and evil. By watching the way that all of the De Laceys intermingle, with genuine love and care, the creature is able to emulate the same actions as he goes out of his way to ease the family’s suffering by providing them with stores of wood and ceasing to eat their food supply. This supports the view that surroundings play a large role in shaping one’s character. This is further supported in the creature’s response to yet another flouted attempt to gain human companionship. After the young De Laceys violently halt the potential relationship between their blind father and the creature, the monster, in both emotional and physical pain, reacts in brutality. Acting out of evil tendencies and attempting to inflict the same pain on his creator, Frankenstein, as he felt, the creature devilishly cries out “I too can create desolation” (97), as he murder a Frankenstein’s young relative. Shelley included the De Lacey family in her novel to clearly show the creature’s shift to wickedness as a result of his expulsion from society. AsedaG-T
Themes/Meanings of the Work
From the prologue it is clear that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was originally intended as a horror story, however what the reading reveals about humanity proves to be more frightening than the Creature itself. In a modern review of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, George Levine claims that evil is an “inexplicable aspect of human goodness” (209), but in her novel, Shelley renders evil from nearly every possible facet of human existence. Victor’s quest for knowledge results in the creation of a demon amongst men, Felix's duty to protect his family embitters the monster towards mankind, Justine’s wrongful confession leads to the murder of an innocent, and Clerval’s desire to be more than a meager merchant leads him to the crushing hands of Death. Though their stories seem redundant at times, Mary Shelley intentionally links her characters through the inevitable evil that she deems inescapable in mankind. On the other hand, Robert Walton represents an alternate persona for Victor Frankenstein. Though also driven by his pursuit of knowledge and pioneer-mentality, Walton ultimately withdraws from his obsessive passion and survives what Victor could not. (Win)
Discussions of fate and free will often devolve into mere exchanges of platitudes and I thus try to avoid them. I also find lumping the unfortunate irrevocability of the universe into one amorphous and highly suspect blob of theistic matter (namely, “Fate”) is cheating in the same way that blaming all evil in the world on a Devil creature is a complete refusal to acknowledge the evils of humankind. But there is no doubt that Mary Shelley is fascinated by the way both the controllable and the uncontrollable dictate the condition of each individual life. Victor, who may have made a reasonably courageous decision to deny his creature of a companion, displays such tremendous cowardice and refusal to take responsibility for his creation (i.e. letting Justine take the fall for him, abandoning the creature instantly upon reanimating it) that to call him “responsible” is, well, irresponsible. Victor is the man whose future could have been like that of his jolly friend Clerval, but he makes such a series of bad decisions that he ultimately dies a wretched and weary man. Every time he is faced with the thought of his creature, he runs and hides—sometimes quite literally. Victor, then, could be an example of human’s freedom of choice gone awry, his life a sequence of poor choices. The creature, on the other hand, is largely a victim of the actions of others, things that are beyond his control (i.e. “Fate”), for he is a self-acknowledged “abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on.” However, the creature’s confession at the end of the book that “[Walton’s] abhorrence cannot equal that with which [the creature] regard[s] [himself]” indicates an acknowledgment that while the monster has been spat upon by the rest of the world, he made the decision to strangle an innocent child and must thus be held accountable (155). Victor represents the abuse of free will and convenient blaming of fate, while perhaps his bitter creation is a reminder that whatever “Fate” decides to spew in our direction, the decisions we make are the true dictators of our misfortunes. (pbowman).
Fire: The Creature discusses his first encounter with fire on page 69, after he finally convinces Victor to listen to his tragic tale. Like a young toddler, the Creature discovers the ways of the world through experimentation and observation. After stumbling upon a fire left kindling by other travelers, the Creature becomes “overcome with delight at the warmth” of the fire radiating towards him (69). However, as he triumphantly touches the orange flames, he discovers the bewildering pain that it instigates. Fire serves as symbol for the two-sided nature of creation, both the fascination it produces and the harmful burn that follows coming too close to it. Fire embodies Victor’s twin relationship with manipulating nature—the fervent passion building the Creature out of dead parts produces but also the evil that shadows getting carried away with his audacity. The duality of this metaphor leads the audience to wonder if the forceful hand of man, the steadfast belief in his ability to defy natural forces, will perpetually result in an evil outcome. (Aashna)
Motif of Creature’s Humanity: Throughout the novel, Victor Frankenstein’s Creature repeatedly poses the question of, “Who [am] I? What [am] I? Whence did I come? [and] What [is] my destination?” which draws clear parallels to the human condition of uncertainty (86). Though clearly differing from man in both appearance and stature, the Creature finds common ground with humanity in that it has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. By engineering such a creature only to have it abandoned as it takes life, Shelley links our monster to the biblical story of Adam and Eve. The Creature immediately finds this connection in realizing that “Like Adam, [he] was created apparently united by no link to any other being in existence” thus demonstrating the similarities between his own creation with that of man’s. Shelley creates this likeness, I believe, in order to link the personalities of Victor Frankenstein and his monster, in addition to reflecting how human nature is skewed and quick to judge. (TMott)
Motif of Morality: The question of morality repeats itself in the novel. The creature has no parents or friends to teach him what is right and wrong. His creator abandoned him and yet, according to his story, he quickly figured out what was wrong and what was right. He knew that killing was wrong and could not fathom why someone would do it. He knew that when he did things for the family in the cottage that it was good because it made them happy. However, somewhere along the way, he was warped into the monster that Frankenstein sees. He is a murderer in Frankenstein's eyes and it can be argued that it was Frankenstein's perception of the creature that fueled his transformation. Frankenstein abandoned him and left the creature with no connections at all. He was alone and was attacked by humanity on multiple occasions. He was spurned and hated even when he saved a child from drowning. It appears that Shelley is arguing the creature isn't innately evil and seems to be saying that everyone is born with a blank slate. Even Dr. Frankenstein had experiences that shaped who he is. The death of his mother is part of what fueled his desire to create life from death but nothing within his childhood experiences justifies why he spurned the creature. Even his little brother, who the monster assumed would be innocent and therefore more accepting of him, hated the monster and spurned him. This contrast between characters raises the question, how much of a person's character is innate? (nature vs nurture) Shelley successfully forces the reader to think before condemning either the creature or Frankenstein as evil. (elewis)
Allusions: Throughout the novel, allusions and references to Paradise Lost, the myth of Prometheus, and the Bible provide connections to the struggle in the book between Victor Frankenstein and the creature; therefore, the reason behind their conflict is illuminated as an issue with creation. Mary Shelley concentrates on punishment or sentiment directed at those who ignore the rules of nature and abuse their roles as creator in her allusions, drawing direct links to Victor Frankenstein and his pursuit to create life. Furthermore, the author uses Prometheus as a model for the creature’s punishment of Frankenstein for his neglect- by killing Frankenstein’s family and loved ones. Additionally, Shelley provides insight into the opinion of the creature on its creation as she relates it to Paradise Lost. As the creature is completely rejected and spurned by society, Shelley applies the idea of Adam by having the creature constantly question, “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay/ To mould me man?” (Milton). The allusions used in Frankenstein allow readers to further comprehend the profound nature of the conflict between the creature and its creator. (CKelly)
Significance of Opening Scene:
The opening scene consists of a series of four letters from a Robert Walton to his sister in England, and serves a number of purposes. First, the letters set up the frame in which Frankenstein’s story will be told—through Walton’s records of Frankenstein’s speech. Second, the opening scenes introduce Walton himself, a double of both Frankenstein and the creature. His letters present the ideas of loss and loneliness, as Walton complains that he has no friends to share his journey with. This search for a companion, and his attempt to befriend Victor, parallels the monster’s desire for a friend and mate. Finally, the letters serve to introduce the theme of the danger of knowledge. Much like Frankenstein, whose ambitious search for knowledge eventually led to his destruction and the death of his family, Walton has embarked on a dangerous journey to the North Pole that almost ends the life of both himself and his crew. (Luke Hedrick)
The opening scene, comprised of a series of letters between Robert Walton and his sister, begins the novel with the first perspective (that of Robert Walton) that we see reoccur in a circular nature throughout the novel. Robert discusses his journeys to the North Pole (in a similar journey to that of the ancient mariner) and tribulations that he faces, including being locked in by a sea of ice (note the painting on the cover of the novel) and threatened by a potentially mutinous crew that is unhappy with his refusal to turn around. The fanatic ambition that we see in Walton during his embarkation north parallels the likewise mindless ambition shown by Frankenstein in his creation of life. Shelley presents the reader with a dual-edged sword of this ambition: both amazing and awful, Walton and Frankenstein must manage the results of their ambition and live with the consequences caused by such devotion. The power embodied by both characters in their quest for adventure and life, respectively, and their handling of the outcomes reveals a thematic point: the nature power, however beautiful or despicable it may be, places a hefty responsibility for the livelihood of others on those in charge. (Brian Mittl)
Significance of Closing Scene:
The closing scene provides the reader with a variety of perspectives regarding the essential nature of the conflict and ultimate culpability in the novel. Victor dies apparently unchanged and unrepentant because he continues to portray himself as a victim of natural ambition and forces outside of his control. He recognizes his duty to provide and care for his creation but eschews blame by arguing that his "duties towards [his] fellow creatures had greater claims to [his] attention" (151). Claiming to be "only induced by reason and virtue" he implores Walton to destroy the monster. Walton's admiration fails to wane as he interprets Victor's death as the tragic demise of an otherwise noble man who was victimized by a heartless monster.
In contrast to an unrepentant Victor, the creation expresses contrition for his actions as he laments that he has "devoted [his] creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery" (155). The Monster also asserts that his "heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy," (155) and he was therefore driven to commit acts of evil by the cruelty of those who were unable to "[pardon his] outward form, [and] love [him] for the excellent qualities which [he] was capable of bringing forth" (154). Finally, the creation vows to martyr himself so that he may achieve a level of fulfillment in death not available in his current life.
Through the creature's contrition, moral explication, and ultimate martyrdom, in the final scene, Shelly unequivocally endows the creature with the moral imperative in the novel. He is depicted as a rational being driven to madness by continued rejection and therefore worthy of sympathy. His final martyrdom suggests that he dies for Victor's, and ultimately society's, sins. Although Shelly does not resolve this issue explicitly, through Victor's inability to reform and the sympathetic portrayal of the monster, she holds Victor primarily responsible for the creation's and his plight. (W. Almquist)
To follow up on our class discussion about the supposed morality of raping Hitler…
Whose Brain Was It?
Whose Line Is It Anyways? Frankenstein
SNL - The Bride of Blackenstein