By Mary Shelley

Published: January 1st, 1818

Historical Context

Two important people who influenced Mary Shelley while she wrote Frankenstein were Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. This is where Shelley most likely learned about Romanticism, who's ideologies are present throughout the novel. Ideologies from the French Revolution are also apparent in Shelley's writing. Intellectuals in the Revolution believed that it is their responsibility to research and discover the unknown. That is the same stance Frankenstein takes when he is working on creating life. During Shelley's time period Darwin was working on his theory of biological evolution. When Mary Shelley came up with her idea for Frankenstein at Lord Byron's house, this was one of the topics that was previously discussed. She had also attended Andrew Crosse's lectures. Crosse was a British scientist who conducted experiments with electricity. Some of his experiments shared similar ideas to those of Frankenstein's when he is trying to create life. In the early 19th century, explorers also began looking for an arctic passage to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A Scottish explorer, John Ross, went on a mission to find a northwest passage in 1818. His trip is similar to Walton's attempt to find the North Pole. This is also related to the larger sense of discovery throughout society during the era Shelley was writing. Enlightenment thinking was also extremely important towards shaping Frankenstein . This period advocated the development of science and technology. In the novel, Frankenstein takes science a step farther than anyone else has ever gone in creating life. However, this could also reflect Shelley's opinion of technological development. She may have thought that if mankind became too advanced they could create something they couldn't control, such as the monster that Victor brings to life.


Romanticism was a very important movement in the 18th and 19th centuries and encompassed a wide range of ideologies. One notable thought Romantics held was that man was naturally good. However, they thought that civilization corrupted man. This is related to the prominent theme that is often seen in novels about a character's loss of innocence. Another aspect of Romanticism was an appreciation for nature. At this time many people became more involved in nature and spent more time in natural settings then they had previously. Individualism was also important during this time period. The industrial revolution gave people a chance to be more involved in things they found interesting, rather than conforming to social standards that were set in past centuries.

The Romantic hero

  • seeks the unattainable
  • is usually an outsider, alienated from society
  • he often faces disillusionment, which leads to ennui --> melancholy --> nihilism (belief in nothing)
  • is emotional (sentimental, connected with the Romantic ideal of sensibility)
  • connects his love interest with nature
  • has suicidal tendencies
  • drives himself into seclusion
  • chooses impulse/subconscious desires over reason
  • is not traditionally masculine
(Elements of European Romanticism).

Elements of Romanticism in Frankenstein

Frankenstein is the epitome of a Romantic hero - he seeks the unnattainable in creating life, alienates himself from his peers through his intense studies, and is disillusioned by the disastrous creation of a murderous Monster instead of a divine being. When facing the decision of whether or not to fold to the Monster's threat to follow him everywhere, Frankenstein considers allowing the Monster to kill him, which shows that he puts lesser value on his life. Several times, in an effort to escape from the reach of the Monster, Frankenstein is driven to the countryside and alienates himself from his family, particularly Elizabeth and Henry, so that he may waste away with his guilt. Frankenstein is not described as particularly masculine within the novel - indeed, his confessions of guilt, passion, depression, and madness are rather immasculine as emotions are often associated with femminine characters.
The idea that man is naturally good, a key tenet of Romanticism, is intertwined with the theme that the Monster's rage is societally-driven by his alienation. Having been created by man, from pieces of man, the Monster should be inherently benevolent. However, he rages against a prejudiced society that can see him for nothing other than a disfgured creature worthy of revulsion.

Frankenstein particularly reflects the Romantic movement with its vivid descriptions of nature which often place nature as a sanctuary, an area of solitude. Nature's connection to the sublime is a well-represented idea of Romanticism. Shelley often refers to the mountains and valleys which enclose the characters but offer a remote, serene setting. One example of her vivid descriptions of nature is, "The abrupt sides of vast mountains were before me: the icy wall of the glacier overhung me; a few shatterd pines were scattered around; and the solemn silence of this glorious presence - chamber of imperial Nature was broken only by the brawling waves or the fall of some vast fragment..." (98). Shelley's description of Nature as imperial and glorious implies overall power and superior importance. Her descrption of solemn silence demonstrates her use of Nature as a quiet sanctuary.


Main Characters:

Victor Frankenstein

external image Frankenstein002.jpgHe is the main character of the novel and eventually finds himself trapped by his own creation. A graduate of the University at Ingolstadt, Victor finally discovers the “secret of life.” After years of studying modern science and famous alchemist, Victor takes it upon himself to create another being. Although hideous and grotesque, he succeeds in his attempts and produces what we know as the “monster.” This horrifying creature gives Victor feelings of guilt and regret throughout the novel and Victor abandons him and keeps his invention a secret. Eventually his creation kills those closest to him and Victor realizes he must kill the thing he so desperately wanted to create.

Created through the use of old body parts and chemicals, this creature is abandoned by his maker and is left to discover the realistic aspects of the world. Void of any prior knowledge or education the monster learns language and attitude by watching a family through a hole. Although he starts off innocent and with the mind of a youth, he turns evil by watching society. His eight foot frame and hideous appearance makes it difficult for him to fit in, and as a result of neglect and horror of those around him he becomes an actual monster and kills many of those around him. After his creator refuses to create another “monster” to mend to lonely wounds society has placed upon him, the creature seeks revenge on Victor and those that he loves.

She is the adopted cousin of the Frankenstein. With profound beauty and elegance, it is only natural that Victor asks for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately due to Victor’s refusal to make the monster a companion of his own species, the Monster seeks revenge on him. On their wedding night Victors comes home to find Elizabeth dead.


She is the motherly figure in the Frankenstein household. As Mrs. Frankenstein died Justine took over and replaced a figure crucial to every child’s life. She is accused of the death of William the youngest Frankenstein and although an innocent and trusted girl she is eventually convicted and executed. We find out later on that it was the monster who killed William and that Justine was framed.

De Lacy Family
This is the family in which he watches and learns language and the norms of society. Although this family is the base of his education, they are in part responsible for the feelings of loneliness and anger by the monster. When the monster finally reveals himself they did what any normal person would do in seeing an eight foot tall, detestable creature. After the monster realizes he is not accepted among society he seeks out another monster like himself. When Victor refuses to create another one, the monster looks for revenge.

Robert Walton

A captain of a ship, Walton picks up Victor along his journey as his ship is caught between ice. At his stand still, Victor is brought abroad. In horrible condition from chasing the monster, Victor begins to tell Walton of his deep secret. Robert (one of the three narrators) tells his story at the beginning and at the end and serves as a medium of the novel.

A close friend of Victor's, Henry is best known for his loyalty and compassion towards his friend. Sick in Ingolstadt, Henry nurses Victor back to health and follows in his foot steps on a road to scientific discovery.

William Frankenstein
The brother of Victor Frankenstein. A young and playful little boy, he is strangled and killed by the monster. Victor seeks revenge due to the death of his loved ones.


Man vs. Self - Frankenstein
Frankenstein's struggle between aiding the Monster and destroying it acts as an internal conflict for most of the book. Though he initially feels paternal instincts and appreciation towards the Monster ( "His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!" (55) ), Frankenstein is overcome with disgust at its grotesque appearance and its unnatural existence. As it becomes clear to him that the Monster is a murderer, having killed Frankenstein's little brother, Frankenstein's guilt grows stronger. After his encounter with the monster during which the Monster offers an ultimatum: make him a female companion or suffer a wretched life, Frankenstein struggles again with his morals. He worries that a female companion would not mollify the monster at all ( "They might even hate each other; the creature who alread lived loathed his own deformity, and might he not conceive a greater abhorrence for it when it came before his eyes in a female form?" (172) ), but cause more havoc. In the end he creates a female creature, but destroys it before instilling it with life. Frankenstein's indecisiveness causes him to seek recluse and alienate his family and friends and eventually leads to his demise as well as the death of almost everyone he knows at the hands of the monster.

Man vs. Society - Monster
When the Monster is created, he is peaceful and eager to learn and experience nature - yet everywhere he goes, he is prejudiced against. His unsightliness causes animals to flinch from his touch and make him feel as though he is not a part of nature. Yet, when he encounters the De Laceys he thinks that a blind man might treat him differently - unfortunately, when he confronts old man De Lacey, he is shunned because of his frantic tone and his unnatural presence. This encounter teaches the Monster that he will never find solace because society instills a fear of the unnatural and the hideous in man. In one last attempt to find a friend, the Monster abducts a little boy who he hopes to raise without societal influence to become his friend. Yet, the young boy screams and reacts unpleasantly to the Monster, which sends him into a murderous rage. This scene represents the turning point when the monster, feeling abandoned in a world in which he is not part of nature and yet not part of human society, decides to turn to violent means. Repeatedly, the Monster questions Frankenstein as to why he created a wretched monster with no place in the world. For example, he states "Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horried even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred" (134). This conflict relates to the theme that evil is not inherent, but learned through interactions with society. As the monster himself states, "I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend" (102).

Man vs. Man - Monster vs. Frankenstein
The Monster feels alienated from society, but particularly abandoned by Frankenstein, his creator, who fails to fulfill his role as a paternal. figure. He emphasizes his connection with Frankenstein when declaring "I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou will also perform thy part, which thou owest me...remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam" (102). Using a Biblical parallel, the Monster notes that as his creator, Frankenstein has special rights and duties. In the eyes of the Monster, these duties include ensuring his happiness by creating a companion. The entire plot of the novel revolves around the Monster as it hunts Frankenstein from continent to continent, all the way to the Pole, when he does not fulfill his promise, and in the Monster's eyes his obligation, to create a female companion.

Themes/ Quotations

Society's evils may destroy one's good nature. (Evil is not inherent, but learned through interactions with society.) As the monster gains knowledge throughout the beginning of the novel he is learning about the interactions of humans through watching a family as well reading historical books. He acts not only in a civil way, but actually helps these people by bringing them wood for a fire. At this point, the monster still has hopes of being accepted by humans. From the books that the monster reads he cannot understand why people act with such hostility towards eachother. He states "I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow (107)." The monster enters the house to talk to one of the blind family members and is completely rejected and hurt. After being beaten and realizing that there is no hope, humans will always act cruely towards him he turns his anger and frustation back on man kind. He kills a little boy named William. After realizing that this boy was related to his creator (who also treated him poorly) he plants another trap that will ultimatly kill another human. Later in the novel when the creator and the monster meet and he is telling his story the monster states "tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me (129)." This is the monsters final evaluation of how the evils of man have ruined his good nature.

Ideas for the future must be well speculated before they are carried out. Wanting something too much can blind one from reality and become the reason for downfall. Frankenstein is obssesed with the idea of creating life and spends each day working towards his goal. Nothing else seems to matter to him. He never stops to think about the consequences of what he's doing or considers that his goal may not come out exactly how he imagines. He only realized this too late (after seeing the monster that he has created) and he will utlimatly spend the rest of his life dealing with this mistake. Looking back Frankenstein speaks about "insensible steps, to my after tale of misery (34)."
Refuge is commonly found in nature. The theme of nature is constant. Each time the creator or the monster seems to run into some kind of trouble they either go to nature or think of nature. After the Monster is denied by the family that he had been watching he is frustrated with his creator for leaving him. Finally he says "the pleasant sunshine, and the pure air of day, restored me to some degree of tranquility(121)." The monster then leaves the cottage and seeks "refuge in the woods" (123).

Pivotal Scenes

The creation of the monster is a significant part of the novel. Without this, there would be no novel. Victors thirst for science causes him to create such a thing. Fascinated by old alchemists and with new information about modern science, his mind thrived and he began to put together what eventually became the monster. With old body parts and obscene chemicals, Victor creates an eight foot tall, hideous creature.external image frankenstein1.jpg Unable to come to terms with his invention, he is overwhelmed with the possible consequence of his action, and abandons his own creation. This proves the above theme that ideas for the future must be well speculated before they are carried out. Wanting something too much can blind one from reality and become the reason for downfall. This theme connects to the idea of the Romantic hero, one who rejects old ideas and eventually becomes disillusioned and nihilstic after experimenting with new ones.
Left all alone, the monster sets out to find the mystery and secret to life. Learning through the actions of others, the monster realized that the world is not a kind place and that no matter how gentle a soul, he will never be accepted in the society he is currently in. This realization comes about when he finally is ready to reveal himself to a family he has been watching and observing. When the monster looks to interact with the blind father he finds that his personality is accepted. However, when the others arrive home and see a giant monster in their living room, the DeLacys chased him out of their home showing him that he is not accepted. Society's evils may destroy one's good nature. Because this one family rejected him and didn’t accept him he turns evil and seeks revenge upon his creator for the loneliness he feels.
Finding Victor, the monster asks that he creates another creature similar to him. He desires a companion, someone he can relate to and “live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.” Although a valid point, Victor refused to create another monster as the regret of his first one is still haunting him. The monster threatens Victor and those that he loves, however he stands strong and simply says no. Following this, the monster kills Elizabeth and those close to Victor. His spite of his creator causes the hostility and anger in which we see through the end of the novel. Although once harmless and undisruptive. the monster creates complete turmoil due to feeling of loneliness and rejection. Victor evokes these emotions and proves again that society's evils may destroy one's good nature.


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