Frankenstein

By: Mary Shelley
Written in 1818, Revised in 1831




Historical Context

At the time when Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein, she was very close to two Romantic poets: her love interest, Percy Shelley, and Lord Bryon. Those two poets exposed her to the ideals behind Romanticism which, in turn, greatly influenced her novels and turned her into a Romantic writer.

As a Romantic writer, she responded to another event occurring at this time, the French Revolution. The revolution caused for a surge in nationalism and liberalism, a stray away from individualism, which was a key principle of Romanticism. The dehumanization and increased production sparked by the revolution undermined the ideas of the importance of the individual, the beauty and power of nature, and free spiritedness. It is suggested that Frankenstein is a reflection Shelley's protest against the French Revolution, which power and strength away from the Romantic ideals. This period of time also experienced an increase in scientific progress. Darwin, a big scientific figure at this time, was close with Shelley's husband so she was constantly exposed to his views of evolution and science. She had a curiosity for the sciences and was well educated for a young woman [2]. She knew of Luigi Galvani's experiments and used the basis behind his experiment of making a frog leg twitch with a spark to describe Victor bringing the creature to life. Advances in medicine and the use of cadavers at this time could explain why Shelley described Victor's procedure and manipulation of other's dead body parts in such detail. [1] Dead bodies were frequently dug up and studied at this time, explaining why Shelley could so lightly reflect on it. Also, coming from a time period of immense scientific progress opened up the question of how far scientists could go and how their experiments could effect society's future [3]. In Frankenstein, Shelley reflects on the science of the times by expressing the message that the knowledge of science is extremely powerful and that all scientific aspirations have their lasting consequences [2].



Dark Romanticism

Romanticism was a period of political, social, philosophical, and religious turmoil in the late eighteenth century [4]. Seeing themselves as visionaries, Romantic writers believed that they could look beyond ordinary life and decide a man's fate in a changing world. They emphasized vast universes with desolate settings of icebound seas, jagged mountains, and bottomless abysses. Shelley incorporates this into her work by having Walton's ship trapped in an ice bound sea and the creature hiding away in the mountains because of her personal torment. Another ideal of Romanticism was that society was transformed by an individual and the emphasis on individual aspirations. This is especially prevalent in the character of Victor Frankenstein. Victor blindly follows his aspirations with out thinking of the consequences that may result from his actions. Victor strives towards the supernatural world in hopes that he will be recognized by his society for his work and his creations. His desire to transform society is explained in the quote "The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine" (39). In the novel, Shelley uses this ambition to really comment on romantic ideals. Victor's blind ambition towards the supernatural led him to the creation of the monster who basically haunts him until the day he dies. Victor stating on page 53, "Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, of how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge," is Shelley's way of incorporating the perspective that an individual's ambition towards impacting the greater good could be met with a harsh reality. Victor acquires knowledge that pushes him to strive to be a "God" or a "creator" in society. He becomes disillusioned by overreaching his ambition, eventually causing all of the tragedies he encounters. Disillusionment is also a characteristic of Romantic writers which became dominant during the time of or after the French Revolution. Shelley expressed what she believed to be the consequence of society's disillusionment of Romantic ideals by showing how Victor's disillusionment caused him so much harm [2]. Shelley also addresses the Romantic theme of isolation, as the creature is ostracized by his community and Victor is alone in his anguish over what he created [3].


List of Important Characters

  • Victor Frankenstein - He is the main narrator of the novel. As a student in Ingolstadt, he discovers what he believes to be the secret of life and dedicates all of his energy and his time in to creating a being. Victor abandons the creature after he is completely disgusted by the looks of the horrible being he had created. He leaves the creature and spends the rest of his life in psychological turmoil for sending such a detestable creature into society. He never tells anyone of his creation until the end of the novel when he is on his death bed. Up until that point, he spent his time obsessing the creature and his ruthless act of bringing the being to life. He goes on a journey to try and destroy the creature who continues to become more and and more destructive through out the novel by killing those close to Victor.
  • Robert Walton - He is a man on a journey to the North Pole when his ship gets stuck in the ice. With his voyage of exploration stalled, he encounters Frankenstein who after chasing the creature, is near death. As Robert nurses Victor back to health and develops a strong friendship with him, Victor recalls the story of his creation. Walton relays Victor's story to his sister in England, creating the frame story within the novel.
  • Monster - He is the creature made by Victor from dead people's remains. Although being abandoned by his creator from the beginning of his life, the creature desperately tries to fit in, find a companion, and live peacefully with human kind. Like a newborn, the creature goes into the world with absolutely no knowledge and inevitably teaches himself how to read and write. The creature is born inherently good and innocent but its society who turns him into an evil being. His detestable appearance frightens off society, causing the people he encounters to constantly reject him. He understands their rejection once he sees his complexion in a mirror and vows to get his revenge on his creator, Victor. After Victor refuses to make him a companion, the creature sets out after Victor's family, killing Elizabeth, William, and Henry to inflict as much pain as he can on Victor.
  • Alphonse Frankenstein - He is Victor's father who has unconditional love for his family. After the death of his wife from illness and the death of his other family members by the creature, Alphonse falls into a very depressive state. He ends up dying from the sadness and shock of the deaths of his loved ones.
  • Henry Clerval - He is a very close companion of Victors. When Victor is so caught up in his work, Henry goes out looking for him. When Victor becomes dangerously ill, Henry watches over and helps nurse him to health. Eventually, Henry and Victor travel together to England and Scotland where the creature ends up taking the life of Henry. Victor is accused of killing Henry but he is eventually acquitted.
  • Elizabeth - She is Victor's adopted cousin and eventually becomes his love interest. Victor falls in love with her for her beauty and her goodness. On her and Victor's wedding night, she is strangled by the creature who takes his revenge out on her because of Victor's refusal to make him a companion.
  • William Frankenstein - He is Victor's youngest brother who is strangled by the monster while the family was on a walk. The murder deeply upsets Frankenstein and fills him with guilt for having created the being.
  • Justine - She was a servant in the Frankenstein house when Victor's mother was alive and ends up raising the boys when the mother dies. Justine was a motherly figure in the household but is eventually accused for the death of William Frankenstein. Framed by the creature who puts William's locket into her dress, Justine is eventually executed. Victor knows Justine was being framed by the creature but doesn't speak up in fear he might be punished for creating the monster. However, he is overcome while guilt and sorrow as two people close to are murdered because of something he created.
  • The De Lacey family- They are a family of peasants who are French exiles living in Germany. The creature spends a lot of time observing this family through a hole in the wall. As the result, he learns how to speak and read from listening to them. The family finds wood and other services magically showing up outside of their house, which the reader knows is from the creature. The creature longs for the acceptance of this family but when he decides to finally reveal himself to them, they are immediately frightened of him and plead him to leave. They then leave where they have been living, inevitably leaving the creature.


Central Conflict

The central conflict of the novel is between Victor and the creature. Coming from a loving family, Victor lives an exceptionally good life until he takes his fascination with life a little too far. Victor vigorously studies scientist's theories and becomes very interested in trying to find out exactly what starts up one's life and the secrets behind it. After studying for many years, Victor believes that the knowledge he has gained has allowed him to discover the secret of life. He sets out to reveal his knowledge to the world by creating a being. Victor believes that he will be recognized through out society for being the "God" or "creator" of a whole new species. Frankenstein went to graveyards and dug up bodies to remove certain parts to make his "perfect" human. Fixated on the future glory and fame he will receive from society, Victor persistently follows his aspirations, in turn cutting himself off from his family and his close friend Henry. On the final night of his hard work, Victor sets out a spark to bring his creature to life. When he looks at the creature, he sees his extremely horrible and disgusting complexion and flees from the horrifying being he brought into the world. Victor falls into a depressive state, overcome with guilt and self anguish for introducing such a monster into the world. Victor grows ill over what he has done and his friend Henry nurses him back to health.

Meanwhile, completely abandoned, the creature wanders around looking for some guidance. The creature learns to fear humans because every time he comes in contact with them, they denounce him and run away in horror even though he is showing them acts of kindness. He hides out in a cottage where he constantly observes the De Lacey family who he comes to idolize. By watching them, he learns how to read and write, and most importantly the concepts of love and companionship. When he exposes himself to them in hopes of getting their acceptance, they denounce and ostracize him like everyone else. Overcome with anger and sadness, the creature curses his creator from making him so terrifying to humans. His feelings of abandonment and his longing for a companion become a dominant part of the creature's life. He ends up killing William, Victor's youngest brother and framing Victor's motherly figure Justine. Victor realizes its the creature when he sees him in the woods. The creature demands that Victor make him a companion or else he will continue to be destructive.

Victor agrees and starts with the creation of a companion. However, towards the end of the experiment, Victor quits, deciding that he wouldn't be able to deal with the additional guilt of releasing another monster into society. This causes the monster to vow revenge on Victor once again. The creature kills Henry and Victor is later accused of the murder. Victor falls under a feverish spell in prison because of the death of his friend and the destruction being caused by the creature. Once he is acquitted, Victor travels home to prepare for his wedding to Elizabeth and his death, for he believes that the creature will surely come after him next. However, on his wedding night, the creature comes after Elizabeth. Also, Victor's father ends up dying because of the sorrow he experiences through the loss of his family members. From that point, Victor vows to spend the rest of his life pursuing the monster so that he could eventually kill the creature he brought into the world. Victor chases the monster to the North Pole where ice eventually breaks between them.

Victor is then taken in by Robert Walton whose ship is stuck in the ice. Victor recalls the whole story to Walton before he dies. The monster appears in Victor's room after he dies and explains to Walton that it was the abandonment and isolation that led him to be so destructive. He vows that he will go to the North Pole and kill himself so that no one will ever know of his existence (besides Walton).




Themes



Thematic Statement: One must consider the consequences of their actions and findings in the pursuit of knowledge.
The dangers of the pursuit of knowledge are explored in Frankenstein. Victor is blinded by his ambitious acquisition of knowledge and fails to consider the repercussions of his actions. While he is successful in his quest for information, his failure to recognize and account for the potential problems presented by his scientific developments resulted in Victor’s downfall.

Thematic Statement: A creator has a responsibility towards his creation.
The effects of Victor’s abandonment of his creation become apparent almost immediately. In an attempt at vengeance, the creature kills off Victor’s loved ones and causes him immense misery. This guilt and sense of deep loss could have been evaded if Victor had taken responsibility for his creation and cared for him properly. However, Victor chose to neglect the creature, and the results of that decision were harrowing.

Thematic Statement: Society possesses an inherently corruptive element.
The creature in its natural state proved to be pure and kind. At its birth, the creature possessed a childlike curiosity and a very human need for love and affection. However, when his creator abandoned him he was denied of that love, and the creature strove to satisfy his curiosity and desire for affection. This proved impossible due to a society unwilling or possibly unable to cope with such a dramatic variation of the norm. The creature was both scorned and physically abused, and this drove him into a life of bitter exile. It was this treatment by human society that brought about the creatures violent and vengeful tendencies.



Quotes

"You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being"(129).
The Creature is speaking to Frankenstein. He demands a female companion with whom he can live peacefully and far away from the human society. The Creature feels that Frankenstein owes this to him, since it was Victor who indirectly enforced so much suffering onto him.

"I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous" (89).
Goodness was part of the Creature’s inherent nature. However, the human world corrupted and turned him into a violent monster. Rejection and pain made him a “fiend.” Here, he tries to reason with Frankenstein and show us that he’s truly a benevolent being.

"You are my creator, but I am your master" (149).
Victor abandons his work on the female creature, and discards the remains. Enraged, Creature threatens him and makes this statement. The Monster declares that he has the ultimate power over his creator, who only possesses the knowledge. In the end, with his supernatural strength, Creature sets the course of events; he murders people that are dear to Victor, in order to win his obedience.


"I will be with you on your wedding night" (167).
These words continue to hunt Frankenstein until his wedding day. Originally he interprets the Monster’s threat as a death sentence. Victor suspects that Creature will kill him on what is supposed to be the happiest day of his life. However, instead he murders Elizabeth.


"Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world."
Victor Frankenstein considers himself to be a great scientists. He wishes to explore the areas of sciences that no one has ever dared to touch; that is creating life from a dead matter. He is young and naive, and has yet to experience the world. This is the reason why he went ahead with the experiment without thinking twice about the consequences of his action.

Important Scenes


  • The Creature Comes to Life-- Rejection by society; Victor's blind ambition leads to disaster as he abandons his responsibility to the Creature.
    • Immediately after giving life to the Creature, Victor sees how horrible of a monster the Creature appears to be and runs out of his house and escapes into "safety". In the morning, he stops at an inn and comes across his old friend Henry Clerval, eventually bringing him back to the college-home. There, Victor is relieved and ecstatic to discover that the Creature has vanished from his life and his room; however, as Victor opens the door as a child would as if expecting a spirit to be on the other side, Shelley sets up a central idea: that the Creature is omnipresent and almost inescapable. As the novel progresses, the audience finds the Creature being rejected time and time again by society. The reason for his repulsion from "normalcy" can be attributed to many reasons, depending on one's beliefs of humanity. One explanation for the Creature's rejection is that he was never taught the manners and behaviors needed to interact with people and be socialable enough to have them receive him as a person rather than a monster. In this case, Victor may be blamed, seeing as Victor should have been the "father figure". Contrarily, some may say that Victor had no responsibility to the Creature and the Creature should have been able to figure out society by himself. In either situation, it is clear that Victor abandoned the Creature and his responsibility to the Creature as his creator.
  • The Monster Reveals Himself to the De Lacey's--Creature provides services to them, wants acceptance, they push him away like everyone else; causes him to seek revenge/want a companion (aka good turned evil).
    • The Creature's unmasking of himself to the De Lacey's is one example of his attempt to join society and instead, being discarded as a monster and nothing else. In his failed attempt to befriend the older man, the Creature is confused and incredibly hurt by the violent push away from the family that Felix gives him. Instead of thanking the Creature for helping with "chores" around the house, Felix, Safie and Agatha are petrified and violently throw him from the house. This abandonment really affects the Creature in a negative way; he becomes almost diabolical in his scheming to attain revenge on his creator, Victor. And as the Creature departs on his vengeful journey, he comes across Victor's brother, William. Once the Creature realizes the relationship, his anger controls him and he kills William and inadvertently places the blame on a "sleeping girl" (Justine). He ends up condemning Justine to death. This pivotal moment shows an integral part of the overall motif of good turning to evil
  • Elizabeth's Death--causes death of Victor's father (the Creature "killing everyone"), makes Victor vow to chase after monster (with the feeling that there is nothing else to live for).
    • As the Creature promised, he came to Victor on his wedding night. Unfortunately for Victor though, the Creature's intentions were to seek his revenge on Victor vicariously through Elizabeth. After brutally murdering Elizabeth on her wedding night to Victor, the Creature disappears to leave Victor alone in his grief. Victor seeks comfort with his father, but his father dies shortly after the heart wrenching news of Elizabeth's death. Victor is incredibly heartbroken and after grieving shortly, vows revenge on the Creature. Victor's vow of vengeance shows that good can easily and quickly turn to evil. His vow also shows the cyclical nature of Shelley's novel; good to evil, vengeance on each other, death provoking evil or negative behaviors. Once the Creature invokes his revenge on Victor, Victor vows revenge on the Creature. This cyclical pattern explores the theme of realizing one's actions and subsequent reactions.
  • Monster entering the room Victor died in- Explanation to Walton describing his actions, his "good" past and his shame at his current behavior.
    • This is an extremely pivotal moment in Shelley's novel. The ending passages between both Victor and Walton and the Creature and Walton show the similarities between Creature and creator. Both Victor and the Creature had good intentions, starting off in the world and in society and their social relationships with high hopes of creating something beautiful: a breakthrough in science that will be his greatest accomplishment and a simple friendly relationship in which he can exchange thoughts and have intelligent conversations. Additionally, Victor regales his story to Walton, pinning himself as a creator of something truly horrible and evil. He consistently degrades himself; however, Walton views Victor as somewhat of someone to revere rather than be repulsed by. On the other hand, the Creature, who was clearly consistently evil to Victor with the deaths of Elizabeth and his father, speaks to Walton and the audience as if he wanted to convey the sense that he is a martyr, rather than a murderer. This role reversal shows the cyclical nature of the novel in addition to characterizing both Victor and the Creature. Both shared the experience of revenge, of turning from good to evil and of finally realizing that good, though powerful, may not necessarily overcome evil.


References:**

[1] Bellis, Mary. "Luigi Galvani 1737-1798." 28 April 2007 <http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bl_Galvani.htm>.[2] Duncan, Greg. "Frankenstein: The Historical Context." 1996 27 April 2008 <[[http://www.wsu.edu/%7Edelahoyd/frank.comment1.html%3E.%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span|http://www.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/frank.comment1.html>.</span]]>
[3] Yagmin, David. "Frankenstein". 2000. April 27 2008. <[[http://www.bookrags.com/notes/frk/%3E.%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span|http://www.bookrags.com/notes/frk/>.</span]]>
[4] "Dark Romanticism: Byron, Coleridge, Mary Shelley, and the pursuit of supernatural." The University of Delaware Library. 27 April 2008.
[[http://www2.lib.udel.edu/subj/engl/resguide/darkrweb.htm%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span%3E%3C/span|http://www2.lib.udel.edu/subj/engl/resguide/darkrweb.htm
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