Frankenstein Study Guide


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein is presented as a frame tale, told by Captain Walton while on an expedition to the North Pole, where he finds Frankenstein. Frankenstein is a scientist who created a monstrous human-like Creature. The Creature tried to explain his murders to Frankenstein, claiming that people rejected and feared him, begging Frankenstein to make him a mate. Frankenstein first agrees then destroys the mate. The enraged Creature kills Frankenstein's wife, fleeing to the North Pole. After Frankenstein dies, Walton sees the Creature mourning as he floats away on a raft.

Victor Frankenstein

Victor's life is the main story of Frankenstein . His childhood is mostly good and innocent, and loving people surround him. When he is very young his affectionate parents even give him a "gift" of a human being: the orphan Elizabeth Lavenza. Elizabeth is raised alongside Victor and they are devoted companions. Victor develops an interest in alchemy and chemistry. Ultimately, this interest turns into an unhealthy obsession, and the relative happiness he enjoyed in his youth is doomed by his passion for science.

Victor discovers how to create life, and gets to work making a human being. His desire for dominance over a life, for single-handedly bringing something to life, takes over his own life. For months he works on his project, growing thin and sick, and neglecting to keep up correspondence with his loved ones. He chooses to ignore all emotional connection with other human beings and instead concentrate on the hard facts, the opportunity that science provides to logically figure something out. Victor's act of choosing the masculine field of science over the feminine virtues of nurturing one's relationships and engaging in emotional interaction leads to his illness, a mental instability, and eventually his demise. His frighteningly zealous desire for control over nature his attempt to create life instead of allowing nature to create life is proven to be dangerous in the end. It is exactly what brings Victor so much misery and guilt.

In trying to create a human, and then later when he is burdened by overwhelming guilt, Victor consistently avoids human contact. When he is creating the monster he is too obsessed to think of anything else. When the monster has wreaked havoc on Victor's family, it is too much for Victor to be in the company of others who are innocently grieving and ignorant of Victor's secret. This lack of humanness, combined with his hatred for the monster and desire for revenge makes Victor's character more like the monster and less like the other humans in the story. His intentions to dominate nature result in Victor gradually becoming less natural. The story of Victor's life is perhaps a warning. His childhood is good, average and safe, yet he grows up to become a tortured and unstable scientist who unleashed on society a dangerous technological invention.

The novel includes several different narrators, each of whom has a different opinion of Victor. Thus, the reader gets many interpretations of the novel's protagonist. Some are sympathetic or glorifying, such as Robert Walton's belief that Victor is intelligent and sweet, and courageous in his attempts to pioneer new scientific advances. The monster gives the reader a contrasting depiction of Victor as heartless, rash, and horribly selfish.

The monster

The monster is created by Victor Frankenstein while he is attending the University of Ingoldstadt. Victor puts the monster together using the parts of dead people, combined with his knowledge of chemistry and electricity. After creating him, Victor completely and fearfully abandons his "child," of sorts, leaving the monster to "grow up" on his own. Having a gruesomely horrifying appearance, the monster is shunned and despised by human society. Being so hated, he becomes extremely bitter and desperate for revenge, and yet his only desire is to be loved. His character is agonizingly conflicted, wanting greatly to be accepted by Victor, and then wanting nothing more than to hurt Victor in any way possible.

When the monster is first created he is not automatically cruel and murderous. He has a gentle nature and expresses compassion at times, providing firewood for a peasant family and rescuing a girl from drowning. Whenever he tries to befriend someone, however, he is met with thorough and fearful rejection. It is only after being spurned so constantly that he turns vicious. The only reason he is treated so brutally is because of his terrible appearance. He watches as Safie, a foreign woman who cannot speak French, arrives at the DeLacey household and is warmly received. The monster sees a creature that is foreign--like he is--and who cannot speak the same language, as he cannot, yet she is warmly welcomed because of her beauty. He is almost accepted by the blind old man because he can speak eloquently and the old man doesn't have the option of judging the monster based on his appearance. This glimpse of hope is ruined, however, when the three other cottagers, who are able to see the monster, arrive home and chase the monster away.

The character of the monster symbolizes the possibly horrifying effects that technology may have on the individual and on society. He ends up a lonely, tormented, and friendless creature with no hope for the future. He also symbolizes the misuse of knowledge, or the use of knowledge for evil purposes. Even Victor, while creating his monster, is repulsed by his project, but becomes frenzied and cannot stop himself. The monster, a destitute and lonesome creature, is what happens when human life is taken lightly and handled carelessly. He is also what happens when men attempt to act like God.

For Victor, the monster represents his guilty conscience at having brought a being into the world that he no longer wants, and of whom he is in fact terrified. The monster is free from guilt, and blames Victor for all of his unhappiness. The monster, as Victor's conscience, destroys all the people Victor loves, until there is nobody left but the monster. He haunts Victor and torments him until finally Victor goes on a chase to destroy his creation.

Elizabeth Lavenza

Elizabeth Lavenza is an orphan when Caroline, Victor's mother, brings her into the family. She is close to Victor's age and becomes his companion. She levels him out in many ways, providing a gentle calm to his intense passion. On her deathbed, Caroline insists that Victor and Elizabeth get married when they are older. Elizabeth swiftly and easily takes on the role of maternal figure in the household after Caroline's death. Victor even has a dream just after he creates the monster in which he embraces Elizabeth but she decomposes in his arms and he sees that what he is holding looks like his deceased mother. When Victor is at school, Elizabeth keeps him informed of the happenings in his hometown of Geneva. She is his connecting line to his childhood, his home, and the safety of his family.

Elizabeth is constantly described as innocent and flawless. She was a poor orphan as a child, a victim of fate, and yet she was uncomplaining. Her appearance and demeanor are often said to be "angelic." She is passive, calm, gentle and selfless. There is one type of female in Victor's life and that is the giving, nurturing mother figure. Elizabeth takes over as Victor's mother, essentially, when Caroline dies. She raises Victor's younger brothers and keeps Victor's father, Alphonse, company. She is content to be domestic and to simply love those in her care.

Elizabeth is so innocent that she is the victim in every sad situation. When Caroline dies, Victor delays his departure for school because he wants to be with Elizabeth as she grieves. When the family servant, Justine Moritz, is unjustly put to death, it is Elizabeth's anguish that truly makes Victor feel tortured with guilt at having created the monster. And as the pure, sweet bride, Elizabeth is heartlessly murdered by Victor's creation.

Along with all the other female characters in Frankenstein , Elizabeth represents a feminine ideal of the mothering and generous woman. Despite being orphaned and impoverished, Elizabeth is a bright and happy child, cheering the lives of everyone around her. When her adoptive mother, Caroline, dies, Elizabeth swallows her grief in order to better nurture the other members of the family. She is revered for being so selfless, and her physical beauty seems to coincide with her self-sacrificing ways.

Elizabeth is significant in the role she plays in the theme of class division. Mary Shelley believed society would be better if the wealthy would simply aid the poor. Caroline's adoption of Elizabeth is indicative of that idea. Also, Elizabeth is very affectionate with the family servant, and supports Justine's plea of innocence even after Justine had been put to death. Elizabeth is respecting of all classes of people, which was a wish of Mary Shelley's for all of society.

Perhaps Elizabeth represents the consequences on the innocent bystander when technology advances more quickly than humankind can handle. When rash people, like Victor, attempt to play God and create another race out of dead human parts, the innocents, like Elizabeth, are going to be injured, not those who are guilty, like Victor.

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