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.
The story of Frankenstein is told by several different characters. One person narrates within the narration of another person, whose narration is within that of someone else's and so on. The novel begins and ends with Robert Walton's letters to his sister, Margaret Saville, so assumedly, Margaret is supplying us with the letters. She is giving us Walton's story. Walton is giving his own story, and then Victor enters his life and tells Walton his story. Within Victor's story is the monster's. The main characters, Victor and the monster, have died and disappeared by the end of the story, and the fact that Walton is narrating again by that point allows both Victor's and the monster's stories to be told fully and to completion.
This narrative style is extremely important to the telling of Frankenstein .It allows the reader several interpretations of each character. From Victor's point of view, he regards himself as a reasonable man who made a horrible mistake but was still the tragic victim of crimes committed by a heinous and cruel monster. When this monster narrates, however, the reader can see that he is not nearly so monstrous as others (especially Victor) claim he is. He is a sympathetic and pitiable character, and if Shelley had provided only Victor's account of things, the reader couldn't have known that there was a gentle and good nature behind the anguished monster's appearance. This narrative style makes the reader question which character is, in fact, a monster. By getting to know the monster personally, too, Shelley presents the idea that there are no real monsters, but societal pressures and prejudices create them.
Shelley uses parallel stories to foreshadow future events. Walton's desire to learn the secret of the needle that attracts compasses leads him into treacherous waters. This dangerous quest for knowledge at all costs foreshadows Victor's passion for scientific knowledge and authority, and then the tragic repercussions of obtaining these things. Walton's great wish for a companion, who could be his equal intellectually and provide him with affectionate friendship, foreshadows the monster's miserable plea for a mate, his equal in grotesque appearance.
Victor's narration itself is full of foreshadowing. When telling his story to Walton, he constantly refers to horrible tragedy that has happened, and that he will soon get to in his account of the past. In doing this, a tension and dread is built up, yet also the reader is deprived of the surprise element in reading Victor's story. Victor's physical state when he appears at Walton's ship is also a type of foreshadowing. The reader knows that something awful must have occurred in order to produce such a wretched and suffering man.
Shelley also frequently uses stormy weather to foreshadow a difficult and tense situation, usually between Victor and the monster. When they meet face-to-face in the wilderness, their meeting usually only begins after a heavy thunderstorm has arrived.
The major conflict in the story is between Victor Frankenstein, the novel's protagonist, and Victor's monster, who is the supposed antagonist but often the roles between Victor and his monster are switched or ambiguous. The monster wants Victor, his creator, to make a companion for him, but Victor is reluctant to make the same mistake twice. The rising action occurs when the monster sees Victor tear apart the female companion he had started to make for the monster and the monster vows revenge. On Victor's wedding night, the monster murders Victor's bride, Elizabeth, marking the climax of the novel. The falling action is when Victor chases the monster to the north pole but fails in catching him. He boards Walton's ship and tells him his story before he dies.
This conflict, between man and monster, is symbolic of several ideas. It represents the possibly disastrous conflict between humankind and advancing technology. Man creates monster in the name of science and improvement, yet his creation ultimately brings about his demise. The conflict also represents man's struggle with nature. Victor tries to have control over nature and know all of nature's secrets, yet clearly there are certain things that man is not meant to know. Also, the struggle between Victor and the monster is symbolic of man's struggle with God. The monster was created and then abandoned and he blames his creator, Victor, and wishes to hurt him. It is the consequence of a man, Victor, trying to be a god.
The story of Frankenstein contains many Romantic and Gothic elements. The grand, sweeping, majestic descriptions of nature are distinctly Romantic. The message that knowledge isn't as important as emotion and human interaction is also a Romantic belief. The idea that everyone is born good, and that society corrupts people until they are evil is a part of the Romantic style.
Some Gothic elements of the story include the focus on the grotesque and the mysterious and eerie environments in which the story is set. Authors of Gothic novels also intend to frighten their readers. Finally, Shelley's use of the supernatural fits in with Gothic tradition.
The characters in the novel sometimes refer to texts, such as other literary works or poems. Essentially, they are relying on storytellers to help them tell their stories, and sometimes Shelley herself is referring to other works in order to highlight her ideas or themes. This way of telling stories within stories within stories feeds into the structure of the novel in which we hear each character's account of events within the narration of another character's narration. Shelley mentions the works of Homer, which were originally passed down orally from person to person. Her conception of the story for Frankenstein came during a weekend when Shelley and her friends were telling ghost stories around a fire. The stories-within-stories format in the novel perhaps reflects this oral storytelling tradition.
The tone throughout the novel is fairly somber and miserable. The tone changes slightly with each character and the events that each character describes, but even the sweet, gentle and happy moments cannot begin to compare to the intensely agonizing tragedies. Walton, Victor and the monster each have moments of hope and anticipation, such as when Walton first sets off on his expedition and has lofty dreams for himself, or when Victor first realizes how he can create life, or when the monster is about to introduce himself to the DeLacey family. Aside from these moments and a handful of similar ones, however, the tone of the story basically only fluctuates between tragic, harsh and cold.