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.

You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been.

In Letter IV, Walton writes these words of Victor's to his sister. Victor, in telling his story to Walton, wants Walton to view his story as an example of what not to do. At this point in the novel, Walton has begun an expedition to the North Pole, earnestly hoping to discover the natural secret to the magnet that attracts compass needles. He hopes to see landscapes and touch parts of the earth that no other human being has been to. He wants to be revered as noble and brave, traversing uncharted territory and bringing back new knowledge.

Victor's story begins with the same kind of desire. Victor feverishly worked to be the first man to create life from the parts of dead beings. He wanted to overcome death itself, and have authority over nature and nature's process of birth and death. He was going to be a respected scientific pioneer, creating this being who he hoped would be grateful and awed by Victor's power.

This quote supports the theme of knowledge as a dangerous entity. Victor's hubristic quest for knowledge (and with it, power) is the "serpent" that stung him and ruined his life. In creating the monster he brought about death and destruction to his family members and friends. Victor hopes that Walton's outcome is better than his was, and he tells his story as a warning of what possibly could be the result of Walton's pursuit.

What do you demand of your captain?Did you not call this a glorious expedition? And wherefore was it glorious? Not because the way was smooth and placid as a southern sea, but because it was full of dangers and terror; because, at every new incident, your fortitude was to be called forth, and your courage exhibited; because danger and death surrounded it, and these you were to brave and overcome. For this was it a glorious, for this was it an honorable undertaking Oh! Be men, or be more than men. Be steady to your purposes, and firm as a rock.

In Chapter XXIV, Victor gives this speech to the sailors that make up Walton's crew on his ship. The sailors beg Walton to steer them back towards England if the ice breaks up enough to free the trapped ship. The idea of ending his expedition is disappointing and shameful for Walton, though he also knows that their position in such icy waters is perilous. Victor speaks up with this speech, encouraging the sailors to be more manly and steadfast, to continue their journey to glory no matter what it takes.

This quote shows that deep down, Victor has not been altogether changed by his experiences with the monster. Creating the monster was a horribly tragic mistake, and Victor paid for it when he lost nearly all of his loved ones and suffered illness after illness that attacked his nervous system. All of this grief began because Victor tried so hard to be a man, or "more than man." He obsessively continued on his journey to glory until he was a kind of super man, creating life from lifeless materials. For this "accomplishment" he received no honor, but was rewarded only with a monstrous creature that was so despised he became evil and reduced Victor to a weak, frail man raving about a monster.

Despite all this, Victor encourages the sailors to pursue their glory. Perhaps he is searching to regain something of those innocent days when Victor had not created evil, but was on his eager path to discovery. Regardless, he hasn't fully learned his lesson, and the advice he gives to the sailors is just as dangerous as creating a monster in a laboratory.

I sickened as I read. 'Hateful day when I received life!' I exclaimed in agony. '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 horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.'

The monster expresses his anguish with this quote from Chapter XV at learning about his origins and also about the ways of human society, which leave the monster rejected and alone. Having learned how to read, the monster obtains a great deal of information in this chapter. He reads three books and the journal that Frankenstein used to document his building of the monster. The books give the monster insight into the nature of men and the ways in which society and civilization worked, as well as certain biblical stories. At times he is moved or confused or angered by what he reads. Learning about his origins, however, horrifies him.

The monster increasingly understands that he is different from other human beings. He observes the DeLacey family with their warmth and affection, and he wishes for some kind of companion. He realizes that friendship and love are not available to him and he is enraged by this. He curses his creator, his God, Victor.

The monster refers to the God in the Bible, who created Adam in his image. Thus, Adam was created from goodness and innocence, and Adam rejected God's gift by eating the forbidden fruit. Still, man was a beautiful creation. The monster, in contrast, was created by Victor in moments of great selfishness and unnatural curiosity. The monster was despised, rejected, and abandoned, though unlike Adam, he never purposely did anything wrong. Essentially, the monster was created in the image of evil and he paid for it by living a lonely and tormented life.

The very winds whispered in soothing accents, and maternal nature bade me weep no more.

This quote is from Victor, in Chapter IX, yet the novel is full of reflections just like it. Victor's words support the theme of nature as a source of power and maternal comfort. The monster's only mothering force is nature, and specifically, the moon. He depends on the soft light of the moon, and finds consolation in the nighttime. Nature is his only gentle friend. Victor, too, continuously seeks solace in his peaceful surroundings, or else he seeks out grand and majestic natural scenery in order to provide him with perspective on his life, and remind him who exactly is the real creator in the universe.

By the end of the novel, Victor is so crazed and monster-like, that he is basically an unnatural being, just like his creation. This is a consequence of having messed with nature, and of having rejected the natural ways of creation. Nature is a mothering force, and indeed, the mothering force in the world. Any attempt to deny that brings about terrifying results.

What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?

Walton writes this in his first letter to his sister. He is literally referring to the Arctic regions, where there are many more hours of daylight than anywhere else in the world. Also, however, the light in this quote symbolizes knowledge, as references to light often do in Frankenstein . Walton expects great things from his voyage of discovery, just like Victor expected great things from his creation. Both Walton and Victor have, at some point, this nave belief about "light," that wondrous things will come from it, such as immense glory and gratification for their careers and personal lives. This quote proves to be nave later on in the book, when both men's expectations and hopes are dashed.

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