Frankenstein Study Guide

Frankenstein

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.

Brief Summary

In Chapter II, Victor continues the story of his childhood. He and his adopted sister Elizabeth were less than a year apart in age, and grew up side by side in a loving and harmonious relationship. At school, Victor became close with only one other student, Henry Clerval, who was intrigued by stories of romance, chivalry and heroism. Victor, however, wanted to know the secrets of the earth and nature. Yet Elizabeth's presence was the most cherished and she had a soothing effect on Victor. Victor likes to dwell on his childhood, as he was able to enjoy it before misery darkened his life.

At the age of thirteen, Victor came across a book of ancient natural philosophy and he became obsessed with the study of science. When he was fifteen, Victor watched a bolt of lightning strike an old oak tree during a storm, reducing the tree to strips of wood. A man who was visiting with Victor's family explained a theory about electricity that was new to Victor. It sounded so plausible that he abandoned his faith in the old writers he'd been studying. At the same time, it became clear to him that nothing in science could ever be known for certain, and so he turned his attention to mathematics, which he found to be a more stable subject. Victor enjoyed a period of peace and comfort after abandoning scientific study.

Detailed Summary

In Chapter II, Victor continues the story of his childhood with his adopted sister Elizabeth. The two were less than a year apart in age, and grew up side by side. Their relationship was always loving and harmonious, and their different personalities complimented each other. Elizabeth was serene and delighted in the aesthetics of things, while Victor constantly explored and researched. He wanted to know the causes of things, the secrets to the hidden laws of nature.

Victor was seven when his parents had another son. His parents decided to stop traveling and to settle in Geneva. As a boy, Victor preferred the company of very few people, or no one at all. He became very close with only one other fellow schoolboy, Henry Clerval. Clerval was intrigued by stories of romance and chivalry, and loved playing games of danger and heroism. Thus Victor's childhood was full of delight and warmth. He recognized that not every family was so happy, and he felt gratitude as well as love towards his parents.

At times, Victor was passionate and violent, though his passion was channeled toward his desire to learn. Most of all, he wanted to know the secrets of the earth, unlock the mysteries of nature, and understand the spirit of man. Clerval, in contrast, was interested in the dealings between people, the heroes and leaders of mankind, as he wanted to be one of the valiant men in history. Yet amongst everyone, Elizabeth's presence was the sweetest and most cherished. She had a gentle, saintly demeanor, and a soothing effect on Victor. Even Clerval, under her influence, desired heroism merely for the purpose of doing good. Victor remarks that he likes to dwell on the joys of his childhood, as he was able to purely enjoy it before misery darkened his life.

At the age of thirteen, Victor came across the works of Cornelius Agrippa, a German physician from the late fifteenth century. The book of natural philosophy fascinated Victor, yet when he excitedly shared it with his father, his father dismissed it, calling it sad trash. Victor assumed his father was not familiar with this type of science and proceeded to eagerly study the writings of similar philosophers. His desire to know the secrets of nature was satisfied by the wild fancies of these writers.

Victor became obsessed with the study of science. He was educated in the schools of Geneva, but fervently pursued a scientific education by himself. He wanted to destroy disease from the world, and figure out how to make ghosts or devils appear. He had a thousand imaginative theories based on knowledge from mixed sources.

When he was fifteen, Victor witnessed a thunder storm, and watched as an old oak tree was struck by a bolt of lightning. All that was left of the tree were strips of wood. A man who was visiting with Victor and his family started to explain a theory about electricity that sounded new and exciting to Victor. It sounded so plausible and fascinating that he abandoned his faith in the writers he'd been studying. At the same time, it became clear to him that nothing in science could ever be known for certain, and so immediately ceased his pursuit of it. Instead he turned his attention to mathematics, as he deemed it a more concrete area of study.

Victor regards his sudden disinterest in the natural sciences as a final miraculous attempt made by a celestial being to prevent imminent destruction caused by scientific study. He enjoyed a period of peace and comfort after abandoning scientific study and thereafter associated unhappiness with that kind of study and joy with dismissing natural science. Yet even that effort was not enough to conquer the doom destined to befall him.

Analysis

Chapter II provides the reader with a more in-depth look at Victor's personality as a child. Even in childhood, Victor is more serious and full of curiosity than his peers. Elizabeth is content with average children's activities, and in general is calmer and gentler than Victor. Clerval is a Romantic character even from his early childhood days, when he entertains himself with stories of chivalry and heroism. In contrast, Victor has no use for the emotional interactions between humans. He wants to study science and figure out the secrets behind nature's darkest mysteries.

At the pubescent age of 13, Victor comes across books of alchemy and is fascinated thereafter with natural philosophy. He delves wholeheartedly into alchemy and voraciously reads the works of ancient alchemists, feeling like he's getting somewhere in his quest to truly unravel nature. He alludes to a desire to raise the spirits of dead people, which foreshadows his eventual creation of a being from the parts of deceased beings. Still, he senses that there is something missing in all those old texts, and that something is revealed to him when the family friend explains electricity to Victor. Victor is 15 when he learns about electricity. A lightning bolt during a storm hits a tree and destroys it. The lightning could symbolize technology, and the destruction it brings to a natural life force--a tree, which provides oxygen as well as beauty--is significant. The image of the reduced tree is also symbolic of Victor's unfortunate future. He abandons his study of old alchemists and earnestly takes up pure science and mathematics. The more he learns, the more he wants to know and this lustful chase of knowledge begins to snowball.

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