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.

Brief Summary

Finally Victor completed his project. The monster Victor had created opened its eyes and its limbs came to life. Victor describes the creature as having yellow skin, shiny black hair, dull eyes, and black lips. Victor was sickened and ran from his laboratory to try and rest. He awoke from a disturbing dream and saw his monster standing next to the bed. Victor fled the bedroom and walked around the courtyard. Through the night, Victor was overwhelmed with disappointment and regret. In the morning Victor began pacing the streets in a confused state. He saw his old friend Henry Clerval coming out of a carriage. Clerval was delighted to see Victor and the two men walked together in the direction of Victor's college. Clerval noted how pale and sick he appeared.

At his apartment, Victor checked to see if the monster was there before inviting Clerval upstairs. Victor's relief at the monster's absence caused him to become hysterical. Clerval asked him what made him act in such a way. Victor was suddenly overcome and fainted.

For months Victor suffered from a fever and Clerval cared for his friend. In his fever Victor raved constantly about the monster. Gradually he recovered, and noticed that spring had arrived outside. Clerval had sacrificed his entire semester to nurse him back to health, and he had hidden the sickness from Victor's family. Still, they were concerned and Clerval suggested Victor read a letter that had arrived from Elizabeth.

Detailed Summary

Finally, on a rainy November night, Victor completed his project. In the first hours of morning, the monster Victor had created opened its eyes and its limbs came to life. Victor describes the creature as beautiful with yellow skin, shiny black hair and bright white teeth. These features contrasted, however, with the creature's dull, wet eyes, wrinkled face and black lips.

Despite his accomplishment, and the many sacrifices Victor made to reach his goal, he was sickened when he beheld his creation. He ran from his laboratory and attempted to rest. He dreamt that he encountered Elizabeth on the street, and when he kissed her she turned into a decomposing corpse, reminding Victor of his dead mother. He awoke deeply disturbed and turned to see his monster by the light of the moon, standing next to Victor's bed. The monster grinned, sputtered out sounds, and stretched out his hand. Frightened, Victor fled the bedroom and walked around the courtyard, afraid of meeting the demoniacal corpse. He contradicts his earlier statements of the monster's beauty, calling the creature wretched and ugly, most of all when he moved.

Through the night, Victor was overwhelmed with disappointment and regret. By turn anxious and extremely weak, he quickly realized his passionate dreams had become a source of misery. In the morning Victor began aimlessly pacing the streets of Ingoldstadt in a confused state. Here Mary Shelley inserted an excerpt from the poem Ancient Mariner by Coleridge in order to illustrate Victor's experience walking in fear and dread of a frightful fiend traveling at his heels. This poem was first mentioned in Robert Walton's letter to his sister, when he assured her that his adventure would not be like the one described by the poem.

For no logical reason, Victor came to a stop in front of a popular inn. A carriage pulled up before him and his old friend Henry Clerval descended from it. Clerval was surprised and delighted to see Victor, and warmly greeted him. The two men walked together in the direction of Victor's college and conversed. Clerval told Victor that his father finally allowed him to attend school. Victor inquired about his father, younger brothers and Elizabeth. Clerval answered that they were well but concerned for Victor because he so rarely wrote to them. Then Clerval expressed his own concern for Victor, noting how pale and sick he appeared, as though he hadn't slept in several nights. Victor confirmed that this was true, but that the task that had kept him so busy had ended.

The two men reached Victor's apartment and Victor had his friend wait outside while he ran upstairs to find out if the monster were there. Shaking with trepidation, Victor flung open the door and nervously checked his room. The monster was not there, to Victor's relief, and he invited Clerval to his room. They prepared to eat together, but Victor's tremendous relief caused him to jump around, laughing maniacally. Clerval became worried at Victor's crazy behavior, fearing for his health, and asked him what made him act in such a way. At that question Victor hallucinated that the monster was attacking him, and fainted.

For several months afterward Victor suffered from a nervous fever, and Clerval devoted himself to caring for his friend. He hid Victor's illness from Victor's family, knowing that his father was frail. In his fever Victor raved constantly about the monster, which Clerval initially dismissed as an effect of Victor's sickness. Over time, however, Clerval believed Victor's state had been caused by some horrible situation. Gradually Victor recovered, and he noticed that spring had arrived outside. The beautiful season cheered him.

Victor realized that Clerval had sacrificed his entire semester of study to nurse his friend back to health. Immensely grateful, Victor asked what he could do to repay Clerval. Clerval wished to know about what had caused Victor's breakdown, but Victor trembled at the thought of discussing his creature, and Clerval said he wouldn't talk about it anymore. Victor's family, however, was quite concerned and Clerval suggested Victor write to them. He then pointed to a letter that had arrived from Elizabeth.


In Chapter V, there are many elements of a Gothic tale. The first is the element of the grotesque, as the monster's features are horrifyingly gross. The second element is the creepy and strange environment, such as the "mad scientist's laboratory" in the middle of the night, and Victor's walks around the moonlit courtyard, fearing the monster's appearance. The idea of something that was once dead but is now "un-dead"-yet not necessarily alive-is another Gothic element. Finally, the way in which this chapter instills fear in the reader is Gothic in nature.

In the monster's first few minutes of life, Victor goes through several overwhelming emotions. He first, and briefly, believes his creation is "beautiful," with his pearly white teeth and shiny black hair. Soon, however, Victor realizes how monstrous and horrible his creation looks, and he is deeply repulsed. In this moment, Shelley is contrasting the monster's moment of creation with the moment of creation for Adam in the Bible. In the monster's case, Victor backs away and is regretful about having made him. In contrast, God looks upon his creation and finds it very "good."

In an attempt to rest, Victor has a disturbing dream about meeting Elizabeth on the streets of Ingoldstadt, but when he embraces her, she becomes a decomposing corpse that reminds Victor of his deceased mother. This image could be interpreted as the death of all things maternal. When Victor's mother died, Elizabeth took on the role of maternal figure in Victor's life. The fact that Caroline and Elizabeth melt into one deathly body indicates that by creating a being without obeying the laws of nature, Victor actually killed something off. The maternal force dissolves gruesomely in his arms. Also this dream foreshadows Elizabeth's fate, and shows that Victor has essentially just created Elizabeth's death.

Victor wanders around Ingoldstadt in a stupor. Shelley here includes an excerpt from Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in which a person is wandering streets, feeling a pursuing enemy or demon following him closely. Victor could be experiencing the chased person's trepidation and aloneness, and that would be a Gothic interpretation of the poem. From a Romantic point of view, Victor and the Mariner in the poem are lustful for knowledge and that lust is perceived as dangerous.

Chapter V is actually the part of the novel that Mary Shelley wrote as the beginning of a ghost story when she was trading stories with her friends one stormy summer night in Switzerland.

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