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.

Symbols

Lightning

Most times when lightning is featured in the novel, it signifies technology or scientific advancement, in particular the destructive qualities of technology. Like the technological progress, lightning is powerful, hazardous and uncontrollable. Victor becomes enthusiastically interested in science after he learns about electricity. He learns about electricity when he witnesses a bolt of lightning destroy a large old tree. The tree is a symbol of life, providing oxygen, and the tree is old, meaning it has been growing steadily for perhaps decades. The lightning, in an instant, reduces the old tree to a splintered stump. Lightning is therefore a dangerous yet fascinating force. The night when the monster first comes alive, lightning flashes outside Victor's laboratory. Many times afterward the presence of lightning is accompanied by the appearance of the monster.

The Moon

As it is in many texts, the moon is a symbol of femininity and motherhood. When the monster is first created, he has no parents or siblings and he retreats to the woods. There, he lets nature take care of him. The first thing his eyes can focus on is the moon, and he looks to it for comfort each night, and for guidance. The light is softer and gentler than that of the sun. Also, the nighttime is when the monster feels safest to walk around unnoticed by humans who will hate him for the way he looks. The nonjudgmental moon accompanies the monster in the night, providing him with quiet and gentle light, by which the monster's gruesomeness is not so harsh.

Darkness

Darkness often stands for secrecy in Frankenstein , especially the secrecy surrounding nature's mysteries. The belief is that nature does her magic in the dark, and it is the job of science to shed light on these dark secrets. Victor's chemistry professor, M. Waldman declared that scientists should "penetrate" the darkest recesses of nature, not stopping until all of the world's natural puzzles have been solved. In a similar way, darkness symbolizes a lack of knowledge. When Victor has his epiphany about creating life, he describes it as coming out of darkness to see a dazzling light.

Fire

On one of his first days after his creation, the monster comes across a fire left by some wandering beggars. Delighted at its light and warmth, the monster reaches his hand in to touch it, then quickly pulls away in pain. He weeps. Fire represents knowledge, or civilization. By examining the fire for several days, the monster learns that it gives off heat if it is kept going, and it needs air to do so. He also finds that fire can make raw food taste much better. This is knowledge that humans acquire and use to make their civilized lives easier and more enjoyable. Most times when fire is present, it is in a home, contained, and it was created by humans who communicate with one another using language. When the DeLacey family rejects the monster, he feels like his teachers, and his connection to the outside world has been severed, so he burns down their cottage. Like knowledge, fire can be extremely helpful, powerful and also dangerous.

Mary Shelley's alternate title for Frankenstein was The Modern Prometheus . Prometheus was the Greek god that provided humanity with fire, and then was harshly punished for having done so. Victor is also punished when he attempts to be a "modern" Prometheus.

Natural Landscapes

The varying and richly described landscapes in the novel often reflect the nature, or current mental state, of the character placed in their particular setting. When Victor is overcome with feelings of guilt and shame and retreats into the mountains in search of some kind of solace, he is drawn to landscapes that are harsh, cold, and that look severe. He is filled with awe for the way in which nature appears punishing, and it humbles him. The monster, in contrast, is attracted to warmer environments, and because he feels wronged, he seeks out gentle comfort in his surroundings. The moments when he seems sweet and almost happy are when it is soft springtime in the woods.

Motifs

Religion/The Bible

Religion and biblical references are often used to correspond to the story of Victor and the monster. The monster refers to Victor as his creator, his God. In fact, Victor's intentions in creating the monster had to do with his desire to be omnipotent and Godlike. The monster believes he should be Victor's Adam, yet he often refers to feeling like Lucifer, the fallen angel. In the beginning of his life, the monster is good, but becomes bitter and vengeful after society mistreats him. Lucifer was created to be the most beautiful angel, but instead he turned evil and spurned his creator. In this way, the roles are reversed by the end of the novel: Victor is the one who went against God (by creating the monster) and he turns evil, while the monster ultimately has more power than Victor--physically and mentally.

Abortion

In Frankenstein , birth and death are often closely tied to one another. Victor excitedly makes his creation and then quickly regrets it and wishes to abort his "child." There is a great deal of innocent life lost in the story (William, Justine, Elizabeth), supporting the idea of something being terminated before it reaches its full form. The feminine and maternal aspects in the story are usually subdued or killed off (though we see the results of that: nature, often described as feminine in the novel, is interfered with when Victor creates a monster, bringing about horrible repercussions), signifying the destruction of motherhood, another type of abortion. This is especially clear when Victor dreams that he is embracing Elizabeth (a woman who is young and fertile, assumedly the future mother of Victor's actual children), and she turns into a rotting corpse (Elizabeth's death indicates the death of a mother and therefore her unborn children), which reminds Victor of his mother, who has already died.

Stormy Weather

Often stormy weather corresponds with dangerous, frightening, or exciting events in the story, as well as an ominous narrative tone. The monster is created on a dark and stormy night, and this begins a tortured guilty anguish for Victor, and a sad and lonely life for the monster. The moments when Victor and the monster come into contact are accompanied by pounding rain, thunder and lightning.

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