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.

Monstrosity

The monster's story is tragic and clearly central to the story of Frankenstein . His monstrous appearance is his downfall, it is the only thing that prevents him from having real relationships, as it is the first thing people judge him on. His monstrosity leads to others treating him cruelly, for no fault of his own. After so much ill treatment, the monster's gentle nature turns bitter and hateful. He becomes the monster that everyone sees because he is treated like a monster, like a creature that is less than human.

The monster was created from someone with a monstrous ambition. Part of the monster's gruesomeness is due to the artificial way in which he was created. Victor used parts of dead people and strange materials, along with a vague scientific practice to create his monster. His hope was to eventually be able to revive dead things, and this desire to reverse the natural way of life and death has monstrous results.

The story also makes the reader question what monstrosity really is and what it means to be monstrous. Originally the reader's loyalty is with Victor, and the reader feels great sympathy for him when the monster kills William and causes Justine's death as well. It seems that everyone is as they seem to be, and that the helpless human being is a victim to the hulking grotesque creature. Yet through the monster's story, the reader begins to feel great pathos and pities the monster so much that his actions don't seem so horrible, and Victor comes out the monster for ever having begun such a miserable life. The monster is the innocent, gentle hearted and rational being, though he looks horrendous. Victor is evil character who has allowed his selfishness and hubris to take over his life. In the end the reader wonders which is the man and which is the monster.

Shelley also seems to declare that monsters are not born into society, rather everyone is born good, but society and worldly pressures create monsters. Both Victor and the monster are born good and enjoy some time being innocent and sweet. Victor, however, is sucked into the dark, attractive world of powerful science and technology and starts to believe that he really could be God. The monster, despised and rejected by everyone he tries to befriend or love, has his good nature steadily worn away until he is simply a lonely, bitter and anguished character.

Monstrosity, whether it be Victor's type or the monster's, is deeply alienating. By the end of the novel, Victor has lost all of his loved ones to the monstrosity he created. He is left alone with his regret and guilt and aside from telling his story to Walton could have no function in society. The monster, doomed from the start, is always alone and desolate, grieving his friendless life and cursing his cruel "God." Society, with its technological advancement and its mistreatment of people who are different, creates the monsters it so despises.

The Danger of Knowledge

One idea at the core of the novel is that too much knowledge is dangerous and leads to misery, while ignorance is bliss. Victor discovers the secret to life, a whole section of knowledge to which humans are not supposed to have access. He pursues this knowledge in his feverish endeavor to create a human being with his bare hands. Robert Walton's expedition parallels Victor's story in that his quest to be the first man in uncharted territory leads to his ship getting trapped in icy waters, endangering the lives of everyone on board.

There is a distinctly Romantic emphasis placed on friendship and companionship between creatures. Many of the main characters in the novel are desperate for love and affection, and are grateful for the close friendships they do enjoy. When Victor is obsessively creating his monster, he neglects his family and friends, and basically withers within the confines of his laboratory. For a period of time, his friendships suffer as a result of him paying so much attention to his scientific project. By ignoring his emotions and pursuing great knowledge, Victor essentially brings about his own demise and brings pain to the lives of his loved ones.

At times it is mentioned that animals are better off than humans because they are so ignorant. That they don't understand verbal communication or the ways of human society allows them to only be concerned with the most basic aspects of life. In doing this, they avoid the complex kind of pain that humans endure.

When the monster first learns from the DeLaceys how to communicate and then how to read, he better understands the world around him. This understanding and knowledge, however, only brings him sadness and confused anguish. He learns about human society from the books he reads and he decides that human society is vile and cruel. Learning about human society also allows the monster to think about his own placement, or lack thereof, within society. With more knowledge comes a deeper and more stinging understanding of how utterly alienated the monster is. He realizes he has no family, no friends, no possessions, and no way of obtaining these desired things.

The monster also reads Victor's journal and finds out about his origins. Knowing that he was unnaturally created makes him feel freakish and angry. What's worse, his own creator abandoned him. These facts can only make the monster feel even more desolate and wretched about his life.

The entire tragic story of Frankenstein is a warning against obtaining too much knowledge. There are some things humans are supposed to be ignorant about, Shelley seems to claim, and learning about them will bring destruction and despair.

Sublime Nature

Mary Shelley clearly espoused many Romantic ideals present in the works of influential authors of her day. Romantic poetry and literature play a large part in the telling of the Frankenstein story. Perhaps the most important Romantic aspect in the novel is Shelley's depiction of nature as sublime.

Nature reflects, or indeed perhaps dictates, the mood of the story or the characters at any given time. Stormy weather foreshadows a tumultuous situation, usually between the monster and Victor. Warm and gentle weather often indicates a serene relationship or a calmness to the events that will take place.

Nature is all-powerful in the novel. It is not a force to be reckoned with, which is a lesson that Victor learns too late. It is also depicted in such grand and majestic terms that both the characters and the reader get a sense of being small and insignificant in such a giant world. This world continues and persists in magnificent ways without any assistance from humans.

Nature has the power to soothe and heal the characters. Victor goes to the mountains in search of comfort after the death of Justine. His mind is burdened by guilt and regret, but the natural surroundings quiet his spinning mind. Not having any human companions or family, the monster consistently seeks out cheer and relief in nature. Even when he is despairing, the beauty of nature provides him with joy.

Physically, nature is also omnipotent. Robert Walton's great ambitions of being a bold and powerful explorer are ruined when his ship is trapped by chunks of ice in the sea. Most importantly, however, nature proves its supremacy in the story of Victor and his monster. Victor attempts to conquer and subdue nature by also becoming a creator of life. Clearly, however, his plan backfires. He creates the monster, whose life is spent in misery, and in making such a creation, he ruins his own life and the lives of those around him.

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