Frankenstein by Vicky Nguyen

AUTHOR'S BIOGRAPHY

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Mary Shelley, born in August 30, 1796, was a British novelist, best known for her novel Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. Shelley was raised by her father who provided her with an education and encouraged her with his liberal political theories. When she was 16, she met Percy Shelley, and together, they ran off to Europe where they spent their summer with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont, all of whom were writers. On a stormy night in June of 1816, Lord Byron suggested they each write a ghost story. A few nights later, she had a dream in which she envisioned "the pale student of unhallowed arts" kneeling beside his creation, a monster. This began Shelley's novel of Frankenstein. Shelley began writing the story that became Frankenstein. She was the only one of the group who fulfilled the task, publishing her work two years after she married Percy Shelley.

Mary Shelley grew up in a society that believed in the ideas of Enlightenment, that people could improve society through political power, but Shelley was against this idea. Shelley shows her ideas of the Enlightenment through her novel, Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. In the novel, Shelley demonstrates how man’s search for hidden knowledge could eventually lead to downfall and chaos. She writes Frankenstein as a warning against the expansions of modern man in the Industrial Revolution. Shelley was also influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost and legends of Prometheus. Shelley’s Frankenstein included parallel themes to Paradise Lost, such as the molding of creatures from inanimate substances, the growth for revenge, and the isolation of the hostile being. Shelley frequently quoted from Paradise Lost, referring to the monster as the devil, the fiend, the daemon, and the adversary. Both master and creature are torn by their internal conflicts from misapplied knowledge and their sense of isolation.

Historical documents indicate that the model for Victor Frankenstein was Dr. James Lind, Shelley's scientific mentor. Lind had become fascinated with the ability of electrical impulses to provoke muscle movement in the legs of dead frogs, and he was quite likely the first scientist in England to conduct experiments similar to those that enabled Dr. Frankenstein to focus electricity from lightning and bring his monster to life. Shelley also regularly expresses her emotions through her character. She did not lead such a content life. Her first child didn’t survive after birth and her second child, William, died young. In Frankenstein, Victor, too, had many of his loved ones killed.

Shelley’s novel made a huge impact on society because of the Industrial Revolution. Frankenstein was and remains a great influence of literature, continuing to spawn horror stories and films for centuries.


SYNOPSIS

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Frankenstein opens with Robert Walton writing to his sister of his travels to the North Pole. He and his crew are trapped in frozen water. They come across Victor Frankenstein and take him on board. While he recovers, Frankenstein tells Walton of his life, hoping that Walton would not make the same mistakes from pursuing glory.

Frankenstein grew up in a loving family with his adopted cousin, Elizabeth, and his parents. Since childhood, he had an obsession with studying. When he got older, Frankenstein went off to college, where he renewed his interests in science and began piecing together a being from dead limbs, too proud of his work to see the wrongs in what he was doing. Only when it came to life did he realize what he had done. Horrified by his creation, Frankenstein falls ill. Henry Clerval, a childhood friend, restores him back to health.

Back in Geneva, Frankenstein’s younger brother, William, is murdered. Justine, their family servant, is accused of killing him, but Frankenstein immediately knows that it was the work of his creature. Afraid of revealing his creation, however, he keeps to himself and does not come forward. Justine is executed for the crime, and Frankenstein blames himself for William’s and Justine’s deaths.

Frankenstein runs into his monster one day, and the creature confesses his crimes. He tells Frankenstein of how he was alienated from the world and how he murdered William and framed Justine as revenge. He tells of a family who gave him hope of finding compassion, but even they have turned him away. The creature asks Frankenstein to make him a female companion, to which Frankenstein agrees, but only after the creature promises to never interact with the human race again.

Frankenstein goes to England to work on creating another monster, and meets Clerval there. Just when he is nearly complete with his new creation, he comes to believe that the two monsters will only bring destruction to humanity, and destroys the female before it could come to life. Seeing this, the monster vows to get revenge on Frankenstein, once again. Frankenstein further insults the monster by throwing pieces of the she-monster into the sea. When he comes back to shore, he finds that Clerval has been murdered. Victor falls ill again and is visited by his father. When he recovers, he returns to Geneva, ready to marry Elizabeth before the monster could get to him.

In Geneva, Frankenstein prepares to marry Elizabeth, remembering the monster’s promise to be with him on his wedding night. Frankenstein thinks the monster is threatening him, but on the night he and Elizabeth are married, the monster kills the bride instead. Elizabeth’s death causes Frankenstein’s father to pass away from grief.

Frankenstein is now just alone as the monster is. He sets out to hunt down the monster and bring an end to his grievance, which is how he came across Walton’s ship. Before Frankenstein dies, he asks Walton to carry on his work and kill the monster if he ever meets it. That night, Walton finds the monster grieving over the loss of his creator. The monster tells Walton he has nothing more to live for, and goes off to die.


THEMES

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isolation
In Frankenstein, the true evil is neither Frankenstein nor the monster, but isolation. When Frankenstein becomes lost in his studies, he isolates himself from society, and loses his vision of responsibility and consequences of his actions. Because of his isolation, he forgets his reasoning and creates the monster, oblivious of his doings. The same applies with the monster: it only turns vengeful because its isolation from society filled it with grief and anger. The monster’s purpose becomes to isolate Frankenstein from his loved ones. Isolation is the cause of hatred and desire for revenge.


lies and deceit
Frankenstein’s deceitfulness is one of his greatest flaws. His whole obsession with science is shrouded in secrecy.  It is what keeps him from saving his loved ones from the monster. His failure to reveal his secret of the monster leads to the destruction of those he loved. The loss of his family and friends detaches him from the rest of the world, and he remains in his secrecy out of guilt and shame. But his suppression only leads to his inability to save himself. Only as he dies does Frankenstein escape from secrecy by confessing to Walton.

sacrifice
Self-sacrifice is major theme in Frankenstein, both in a positive and negative way. Frankenstein’s sacrifice in order to create his monster seems like an act of inhumanity more than an act of love. His reasoning is overwhelmed by his fear, causing him to choose science over the safety of his friends and family. His sacrifice is what causes the deaths of his loved ones, but is also how he is able to redeem himself in the end.

revenge

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revenge
Revenge becomes a solution for both Frankenstein and his creature when they have nothing left to live for. It is revenge that ultimately gives both Frankenstein and the monster an insistent connection to the world that they are destroying for themselves, and it preserves the ties between one another. Frankenstein’s desire to destroy the monster is motivated by his desire for revenge of the deaths of his friends and family, just as the creature’s revenge is encouraged by his abhorrence of his creator for making him so hideous. Frankenstein and the creature both become consumed by revenge, both becoming true monsters and having no desires beyond destroying their enemies. But revenge is also a distorted way for Frankenstein and his creature to form connections.

search for hidden knowledge/man’s limitation’s
The limit of man is a major theme in Frankenstein. Frankenstein often questions the principles of life and goes to any extent to reach his goals. "It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery, yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our enquiry." By examining the consequences of Frankenstein's ambition, Shelley questions the goal of science itself: Is science a way of improving life, or does it threaten life? Frankenstein's creation comes back to haunt him and ultimately tries to destroy him. His plan rebounds, and the experiment he attempts turns into his own adversary.


RELATION TO SCIENCE & PROFIT

Science becomes a major dilemma in Frankenstein that results in disaster and tragedy. Frankenstein’s obsession with science is motivated by his desires for fame and profit. He misuses and abuses science for his own benefits, blinded by the thought of becoming rich and famous for his doings. In discovering the key to life, he forgets his reasoning and becomes oblivious of his own actions. He considers his creation a work of science while the rest of society deems it unnatural and evil. With his judgment clouded by greed, Frankenstein creates a monster from dead limbs in search of fame and acknowledgment but receives an adversary instead. Frankenstein dreams of bringing glory to himself through his scientific achievements, yet his ambition makes him weak. Blinded by dreams of prominence, he fails to consider the consequences of his actions. Frankenstein plays the role of god by creating the monster, but his inability of fulfilling the responsibilities a creator has to its creation shows his flaws. His role of god ends up as a role of the devil.
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BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • "Frankenstein: Background Info | LitCharts.com." LitCharts.com | LitCharts Study Guides  Web. 31 May 2010.   <http://www.litcharts.com/lit/frankenstein/backgroundinfo>.
  • "Frankenstein." Shmoop: Study Guides & Teacher Resources. Web. 31 May 2010.                      <http://www.shmoop.com/frankenstein/>.
  • Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1999. Print.

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