Question Laura Art, Media & Literature

Key themes in Frankenstein

What do you think Mary Shelley's key meanings and ideas are that she tries to communicate through the text of Frankenstein?

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Shelley’s Frankenstein incorporates many different themes. The core questions revolve around Victor Frankenstein and his monster. There are elements of fatherhood in the relationship, as Frankenstein ‘births’ the monster, but this is underscored by the rejection he demonstrates. The newborn monster approaches him as a child would approach a parent, but instead of engaging with him, Frankenstein flees the apartment. Some have purported that Frankenstein is based on Shelley’s husband, Percy, inspired by an incident in 1815 in which she gave birth to a premature baby which died two weeks later; Percy displayed no emotion and instead left to conduct an affair with Shelley’s stepsister (Spark, 1951). The creature is never named – it is referred to as ‘demon’, ‘devil’, ‘fiend,’ etc. – which strips it of identity. Both Victor and the monster himself express a wish that he had never been created: “I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on” (p. 185). Another central theme is the idea of knowledge being dangerous; Frankenstein and Robert Walton, another central character, are both in pursuit of knowledge beyond human limitations. The former’s experiment with the monster, and the consequences it brings about, ultimately persuades the latter to abandon his dangerous mission to explore the North Pole, as Frankenstein’s obsession with creating the monster is dramatically reversed upon his success. This revelation causes him to destroy work he had begun on creating a female monster. Finally, the novel’s subtitle, The Modern Prometheus, evidences another core theme: Prometheus, in mythology, stole fire from the Gods and was punished, and Frankenstein’s story parallels this. Upon seeing fire for the first time, the monster is excited that it creates light in the darkness, but soon learns that it burns him if he touches it.

References

Shelley, M. (1818). Frankenstein. Delaware: Prestwick House.
Spark, M. (1951). Mary Shelley. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co.