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The creature spoke, The fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone. Within this quote, the creature of Frankenstein gives life to the Romantic Movement by referring to an earlier work; what’s more, gothic elements are viewed in the words he uses. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written during an era of a remarkable revolution called Romanticism. Romanticism articulates a fundamental shift in Western attitudes toward art, society, history, philosophy, and the notion of what it means to be a human being (Sylvia, 2). Frankenstein is one of the most excellent examples of the Gothic novel and also fits many of the characteristics of a Romantic novel. These characteristics of Romanticism and Gothicism can be seen in the setting, the characters, the themes, the symbols, and the tone.
In the beginning of the novel, Captain Walton is writing letters to his sister. The setting, while the Captain is writing, is his ship at the North Pole. After Victor Frankenstein boards the ship Walton starts writing down Victor’s story as he tells it (Shelly). The settings, while victor is recounting these past events, are all over Europe. They range from Geneva to the Alps, to France, England, and Scotland, as well as the university at Ingolstadt (Shelly). A gothic novel is known to have grotesque elements, mysterious events, a bleak environment, tragic events, ghostly aspects, and produce fear (Umland, 55). Frankenstein is located in a desolate countryside, Ingolstadt, and a laboratory. All of which are gothic in nature (Umland, 55). The landscape is gothic because it is dreadfully bleak. Laboratories’, in general, are thought to be gothic due to there modern conception. When one thinks of a laboratory they see test tubes, and chemicals and crazy, mad, scientists. This was much the case in Frankenstein. Also in Frankenstein there is a sense of remoteness. This is shown in how the reader is never told exactly where the creature is created, and, in addition, when Henry Clerval and the creature end
up on the coast of Ireland. It goes unexplained (Umland, 56). There are two main purposes why a Romantic novel takes place in a remote setting. The first reason is to create a realm different from the readers known world. The second reason is so the reader will concentrate on unusual themes or ideas instead of on mundane or everyday things (Umland, 53). Furthermore, Romantic settings deal with obscure or unknown places in time (Umland, 53). For example, a part of the novel takes place in the Alps (Shelly). Also, this can be seen when Victor is trying to create the creature’s bride (Shelly). He is on a remote island off the coast of Scotland. Mary Shelly does not give his exact location (Umland, 53). In addition, the setting for the Romantic Movement was Germany. The creature was created in Ingolstadt, Germany, which is a place unknown to many (Umland, 53). The setting is an incredibly important contribution to a Gothic Romantic tale, however, the characters, that make up the story, show equal significance,
The main characters in Frankenstein are Victor Frankenstein, the Monster, Robert Walton, Alphonse Frankenstein, Elizabeth Lavenza, and Henry Clerval (Shelly). Within Gothic novels the characters seem to have a psychic communication. For instance, the creature in Frankenstein knows where his creator is all the time (Umland, 56). What’s more, in gothic novels there is some type of supernatural event involving the characters. This can be seen when the creature is being created from dead body parts (Umland, 56). In Romantic novels, the writers did not create very credible characters. An example of this is the monster. He had no real identity. Also, the character Justine was not mentioned until the death of William, and William was not really mentioned until he was killed (Umland, 54). Justine and William are not really convincing because a background is not given for them.
There are many themes and symbols in Frankenstein. A symbol, that contains gothic elements, is light and fire. In Frankenstein, light symbolizes knowledge and enlightenment. “What could not be expected in the country of eternal light?” asks Walton, displaying confidence in science (Shelly). The more powerful form of light is fire. The creature’s first experience with a burning flame reveals the dual nature of fire. He excitedly discovers that it creates light in the shadows, and keeps him warm when the weather is cold, but also that it harms him when he touches it (Shelly, 71).
There are two major themes in Frankenstein. First is the pursuit of knowledge. This theme can be witnessed in both of the main characters, Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein. Victor attempts to go beyond previous knowledge and access the secret of life (Shelly). Likewise, Robert Walton attempts to surpass previous explorations by trying to create a sea lane through the North Pole (Shelly). This pursuit of knowledge proves dangerous for both Victor and Walton. Another theme of Frankenstein, which is seen in most Romantic novels, is sublime nature. The definition of sublime is “of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe” (Sublime, 1). The sublime natural world, incorporated in Romanticism, primarily offers characters the opportunity of spiritual renewal. After the deaths of William and Justine, Victor is in a deep depression and decides to head to the mountains to lift his spirits (Shelly, 66). Likewise, after a hellish winter of cold and rejection, the monster feels his heart lighten as spring arrives (Shelly, 90). The theme is uplifting; however, the tone is anything but.
Frankenstein has a frightening tone. An example from the book, that portrays this tone, is a quote from Victor Frankenstein: “Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were
rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived” (Shelly, 36). The words horror, hideous, wretch, and ugly all set a frightening tone that brings to mind fear and terror. The tone gives the novel a more gothic feel, which is what Mary Shelly was trying to accomplish (Sylvia, 6).
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein contains many messages. Shelly clearly states the power that science has, which can be seen when Victor gives life to his creature (Shelly, 35). He struggles day after day, and month after month in a laboratory trying to come up with the solution of giving life to an inanimate body (Shelly). Mary Shelly also covers the origins of humanity and how people should leave the making of life to God. One comes to this conclusion due to how Victor lives after his creation takes virtually everything from him. She also illustrates how minds treat the abnormal. This can be seen when the creature finally shows himself to the family he adopted. Felix beats him out of fear and the creature has to run away. The central message of Frankenstein is, not that we dare to overstep our bounds, but that we are responsible for what we create. Through Frankenstein, Shelley sends out this clear message that irresponsible scientific growth can unleash a monster that can destroy its creator.
In conclusion, Frankenstein represents the best elements of a Gothic Romantic tale because it introduces events that create a sense of horror, while also containing knowledge of science (Umland, 54). Frankenstein is one of the most excellent examples of the Gothic novel and also fits many of the characteristics of a Romantic novel. These characteristics of Romanticism and Gothicism can be seen in the settings, which are bleak and remote, the characters, who are supernatural and straightforward, the themes and symbols, which compliment the story, and the tone, which is frightening and adds to the gothic aspect of Frankenstein. Mary Shelly truly created a romantic and gothic masterpiece.
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