Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

analytical Essay
1631 words
1631 words

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley didn’t know when she began it that her “ghost story” would become an enduring part of classic literature. Frankenstein is an admirable work simply for its captivating plot. To the careful reader, however, Shelley’s tale offers complex insights into human experience. The reader identifies with all of the major characters and is left to heed or ignore the cautions that their situations provide. Shelley uses the second person narrative style, allusions both to Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and the legend of Prometheus, and the symbols of both light and fire to warn against the destructive thirst for forbidden knowledge.

Frankenstein’s tale is narrated in the second person in order to warn the audience directly. Relatively few novels are written in the second person, but those that are have the singular ability to talk directly to their readers. Shelley went to great lengths to preserve this admonishing quality in her narrative: in order to speak to the reader as “you,” the book had to be written as a letter. Knowing the destinies of her characters, however, Shelley knew that neither of the principals would survive long enough to realize their mistakes. She therefore invented Capitan Walton who would, in his letters, preserve the imperative tone of the second person that is so essential to her purpose. The book was written in the second person so that the warning that Dr. Frankenstein gives to Captain Walton is preserved and relayed to Shelley’s readers: you and me.

A classic example of the warning voice inherent in the second person narrative is Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The entire purpose of the mariner’s tal...

... middle of paper ... knowledge not informed by morality has let loose on our 21st-century world such monsters as the atomic bomb, whose whereabouts are unknown, and whose existence threatens our lives every minute. Shelley may not have realized all of the implications of her writing, but she understood human tendencies. She raised a warning that unfortunately has gone largely unheeded .

Like the ancient mariner, Frankenstein addresses his readers directly and warns against the destructive fire of forbidden knowledge—knowledge not anchored by morality. Perhaps the most compelling warning in the book is given in Frankenstein’s own weary voice as he prefaces his tale: “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge” (57).

Work Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. Johanna M. Smith. Boston: Bedford, 2000.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes the warning voice inherent in coleridge's "rime of the ancient mariner" and the parallel plots that frankenstein shares with the mariner.
  • Analyzes how dr. frankenstein's pursuit of understanding becomes an obsessive appetite for illegitimate learning. the creature speaks with ity of an oppressor when he calls his creator a slave.
  • Analyzes how mary shelley's "ghost story" became an enduring part of classic literature. she uses the second-person narrative style, allusions to coleridge’s “rime of the ancient mariner” and the legend of prometheus to warn the audience directly.
  • Analyzes how shelley's allusion to prometheus is the first and biggest clue to the subject of her warning.
  • Analyzes how frankenstein embodies science's promethean quest to know all, regardless of the consequences.
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