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Primarily set in the 1800’s in the city of Geneva, Frankenstein presents the tale of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, an obsessive, ambitious, and passionate scientist who discovers the secret of creating life. Using this newfound knowledge, Frankenstein collects and reanimates lifeless body parts to create a living creature. Essentially, Frankenstein’s story depicts his struggle against his own creation, who seeks revenge on him after being abandoned.
The tale begins with the letters of Robert Walton, a seafaring captain who seeks glory in the vast Arctic Ocean. Soon, he rescues a dying man on the ice. Walton is puzzled by the man’s unexpected presence, and questions the mysterious stranger. The man, who we discover to be Victor Frankenstein, then reveals his story. Fascinated with the ideas of natural philosophy and the mysteries of life, Frankenstein devotes his life to studying these subjects at a very young age. After years of diligent and strenuous study, he discovers how to create life and uses this concept to bring an experiment in the form of a “human” man to life. Soon after, Frankenstein realizes that the creature is an abomination, and upon seeing its lurid appearance abandons it. However, the monster, infant-like and new to the world, finds refuge in a hovel near the residence of an impoverished family of peasants. Upon spying on this family, the “wretch” questions his existence and expresses deep envy of the family’s happiness. After teaching himself to converse in human language, he presents himself to the blind man in the family. The blind man is the only character in the story that does not cast a judgment on the creature, allowing the monster to express his lamentation to him. However, the rest of the family comes back and immediately rejects and scorns the creation because of his revolting image.
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Shelley does an outstanding job bringing the characters in Frankenstein to life. Victor Frankenstein is depicted to be a devoted student of science. His passion for science ultimately leads him to isolate himself from the world. It is only until his brother’s death that he realizes what is most important in his life, his family. Blaming himself for the tragic loss, Frankenstein transforms from innocent and motivated to miserable and guilt-ridden. Frankenstein seeks to destroy the cause of his despair, his own creation that had once brought him glory and achievement. Nevertheless, the character that Shelley exceptionally portrays is Frankenstein’s experiment. Shelley characterizes him as a victim of society. His horribly disfigured appearance causes people to exclude him from their world. The actions against the wretch increase his hatred towards humanity, causing him to direct his anger toward Frankenstein, the one who brought him to this unjust world. However, the creation’s vengeance compels him to murder, a horrible, malignant act. Shelley constructs dual views of the monster: one view pitying the monster and another view despising it for its malevolence. The contrasting views have a profound effect on readers. The characters within this novel are perfectly designed to reach out to readers and capture their emotions, because of their vivid, colorful descriptions.
Frankenstein incorporates many themes, some obvious, others subtle, that deepen the meaning of the book. In the original edition of Frankenstein, it was given the subtitle, The Modern Prometheus, in order to draw a connection between Frankenstein and Prometheus, a Greek Titan. In the Greek myth, Prometheus steals fire from Zeus and gives it to mankind. He commits a treacherous act with benevolent intentions. Fire has the ability to do great things in careful hands, yet it can also be destructive force in negligent and careless hands. Shelley wants readers to see Frankenstein as the “Modern Prometheus”, illustrating how Frankenstein discovers and “steals” God’s power to bestow life. The creation symbolizes fire, as Frankenstein’s negligent use of the creature causes death and destruction. Another theme that Shelley incorporates within her novel is the idea that ignorance is bliss. Knowledge is sometimes better left unknown, rather than sought after. Frankenstein falls victim to this when he discovers the secret of bestowing life. He reanimates a being that eventually takes away the lives of others. Shelley makes an allusion to this idea when Frankenstein sees Walton as a victim of this flawed logic, by risking his life to seek glory in the Arctic. Knowledge is a destructive tool that is often better to be untouched. Collectively, these themes provide readers with new insights and outlooks on life.
Shelley’s Frankenstein is brilliantly executed as one of the first horror novels of its time. Although it is two centuries old, the contents of Frankenstein remain timeless in the world. God-like powers, such as cloning and stem cells, are recently being discovered, however, the world is faced with the same moral issues as in Frankenstein. These actions are constantly being debated and judged for their ethical and moral values. Some people see great results, while others see crimes against nature. Readers also see people being judged by their physical appearance. Prejudices like these cause people to be alienated from communities, just as Frankenstein’s creation was rejected from society. Frankenstein did not only prove to be a wondrous, terrific novel, but it also changes the way readers view life and the world.