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Frankenstein | Study Guide

Mary Shelley

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Frankenstein | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How do rainy days feature in both Mary Shelley's creation of Frankenstein and Victor's creation of the monster?

Both Mary Shelley's creation of Frankenstein and Victor's creation of the monster started with the need to find something to do to pass the time during a rainy day. Mary Shelley and her friends found a book of ghost stories to pass the time during a rainy summer day. That led to the idea of writing horror stories, which led her to dream the idea of writing Frankenstein. Similarly, Victor Frankenstein is on a vacation with his family when the weather prevents them from going outside, so Victor looks for something to read. He chooses the works of Cornelius Agrippa and soon finds himself engrossed in the book, which causes him "boundless joy," and he continues to read it with "the greatest avidity." The book, concerned with alchemy, gives Victor the idea of "penetrating the secrets of nature," the overarching goal that eventually led him to create the Monster.

In Frankenstein, what can readers conclude about Victor's hesitation just before he creates the Monster?

After he solves the mystery of creating life, Victor Frankenstein calls it an "astonishing" power and says he "hesitated a long time concerning the manner in which I should employ it." Readers might conclude that he hesitates on some level because he grasps that the power this knowledge brings poses dangers. In this view, waiting reveals that Victor has a sense of what exceeding the boundaries of human knowledge will bring. Based on his account to Walton, however, Victor's hesitation seems to be based solely on practical concerns and the difficulty of "prepar[ing] a frame" for "animation." He thinks through the problem of getting from the principle of animating dead flesh to life toward actually achieving that goal. He considers first whether he should attempt it with simpler organisms than humans but is confident and, after deciding that creating a living human is his dream, steels himself for a long process of discovery and many reverses. In his hesitation, then, Victor shows himself to be a methodical scientist and not someone with a growing morality.

In Frankenstein, how do references to "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" illuminate Victor's plight?

Victor Frankenstein acts similarly to the old sailor in the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and that poem illuminates why Victor relates his story to Robert Walton (who also references the poem in his second letter). Coleridge's poem describes the plight of a sailor who kills an albatross, a large sea bird that sailors believed brought good luck. The sailor kills the bird for no reason at all; it is not intended to be food, nor is it bothering the sailors in any way. After the sailor kills the bird, the wind dies, and the ship is stranded in the ocean. Everyone but the sailor who killed the bird dies. As penance for his crime, the sailor travels around the world and shares the tale of his crime and his shame. In exceeding the bounds of human endeavor by making the Monster and in showing a lack of personal responsibility in rejecting it, Victor has brought tragedy to the world, just as the sailor caused tragedy. As a warning, Victor tells his story to Robert Walton. In so doing, Victor reveals that he has learned from his quest for scientific knowledge, assumption of God-like powers, and excessive pride.

Why is the Monster so attracted to the De Lacey family in Frankenstein?

The De Laceys appear to have that which the Monster lacks and most desires: love, companionship, and tenderness. Agatha and Felix treat their blind father with affection and respect, and their father treats them the same way. Felix is deeply in love with Safie, a beautiful young Turkish woman, and she blends seamlessly into the family, even though she does not speak French at the beginning of her stay in the cottage. Her study of French enables the Monster to learn it in secret. The De Lacey family is poor and disgraced, but that does not matter to the Monster, for he is used to scant food, bitter cold, and rejection, and at any rate, he feels the connection to them before he realizes these facts about them. The family's happiness appears golden to him, and he wishes only to be a part of it.

How is Frankenstein similar to Robert Louis Stevenson's novella Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Both Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have a doppelgänger, a double. According to the ancient German belief, every living being has a double. In Frankenstein, Victor and the Monster can be considered doppelgängers because they can be seen as two halves of the same being. In Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll is a divided man who wants to isolate that which is evil. In developing the potion that allows him to shed his evil side, however, he releases the terrifying Mr. Hyde. In both texts, the experiments go tragically awry: Victor cannot control the Monster he has created, and Jekyll loses control of the appearances of Hyde. Further, both Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are gothic novels, involving elements of horror, mystery, and fearful moods. They both feature a monster and concern a scientific experiment gone wrong.

Why is the Monster so angry at being shot after he saves the drowning girl in Frankenstein?

The Monster has just rescued the drowning girl, a selfless and heroic act. Instead of thanking him, however, the girl's companion shoots the Monster, causing a serious wound and great pain. While he had been disillusioned by his rejection by both Victor and the De Laceys, he is shocked to be so punished for what was a generous and humane act. To be rewarded for saving a life with being shot—threatening his own life—seems to the Monster the height of injustice, a conclusion most readers are likely to agree with. It is not surprising that he would be extremely angry, though his response, murdering William, costs him much or all of the sympathy he had gained.

In Frankenstein, why does the Monster kill Victor's brother William?

The Monster kills William Frankenstein in a reaction to another instance of disillusionment and in an almost visceral need for revenge against Victor. A few weeks after rescuing the drowning girl and getting shot for his efforts, the Monster comes upon William, running toward him in a clearing in the woods. The Monster has no initial intention at all of harming William (even though he still wants revenge on Victor). Rather, the Monster thinks that he can befriend the child and so relieve his intense loneliness. However, William is repulsed by the Monster and shoves him away, calling him vile names. Thus, the Monster suffers yet another disillusioning rejection of his fundamental nature. It is not until William reveals his identity as a Frankenstein that the Monster decides to kill him, saying, "Frankenstein! You belong then to my enemy—to him towards whom I have sworn eternal revenge." The Monster decides to kill William, then, to enact revenge on Victor Frankenstein. His murder of William also serves as a symbolic acknowledgment of the power of language. He kills the boy by strangulation, he says, "to silence him."

In Frankenstein, why does Victor destroy the female monster before finishing it?

While working on the female monster on an isolated island in the Orkneys, Victor sees the Monster spying on him from the window. As the Monster said he would, he has been following him all through his travels with Henry Clerval to make sure that Victor keeps his promise to create the female monster. Victor thinks the Monster has a look of "malice and treachery," and "trembling with passion," Victor rips the female to shreds. Victor destroys the female monster out of anger, "a sensation of madness [about his] promise" and "passion." Given that the Monster has not harmed anyone during the time he has followed Victor, destroying the female is, ironically, an act of "malice and treachery" and a broken promise on Victor's part. Victor has also just been worrying about the implications of making the female monster, wondering if she and the Monster could mate and begin a race of beings that would be dangerous to humans. Based on those fears, and his reluctance to start on or finish the female monster, he might have been predisposed to destroying it.

In Frankenstein, how is the Monster's taunt "I shall be with you on your wedding-night" fitting?

The Monster delivers his threat just after Victor has destroyed the Monster's mate, ripping it to shreds. This is an act of cruelty and betrayal, as Victor had promised to create a mate for the Monster. The threat is a fitting one first because it haunts Victor before the wedding (he keeps thinking about it) similar to how the Monster is haunted by his own loneliness. Second, the threat is fitting because in carrying it out by killing Elizabeth, the Monster exacts an appropriate revenge on Victor. Just as Victor destroyed his own hope for lifelong companionship and happiness, the Monster does the same to Victor in killing his bride. By surprising Victor, the Monster also shows how intelligent he has become. The creation has outsmarted the creator.

What function does the quotation from Paradise Lost that serves as an epigraph to Frankenstein play in the novel?

Mary Shelley uses three lines from Paradise Lost as the epigraph to Frankenstein. Those three lines, quoting Adam, introduce the theme of creator and created that is central to Shelley's horror novel. They also symbolically place Adam's words in the mouth of both the Monster—like Adam, the unbidden creation—and Victor Frankenstein himself—like Adam, a man and also an unbidden creation. Adam's lament speaks for both of them. The Monster decries Victor's act in bringing him to life and then abandoning him. The extent to which these words apply to Victor suggests an attempt to shift responsibility for his own act of creation, a violation of the natural order, to God, as though God's creation of Victor set in motion the actions that led to the Monster. Of course, if the creator bears ultimate responsibility for all the actions of his or her creation, then Victor must accept responsibility for the murders the Monster commits.

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