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Frankenstein | Study Guide

Mary Shelley

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Frankenstein | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Frankenstein, why does Victor take Henry Clerval's death so hard?

Victor takes Henry's death hard because of their friendship and his own feeling of guilt. Henry was Victor's dearest friend, and they had been close friends since childhood. Further, they enjoyed each other's company, especially on their adventures traveling through Europe, as they shared a common interest in nature and delighted in its variety. Henry's cheerful, optimistic personality is like medicine to Victor, relieving his frequent bouts of depression. In addition to being a great friend, Henry is a loyal and selfless one, nursing Victor through his depressions and the physical collapses the depressions bring on. For instance, Henry nursed Victor for four months after he collapsed at the university. Victor also takes Henry's death so hard because he feels responsible for it. A good argument could be made that he is indeed responsible: Victor did not commit the murder, but he is the reason it occurred. The Monster kills Henry to achieve his revenge on Victor by destroying that which Victor cherishes, his great friend.

Why doesn't Victor Frankenstein name his creation?

In denying the Monster a name, Victor is denying the Monster an identity and membership in a family. Names convey individuality and importance. Surnames, a family's last name, provide a link to that family, showing the person is a descendant of a long line of people. Without the Frankenstein surname, the Monster has no acknowledged link to his creator. First names can be chosen to convey individuality, to suggest character traits, or to honor an older member of the family. For example, the name Frank conveys an open and honest personality; the name Honor suggests integrity and trustworthiness. Without a first name, the Monster has no individual identity. Of course, the lack of a name connects him to Victor in a way. Many people misconstrue the novel's title as referring to the Monster. This confusion of creation for creator shows how the two are linked.

In Frankenstein, how does Walton's desire for a friend affect both his relationship with Victor and the reader's trust in Walton as a reliable narrator?

It may seem that Walton cannot entirely be trusted as a reliable narrator because he is desperate for a friend and so idealizes Victor. However, the thoroughness of his narration also seems to contradict that concern. In his letter of March 28, Robert Walton writes to his sister of his intense desire for a friend. Walton's emotional language suggests that he might well overlook the faults in such a friend in his desperation to find a kindred spirit. Indeed, Walton is so overjoyed to discover that Frankenstein is intelligent, educated, and driven—all traits that Walton possesses—that he inflates Victor's positive traits and dismisses his negative ones. Walton quickly grows very close to Frankenstein and sees him as heroic. He describes Victor's speaking to the crew, near the end of the book, in exalted terms. Later, Walton does not comment on Victor's rejection of the Monster, his failure to take responsibility for his role in the Monster's murderous revenge spree, or his tragic quest to find and kill the Monster—the quest that results in Victor's own premature death. On the other hand, Walton does not seem to mitigate Victor's actions either, and he presents a variety of details that do not reflect well on Victor. The completeness of his retelling Victor's story suggests that Walton may be reliable after all.

In Frankenstein, what is the significance of Victor's dream that his kiss turns Elizabeth into a corpse?

Victor's dream foreshadows Elizabeth's death and his role in it. In the dream, Victor's kiss turns Elizabeth into a corpse because by marrying her, Victor marks Elizabeth as the vehicle for the Monster's revenge on Victor. The Monster chooses Elizabeth as his victim to perfectly repay Victor for his destruction of the female monster, the Monster's potential mate. The punishment is, in effect, an eye for an eye. Of course, Victor is Elizabeth's killer in a broader sense as well. He is the one who created the Monster, so he is responsible for the latter's hideous appearance, which causes other humans to reject the Monster and perpetuate injustice too. In his rejection of the Monster—his unnatural rejection of the responsibilities of creator and father—he also turns the Monster on a dark path toward loneliness and vengeance. In that dream, he also see Elizabeth transform into his own mother, who is dead. That detail foreshadows Elizabeth's actual death.

In Frankenstein, what is the effect of Shelley's describing Victor's frequent physical breakdowns?

By describing Victor's frequent physical breakdowns, Mary Shelley shows the tremendous psychological toll Victor's work has taken on his mind and body. Victor's physical breakdowns are a manifestation of his inner turmoil over creating the Monster in the first place and not taking at least partial blame for the Monster's actions when his experiment gets out of hand. Victor's tremendous guilt causes his body to collapse. Victor's breakdowns also show him to be a poor kind of creator. Rather than being omnipotent, like God, he is fragile. Rather than being able to withstand great hardship and exhibit above-normal strength, like his creation, he is weak. Indeed, he is morally weak as well, not taking the responsibility of being a creator by supporting his creation. His weakness emphasizes Victor's arrogance in assuming the role of creator when he is himself only a fragile man.

In Frankenstein, how does Victor's view of the Orkney Islands reflect his emotional state?

Frankenstein sees the Orkney Islands as desolate and inhospitable, a wretched place. He describes the specific island that he chooses as his temporary home while he works on the female monster as "hardly more than a rock" and "barren." The barren island mirrors Victor's psychological state, a frequent theme of romanticism, as he feels desolate and despairing, forced into a task he does not want to do. Like the island, he is isolated and empty. He feels that his life lacks meaning. The island is also buffeted by wind and waves, just as Victor himself is buffeted by powerful emotions and external forces—the push of the Monster to make a mate—that he cannot really control.

In Frankenstein, what is the dramatic irony in Victor's statement to the magistrate: "Man, how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom"?

The magistrate tells Victor that it will be "impracticable" to find the Monster and so Victor should prepare himself to be disappointed. Victor is incensed by the magistrate's response because he believes that the magistrate isn't taking his concerns seriously. Considering that the Monster has taken refuge in the Alps, the magistrate's response is logical, as there is no chance that a tracking party will be able to locate a monster that has exceptional endurance, speed, and strength. Victor also interprets the magistrate's behavior as somewhat condescending, thinking that he treats Victor as a child. Victor then accuses the magistrate of being arrogant because the magistrate thinks he is smarter than Victor. The dramatic irony, in which the reader recognizes something a character does not, is that readers can see that Victor is the one with flawed thinking, because he thinks he knows more than the magistrate but exhibited "ignoran[ce] in [his] pride of wisdom" while making the Monster. Believing that he knows more than anyone else, that he can exceed the bounds of human knowledge, is what got Victor in trouble in the first place. He realizes this by the end of the novel, shown when he tells Walton to "seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition."

In Frankenstein, does Robert Walton lose his "hopes for glory" when he turns the ship around?

It seems that Walton loses his intended "hopes for glory" stated in his initial letters when he agrees to turn the ship around. After his men point out the danger they face and threaten to mutiny, Walton decides to return to England, abandoning his plan to reach the North Pole. Walton is disappointed that he cannot continue with his voyage and so become famous for making great discoveries. However, Victor's scientific discovery, the mystery of life, did not bring him glory, because his experiment was a disaster. Further, Victor did not build on his work nor share it with others, so he attained no glory. Ironically, Walton can achieve renown by publishing his account of Frankenstein and the Monster, obtaining that which Victor was denied by his egotism.

What function does the preface to the 1818 edition of Frankenstein serve?

The first line of the preface to the first edition of Frankenstein, written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, establishes a scientific basis for the wild story to follow. Shelley does this by mentioning a "Dr. Darwin," who is Dr. Erasmus Darwin, an English doctor, Charles Darwin's grandfather, and a famous philosopher. Second, Percy Shelley places Frankenstein in its literary context by listing other famous literary works, including the Iliad, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Paradise Lost. These comparisons suggests that Frankenstein should be regarded as being like these great works in "preserv[ing] the truth ... of human nature," even though its author is a "most humble novelist." Percy Shelley's words were prophetic, as the novel has indeed become a classic, celebrated for its insights into human nature as well as its gripping plot and poignant characters. In addition, mention of Paradise Lost is no coincidence, since the novel is closely related to themes of the epic. Third, Percy Shelley places Frankenstein squarely in the gothic tradition by describing how the novel came to be written, as the author and friends "crowded around a blazing wood fire and occasionally amused ourselves with some German stories of ghosts which happened to fall into our hands." This background prepares the reader for the supernatural story of the eloquent, lonely, and brutal eight-foot-tall monster to come. The connection of this story to Geneva also introduces the setting of the book.

What function does the introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein serve?

In her 1831 introduction to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley first acknowledges that she wrote the novel and explains "how [she] ... came to think of ... so very hideous an idea" for it. She needs to assert ownership because, when Frankenstein was published in 1818, it was widely believed that her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, was the author. She then satisfies the public's need for background about how she came to write Frankenstein, beginning with her biography. She tells about her childhood, how Shelley encouraged her work, and the stories that the others in their group that rainy summer of 1816 wrote. She says that she wanted to write a story that would "speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror." She explains how she got her idea and started the novel.

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