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Frankenstein | Study Guide

Mary Shelley

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Frankenstein | Discussion Questions 51 - 56


What are the parallels between Mary Shelley's creation of Frankenstein and Victor's creation of the Monster in terms of the images of light?

In her 1831 introduction to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley describes her dream about a scientist building a monster and then animating it. Upon awakening, she suddenly realizes that she can use the dream as the basis of her story. She writes: "Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me." Victor Frankenstein uses almost the same imagery when he describes how he gets the idea for animating his Monster: "From the midst of this darkness a sudden light broken in upon me," he says. For both Mary and Victor, the inspiration for their creation comes in the form of a flash of light, suggesting that light represents sudden vision and awareness.

Why might the first readers of Frankenstein have thought that the anonymous author was a man?

Several factors in the publication of Frankenstein, as well as the characteristics of the novel itself, might have led the original readers of the novel to conclude that the anonymous author was a man. The first factor was the inclusion of the preface by Percy Shelley in the original edition. Though it, too, was published anonymously, Percy was linked in literary circles to the preface and thus, since the writer of that foreword claims authorship, to the novel itself. The other factors of the novel that might have produced this inference are the dominance of male characters and the horrific details of the story. While female authors like Ann Radcliffe did write gothic novels before Mary Shelley's time, they did not have exclusively male casts of characters but included important heroines. Indeed, the perils of the heroine form a central part of the gothic genre. Frankenstein, however, is dominated by the voices of the three male narrators, Victor, the Monster, and Walton. In addition, the formation of the Monster from the parts of dead bodies and the brutal murders he carries out might have seemed more probably to come from the pen of a male author to readers of 1818 than from a female author, as women were thought to have greater sensibility than men.

How does Victor Frankenstein represent male appropriation of motherhood, and what are the implications of his doing so?

Victor Frankenstein is the male scientist who gives life to a wholly new creature, thereby assuming the role of mother as well as that of creator. In making a being that is created, not born, however, he can be seen as depraving that role, and in abandoning the Monster, his offspring, he shows an unmaternal unwillingness to nurture the child he brought into the world. The novel has only one female character who is a mother—Caroline Frankenstein—and she dies. The other females—Elizabeth Lavenza, Justine Moritz, Agatha De Lacey, and Safie—are either killed before they can have children or disappear from the novel's story. Women in the novel, then, are essentially barren. They do not produce life; only Victor does. The terrible results of his action suggest a strong condemnation by Mary Shelley against this unnatural order. Males may take for themselves the power of birth, but only evil will come of it. Perhaps this view reflects the thinking of her own mother, a vindication of the place of women in the social order.

What is the role of Justine Moritz in Frankenstein?

Justine Moritz serves multiple roles in Frankenstein, including as a foil to the Monster and an occasion to see further into the characters of Victor and Elizabeth. Justine is a foil to the Monster in that, like him, she is a victim of injustice but, unlike him, responds to that injustice with profound calm and acceptance rather than lashing out with vengeful violence. Justine knows she is innocent of the charge against her but accepts society's judgment and goes serenely to her death. The Monster wants to see himself as innocent of society's judgment against him and fights back. Justine is the passive, unchallenging female; the Monster is the active, aggressive male. The accusation against Justine serves as the first real test of Victor's conscience. He feels the truth of the Monster's responsibility for William's death but cannot bring himself to speak out with the truth even if doing so would save Justine's life. His shame and fear of the judgment of others is so deep that he abandons his moral duty to a fellow human and remains silent. His behavior contrasts with Elizabeth's, who testifies on Justine's behalf in court. While her defense of Justine does not work, it demonstrates her own virtue—she is clear-sighted enough to know of Justine's innocence and strong enough to take a stand for the other woman.

What are the sympathetic traits of the Monster in Frankenstein?

The Monster in Frankenstein, though he commits murder and various other crimes, is nevertheless a highly sympathetic character due to his abandonment, his surprising compassion, the injustice he suffers, and his great eloquence. The Monster begins life, like all creatures, brought into the world without asking to enter it. Whereas most humans and many animals are nurtured by their parents when they are born, the Monster is immediately rejected and left alone. While he is large and powerful, he knows nothing of the world and its ways; he is given no tools or information to help ensure his survival. In his long narration of his history to Victor, the Monster also shows considerable compassion. His impulse on recognizing that the De Laceys suffer is to help them; he cuts firewood and stops taking their food. His immediate reaction on seeing the young woman drowning is to save her. The injustice of the harsh reaction to his own kindness, both by the De Laceys and the girl's companion, certainly provokes the reader's sympathy—his actions of reaching out for human companionship and helping someone in distress do not merit these responses. Finally, the Monster's eloquent description of the torments he suffers from his isolation, rejection, and even guilt provoke sympathy. He is a complex soul who can express himself with great emotional power, and readers wish, like him, that he had received better treatment.

How does the development of the Monster in Frankenstein reflect the ideas of John Locke?

English philosopher John Locke held that the human mind was a blank slate, or tabula rasa, that could develop in many different ways, depending on one's experiences and the associations that one made based on those experiences. The intellectual and moral development of the Monster in Frankenstein can be seen as reflecting this view. The Monster, who is created and then abandoned by his creator, has the potential for developing in many different ways. His initial perceptions and experiences stem from the need for self-preservation. Hungry, he seeks food. Cold, he seeks warmth. Later, he watches the De Laceys interact, and he, in effect, receives moral instruction and lessons on living in social groups, which he tries to emulate. In watching them, he also learns language and thereby how to articulate his thoughts and feelings. He also learns human history from the book Felix reads to Safie and from the books that he discovers. In all these experiences, he adds to his understanding. He also becomes self-reflective, comparing his own condition and nature to what he considers to be the human character. From his experiences, he learns the value of human companionship. From the harsh treatment he receives from all the humans he meets except Walton, he becomes disillusioned. The Monster's emotional state is clearly shaped by all these experiences.

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