A Literary Analysis of Mary Shelley’s FrankensteinGet Your
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This paper analyzes the novel Frankenstein. It is subdivided into two parts. The first part is a thematic analysis of the novel and the second part is a discourse analysis of the novel. Specifically it seeks to answer the following: what are the major themes of the novel; what are the discourses contained in and articulated by the novel?
Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus is a famous novel by Mary Shelley. It was completed on May 1817, when Mary was just nineteen years of age. It was made while she and her husband Percey Bysshe Shelley were on their summer vacation with Lord Byron in the Alps (“Frankenstein” ). With the best writers in England, Mary offered her contribution to the literary classics, the famous Frankenstein novel, which became famous in two genres: Science Fiction and horror (Milner, p.149).
Thematic Analysis of Frankenstein
The novel Frankenstein is centered on four major themes: ignorance versus knowledge, injustice in world, in a feminist viewpoint—equality of men and women, and murders explained from the viewpoint of the murderers. Among many other themes, these four, in my opinion, are the major themes and therefore should be expounded.
The novel was written in the early phase of the industrial revolution (“Analysis of Frankenstein”), that is, when science and technology was initially progressing. From this premise I can say that the novel is an attempt to criticize the existing social condition, that is to say, the novel criticizes the progress of science and the acquisition of knowledge.
Shelley’s use of the character Victor Frankenstein, the medical doctor who created a being more superior to the present race of men, explains my point. Even though Victor is knowledgeable enough to create life, he is still bounded by his imperfections. He created a killing monster instead—The Frankenstein Monster. This suggests that science could unravel the mysteries of nature, but knowledge is still too dangerous for man to acquire. The novel suggests that knowledge is dangerous like when Victor discovered the mystery of life. knowledge is a monster.
Furthermore, the novel suggests that some knowledge should be kept secret from men. Some knowledge do more evil than good, as the novel suggests. It says that ignorance is good. Knowledge is evil (“Remarks on Frankenstein”).
The other title for Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus, is suggestive of the theme of this novel. Prometheus is a mythological character who gave fire to men to keep them warm (“Prometheus gave fire to Men”). But Zeus punished Prometheus for doing so. Prometheus received an eternal punishment. In connection, the fire symbolizes knowledge.
In the myth, knowledge is forbidden to men just like in the novel Frankenstein. The fire can warm, but it can also kill just as knowledge can. The novel criticizes the scientist most especially, in their empirical quest for knowledge.
The character of the Monster serves dual purpose in the novel, as far my first and second themes are concerned. First, the character is a concrete articulation of knowledge. It is the product of Victor’s study and experimentation. And so, it symbolizes the fruit of knowledge. In the novel, the monster was depicted as ‘ugly, abhorred, and disgusting’ and a killer. What does it say about knowledge? It suggests that knowledge is also ugly, abhorred and disgusting—a killer, too—a monster.
The second function of the Monster character in the novel points at the second theme of the novel—injustice in the world. First instance is when Victor created a lone monster, without a companion. It lamented saying that “…Even Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred” (Shelley, p. 130). This points out that there is injustice committed to the Monster. Secondly, Victor denied the monster a companion when the monster pleads for it. It pleads:
My vices are the children of a forced solitude that I abhor, and my virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being, and become linked to a chain of existence and events, which I am now excluded. (Shelley, 147)
Instead of creating a lady monster, Victor destroyed every little chance that the monster have of waiting for his lady companion by destroying the monster he was about to give life to.
Third, there is injustice in the world when the monster experienced ostracism because of its appearance. It was drawn by villagers away and was forced to live alone, and excluded from humanity (“Frankenstein”).
The theme on equality between sexes, in my opinion, is evident in the novel when the Monster pleads Victor to create a lady monster. There was no hint in the novel that the monster will dominate the lady monster because all it wanted was to have a companion whom ‘it shall feel affection to’ (p.147). The novel did not hint at the superiority of men over women, as far as the character of the monster is concerned.
Lastly, the most obvious theme of the novel is murder. But in this case, there was no negative presentation of crime because the murders were explained from the viewpoint of the murderers. The murderers were presented to have logical reasons for committing the crimes [this is unique] (my emphasis). Let us take for instance the first murder case—the murder of Victor’s brother.
Although the novel may have presented a ‘shallow’ reason why the monster murdered Victor’s brother, that is, victor’s brother recited a litany of epithets to the monster, it somehow explained the reason behind the murder. The monster was too sensitive with its appearance that’s why it has over reacted to the epithets.
Another murder was committed when Victor destroyed the lady monster he was about to give life to. Victor is also a murderer. His reason was that if he let the lady monster live, he will bring tragedy to the world by ‘producing a race of devils’. Victor’s course of action was paid for by the monster’s killing of Victor’s fiancée—Elizabeth. It was the price Victor has to pay for his murderous act.
One good point about this novel was that it has presented murder from the viewpoint of the murderer. Shelley has produced characters with realistic motives, that is, the characters were driven by logical reasons for committing the crimes. This is something good about this novel.
In conclusion, the novel Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus was centered on four major themes: ignorance is good and knowledge is evil; injustice in the world; equality of men and women; and murders as explained from the viewpoint of the murderers.
A Discourse Analysis of the novel
Discourse theory of Foucault can be applied to the Frankenstein Story. Foucault defines discourse as a way of thinking shared by a particular group of people at a particular place and time producing truth and power and controlling actions. It is a lived way of thinking deeply inculcated into individuals. Individuals become the subjects of discourses (Foucault, pp 21-30 ).
Applying the theory of discourse, let us examine the discourses or ways of thinking which the story of Frankenstein articulate. What kinds of discourse are inculcated into individuals by the novel Frankenstein?
Man as God and the Dawn of Scientific Revolution
The story exemplifies man as a God. The giving of a life to an inanimate object is an act only reserved toa God. Yet in the story, man created life through Victor’s creation. It suggests an era where science has triumphed. It suggests that science could be a god, in this respect. It suggests that Science can offer man the impossible — that man can be a god.
Just like in the literary text, the movie Shelley’s Frankenstein (dir. Branagh) explicates the dawn of scientific revolution. Below is an excerpt of the conversation between Clerval and Victor:
Frankenstein: Sooner or later, the best way to cheat death will be to create life.
Clerval: Now, you’ve gone too far. There’s only one God, victor.
Frankenstein: No, leave God out of this. Listen, if you love someone, they have a sick heart, wouldn’t you give them a healthy one?
Frankenstein: No it’s not impossible, we can do it, we’re steps away. And if we can do that, if we can replace one part of a human being, we can replace every part. If we can do that, we can design life. We can create a being that will not grow old or sicken. One that will be stronger than us, better than us, one that will be more intelligent than us, more civilized.”
From the above, we can see that what was ‘impossible’ like a giving of a healthy heart, has become a possibility in the contemporary times. Heart transplant is a commonly practiced surgery these days. And it was made possible by science. The Frankenstein novel provides this transition.
Even the creation of the monster symbolizes the triumph of Science. From this story of Frankenstein, we see that Science is like a God. Science can give life, too.
Imperfect Beings and Unjust World
It is said that we can never be perfect like God. Whatever we do, we are still incomplete and imperfect. It is only God who is perfect. This way of thinking is also exemplified by the story of Frankenstein.
Victor, a medical doctor and the creator of the monster, abhorred his very creation. In his attempt to create a being superior to human race, he had created a monster instead. This suggests that man, in his efforts, cannot create a being more superior to him. Victor has labored days and nights to create a being, yet a monster, instead, breathed to life. Even the monster itself abhorred his condition.
Hateful the day when I received life! I exclaimed in agony. “Accursed Creator! Why did you ever form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?…Satan had his companion, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred. (Shelley, p.130)
Similarly, God created men in his own image and likeness, but then we are not like God who is perfect. More over, with imperfect beings came the imperfect and unjust world.
Because of the grotesque appearance of the monster, the villagers attacked him. Everyone was disgusted by mere seeing the monster. Because of this, the monster too became malevolent to humans. It experienced injustice from the world.
Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Every where I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous (Shelley, p.100)
Another form of injustice made on the monster is thru Victor’s destruction of the lady monster. The monster had promised to live in peace and live in wilderness with his wife, the lady monster. The monster said: My vices are the children of a forced solitude that I abhor, and my virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being, and become linked to a chain of existence and events, from which I am now excluded (Shelley, p.147).
It was injustice to give life to a being, and let it suffer without even a friend, a loved one, not even anybody. In conclusion, the novel Frankenstein articulates the following discourses: man can be a God through Science; man is always imperfect; and the world is unjust.
The horror science fiction of Shelley entitled Frankenstein, as my arguments pointed out, is a critique of the existing social condition of Shelley’s time—that is—the onset of industrial and scientific revolution.
The novel is centered on the four major themes, namely; ignorance is good and knowledge is evil; injustice in the world; equality of men and women; and murders as explained from the viewpoint of the murderers.
Frankenstein also articulates the following discourses or ways of thinking: that man can be a god through Science, and that man is always imperfect just as the world is always imperfect. Indeed, the novel has shown us that knowledge and science can bring chaos to man.
An Analysis of Frankenstein. No date published. May 17, 2007.
Foucault, Michel. Archeology of Knowledge and the discourse on Language. Trans. Smith, Sheridan A.M. USA: Tavistock Publication Limited. 1972
Frankenstein. no date of publication. April 21, 2007.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, dir. K. Branagh (Tristar, 1994, 118 mins)
Milner, Andrews. Literature, Culture and Society. London: UCL press, 1996
Prometheus gave Fire to Men. No date published. A Hand-out in Mythology Class. Remarks on Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus; A Novel. No date published. April 21, 2007.
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Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. M.K. Joseph (ed) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980
Author: Russell Ransom
A Literary Analysis of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
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Victor Frankenstein does not get much attention in popular culture. It is Frankenstein’s creation – a nameless monster (often mistakenly called Frankenstein) – in all his green, bumbling glory that attracts the attention and the horrified screams of people worldwide.
To the contrary of how film directors and producers have portrayed Frankenstein’s monster, Mary Shelley wrote the character as an intelligent and physically astute being. He wasn’t a stiff, monosyllabic beast with a flat head and a bolt in his neck. And while Victor Frankenstein himself is often mostly ignored in media portrayals, he retains the image of mad scientist. That’s about as far as we ever get in analyzing Frankenstein.
This is unfortunate, as some of the mistakes Frankenstein made along the way, mistakes which ultimately led to him losing everything he cared about – his brother, his best friend, and ultimately his wife – are incredibly instructive to any man who wishes to improve himself. After reading Shelley’s masterpiece, both previously and for this month’s AoM Book Club selection, my gut feeling was actually of sympathy towards the monster rather than Frankenstein.
While highlighting a character’s positive traits can be inspirational, it can also sometimes be quite educational to examine the ways in which he stumbles. So today we’ll take a look at Victor Frankenstein as a profile in un-manliness and explore what his flaws can teach us about what it means to be human, the importance of owning up to our responsibilities, and the danger in blaming anything other than ourselves for our mistakes.
Lesson #1: Unchecked Passion Can Be Dangerous
The creation of the monster was a long process. It didn’t happen overnight. It was months and months of studying and experimental tinkering before the creation rose to life. Frankenstein notes while narrating his story, “I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit.” His studies and his obsession “swallowed up every habit of [his] nature.”
While Frankenstein was away at college, he became utterly obsessed with finding out what the spawn of life really was. In spite of the insistence of his family and professors to give up this all-consuming pursuit he continued on. He did nothing with his time but study this science of human animation and tinker in his lab. He lost sight of any other thing in life that brought him joy…so he really did become the mad scientist that we all know from pop culture.
What’s telling is that when Frankenstein took breaks to go home, his passion would be tempered, he would realize what truly brought him joy in life, and he would be happy once again. But then he’d return to college, and continue in his madness. It was almost an addiction.
While passion today is touted as a necessary and driving force in our career path, if unchecked it can lead to losing the things we truly care about in life. The late Steve Jobs is often looked up to (heck, even worshiped) for his brilliant business acumen and product innovation. But his passion and obsession for his company led to him being an angry and temperamental boss, and a mostly absent husband and father. What is more important in life? I can’t offer a one-size-fits-all answer, but Frankenstein himself gives us a great bit of wisdom while reflecting on this passion of his:
“A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire disturb his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind. If this rule were always observed; if not man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed.”
Lesson #2: Giving Up the Ship Won’t Solve Your Problems
One of my constant annoyances while reading the book was that Frankenstein incessantly blamed the ethereal forces of the universes for his problems. At one point, he comes close to giving up his pursuit of animating a lifeless object, only to be pulled back into his obsessions once again. Frankenstein notes, “It was a strong effort of the spirit of good; but it was ineffectual. Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction.” Later he blames “chance – or rather the evil influence, the Angel of Destruction, which asserted omnipotent sway over me…”
Frankenstein felt he was at the mercy of the fates and had no trust in his own willpower to overcome his dangerous passions. He had what’s called an external locus of control – a belief that you’re not responsible for your behavior, that life happens to you, rather than you making it happen.
A resilient man, on the other hand, seeks to have an internal locus of control – the confidence that one is captain of his destiny and can pilot his ship wherever he wants it to go. He takes responsibility when things go awry and actively seeks to get back on course.
Everyone falls somewhere on a spectrum between the two perspectives, even changing depending on the situation. When we don’t believe we can solve a problem, we tend to assume the victim mentality and look externally to assign blame.
The reality, however, is that we have way more control over our lives and actions than we tend to think; when practiced, our focus and our willpower are incredibly potent tools for shaping our lives. Sure, circumstances will always have something to say, but if your life hasn’t gone the direction you thought it would, take action and don’t let it stay that way. One of our mantras here at AoM is that if you want to feel like a man, you have to act like one. And a man doesn’t blame his life on destiny or fate, he takes responsibility and assumes command of his actions. Which leads to our next lesson…
Lesson #3: When You Don’t Accept Responsibility, Your Mistakes Can Take On a Life of Their Own (Literally)
After the monster rose to life, Frankenstein was horrified at his creation, and ditched. Plain and simple. He got out of dodge, ran home, and hoped that his perceived disaster would somehow remedy itself.
This is understandable. We’ve all run at one time or another from some problem we’ve created. And hopefully we’ve come to learn that running only escalates those problems, and they can truly take on a life of their own. Think of the snowballing lie where you’re spending more time and thought on the lie than the reality of the situation. And those instances usually come back to bite us in the rear even worse than had we owned up right away.
What’s most frustrating about Victor Frankenstein is that he had multiple chances to take responsibility and own his mistakes and fix them, and each time he shrank like a coward and came up with excuses.
At one point early in the novel, the monster kills Frankenstein’s young brother and frames a woman in the village named Justine. She is caught and sentenced to die. Only Frankenstein knew the truth of the matter. He says, “A thousand times rather would I have confessed myself guilty of the crime ascribed to Justine; but I was absent when it was committed, and such a declaration would have been considered as the ravings of a madman, and would not have exculpated her who suffered through me.”
His excuse is that the people in the village would not have believed his tale. How lame is that? And Justine is killed without Frankenstein uttering a word of truth.
When we create something awesome, we practically fall over ourselves to claim credit. But when we create a problem, our natural tendency is to slowly walk backwards while casually whistling the tune of abnegation and denial. But being a man means taking responsibility for all of our creations, both the good and the monstrously bad.
Humans are not perfect. Not by any means. But it’s within our power to correct the problems we create. And when we don’t exercise that power, our problems fester and only get worse. Think about the dentist. If you go every six months for regular cleanings, brush your teeth twice a day, and floss regularly, you’ll likely be just fine. But when you put off those appointments, when you slack on flossing, when you forget to brush every once a while, you end up being poked and prodded for two hours so they can give you a deep clean and fix the problem you created. Not fun. (If it seems like this is from personal experience, it is.) And that’s just with oral hygiene, let alone something far more serious.
Frankenstein at one point says, in regards to a potential solution to his monster problem, “I clung to every pretense of delay, and shrank from taking the first step.” Can’t we all relate? There are a whole host of reasons why ripping the band-aid off is a better solution than the slow peel. Most importantly, it’s the simple fact that a man takes responsibility for his life, and therefore the problems he’ll inevitably sometimes create.
I’ll leave this lesson with one final bit of advice from the reflective Frankenstein,