Frankenstein

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THEMES

Dangerous Knowledge - Victor attempts to surge beyond accepted human limits and access the secret of life. Likewise, Walton attempts to surpass previous human explorations by endeavoring to reach the North Pole. This ruthless pursuit of knowledge proves dangerous. Victor's creation results in the destruction of everyone dear to him, and Walton finds himself perilously trapped between sheets of ice.

Sublime Nature - The sublime, natural world, embraced by Romanticism as a source of unrestrained emotional experience for the individual, initially offers characters the possibility of spiritual renewal. The natural world's power to console Victor wanes when he realises the monster will haunt him everywhere. Nature, in the form of the Arctic desert, functions simply as the symbolic backdrop for his primal struggle against the monster.

Monstrosity - The monster is judged for his grotesque countenance. He is a product not of collaborative scientific effort but of dark, supernatural, workings. Victor's ambition, secrecy and selfishness alienate him from human society.

Secrecy - Victor's entire obsession with creating life is shrouded in secrecy, and his obsession with destroying the monster remains equally secret until Walton hears his tale. Victor's secrecy is out of shame and guilt, the monster is forced into seclusion because of prejudice.

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MOTIFS

Texts - The profusion of texts serve as concrete manifestations of character's attitudes and emotions.

Passive Women - Shelley made the novel a striking devoid of strong female characters. Caroline Beaufort, self-sacrificing mother, dies taking care of her adopted daughter, shows women are seen as kind but powerless; Justine is executed but is innocent; the monster's female companion is aborted due to Victor's fears; Elizabeth is murdered, despite being helpless. Shelley renders her female characters so passive and subjects them to such ill treatment in order to call attention to the obsessive and destructive behaviour that Victor and the monster exhibit.

Abortion - Both the monster and Victor lament the monster's exisitence and wish that Victor had never engaged in his act of creation. Figurative abortion materialises in Victor's description of natural philosophy, 'I at once gave up my former occupations...as a deformed and abortive creation'. Victor becomes dissatisfied with natural philosophy and shuns it not only as unhelpful but also as intellectually grotesque.

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LANGUAGE

Shelley uses highly descriptive and melodramatic language.

Eloquence of the monster - Rhetoric is persuasive, suggesting language has power. The regular failure of Victor to express himself provides an interesting linguistic contrast, 'no-one can conceive', 'i cannot describe', it is through his delirious dreams that the reader gets an insight into his mind.

Monster gives clearest indication of the importance of language in his observations of the DeLacey's conversations which 'produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness'.

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STRUCTURE + FORM

Framed Narrative - Walton's framed narrative emphasises the novel's warning about the dangers of over-ambition. The narratives are not linear or complete, rather interrelated and interdependent. Extremely complex structure, similar to Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, both use a tight narrative structure to contain rebellious, anarchic plots and characters which make for an interesting contrast.

Shelley prompts the reader to question their judgement of characters and events.

Epistolary Novel - Written in the form of letters. 

- Engages reader

- Adds intrigue

- Makes events seem more dramatic (Walton writes about his immediate reactions to events)

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PARALLELS

- Walton's ambitions make him a potential Victor, and he too is isolated and alienated from the domestic world.

- Walton seems to long the affection and companionship that Victor spurns, so more closely linked to the monster.

- Walton has his crew, a community of sorts who prevent him from indulging in the kind of rampant individualism that destroys Victor.

- Victor refers to the creature as 'my own spirit let loose from the grave...forced to destroy all that was dear to me'.

- Suggests that the monster is acting out Victor's own aggressions, lets loose his own violent, monstrous self contained within, full of primitive emotions.

Lack of closure and open-ending - Monster vows to immolate himself, Shelley allows the reader to reflect on themes and messages in the novel. The warning of over-ambition stays poignant in the reader's mind.

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CONTEXT - THE MYTH OF PROMETHEUS

Frankenstein is 'The Modern Prometheus'

Mankind is forbidden by the gods to have fire, Prometheus steals it for mankind, animates his clay images, and is eternally punished by Zeus.

Victor is a version of Prometheus, usurping the role of God with a passionate desire for knowledge.

However, Prometheus is an admirable figure, and is hard to categorise Victor as such given his self-interest and introverted self-absorbed character.

Prometheus was a popular figure in the Romantic movement and therefore the comparison with Victor, who is clearly flawed could be seen as a criticism of Romanticism.

Particularly of the egocentric and antisocial tendenciees of Romanticism, suggesting there is little hope for humanity in such self-absorption. 

Shelley infers the dangers of solitude and introversion.

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CONTEXT - NOBLE SAVAGE

Developed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an influential 18th century philosopher, born in Geneva.

He argued that society corrupts humans, someone left abandoned would be distorted by society's prejudices, as Rousseau describes , the "most disfigured of all".

The monster left isolated and alone becomes benevolent and good, it is society which causes his downfall.

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CONTEXT - PARADISE LOST

Epic poem by John Milton in 1667.

Based on Genesis.

Biblical fall of man, regarding the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan, 'the fallen angel', and their subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

The monster says 'I ought to be thy Adam, but i am rather the fallen angel' which is ironic because even Satan has demon friends in the poem.

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CONTEXT - MARY SHELLEY

Born in 1797, only child of two notable intellectual radicals.

William Godwin, a philosopher and author of Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), which condemned all human institutions as corrupt and championed reason as the guide which would lead mankind to an ideal state.

Mary Wollstencraft, pioneering feminist, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), who died ten days after her daughter's birth.

The absence of a maternal figure in Shelley's life mirrors the monster's position of isolation without love or compassion, although from any parental figure.

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