Frankenstein Literary Essay
What would you do if you were in a position to act as god? That is what the gothic book Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein focuses on. Frankenstein incorporates many aspects of a classic gothic novel such as themes that play out throughout the book. The characters in the novel have become archetypes for many gothic novels. The setting reflects the chilling themes as it is the background for the characters plummet into despair. Frankenstein is an excellent example of a gothic novel due to its amazing and subtle gothic undertones and that it has become a classic example of gothic literature.
Frankenstein incorporates the main themes necessary in creating a great gothic novel. “I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me.” (Shelly, 133) This quote embodies the pain, the obsession, and the isolation that the monster feels throughout out the novel. In gothic novels the main theme that is played out is pain and the quote summarizes the pain the monster felt when he was ran out of a village and when he confronted the Delacy’s. This quote also represents one of the romantic themes in the novel that all the monster wants is to be loved. An example of a gothic novel with a theme similar to Frankenstein is Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. “He often endures the insults and accusations of the people of Paris. As a result he feels sad, isolated and,
lonely.”(Pinkmoneky.com). The themes played out in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame are isolation, pain, obsession and romantic themes. Quasimodo is considered a demon and resented by the people of Paris. He also becomes obsessed with a gypsy named Esmeralda, while the monster became obsessed with the idea of love. Both novels emphasize these themes. The theme of revenge is also heavily incorporated into a good gothic novel. “The nearer I approached to your habitation, the more deeply did I feel the spirit of revenge enkindled in my heart” (Shelly, 129). This exhibits the theme of revenge that is present throughout many gothic novels. A famous example of revenge in gothic literature would be Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, which Montressor was insulted by his friend Fortunato swears revenge and plans out brutal murder (Poe, The Cask of Amontillado). Another major theme presented in gothic literature is good against evil. “The hour of irresolution is past and the period of your power is arrived your threats cannot move me to do and act of wickedness, shall I in cold blood set loose upon Earth a demon…” (Shelly, 157). This quote represents the outcome of Victor’s inner conflict in the novel, when the monster tells him to make him a companion. Victor is left to decide whether to create the being and maybe be the creator of a race of revenge seeking monsters or not create the being and live in fear of what the creature will in retaliation. What Frankenstein does is not like what many other gothic novels do, by simply making the villain entirely evil and the hero morally just. Frankenstein lets the reader decide whether the protagonist is the doctor who went way beyond limits to create this superior being before casting it aside and fundamentally sealing his own fate along with the people he cared about. Mary Shelly also allows the reader choose the misunderstood creature as the protagonist, who simply wants to be loved and accepted then was pushed into this role of monster. Frankenstein presents
all the necessary themes to be a great gothic and then changes the traditional way of perceiving the themes.
Along with changing the way see themes in novels, Frankenstein has also created characters that have become archetypes in literature. What has become an archetype in gothic literature is the fallen hero. In Frankenstein the monster is presented as this tragic hero, who has been cast out and shunned by society. Tragic hero’s in literature are meant to invoke pity and terror, is neither good or evil but a mixture and, has great potential but will always be doomed to fail. Although both Victor and the monster both can be considered tragic hero’s this quote easily paints the monster in such a way, “Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence… He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature… Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition” (Shelly, 118). Although there are many examples of the monster in other works of literature one of the more famous examples would have to be Quasimodo “His deformed body hides a caring, generous heart desperately yearning for love” (Litanalysis.com). Victor is another classic example of a character archetype, a scientist blinded by passion and obsession then ultimately is doomed to fail by the hands of his experiment. “Robert Louis Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein tell tales of scientists abusing their creative powers… The stories have parallel structures in four main ways. First, both Dr. Jekyll and Frankenstein are scientists who, though welcomed by society, find it constraining and often alienated them. Each creates an alter ego for himself to live out his
liberated passions, HYDE for JEKYLL and the CREATURE for FRANKENSTEIN” (Dhruv Mahajan and Siddharth Rajan). Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde incorporate many of Victor Frankenstein key character attributes. Another example of an archetype being created by Frankenstein is Elizabeth Lavenza, the passive female character whose emotions are often over exaggerated and whose fate is always affected by the male protagonist’s decision. Famous examples would be Mini Harken from Bram Stocker’s Dracula and Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Frankenstein has had a significant effect in gothic literature. The characters from Frankenstein have become archetypes for almost every gothic novel and many other works of literature.
In addition to the great characters is the dark, unknown setting in which the characters take centre stage in. The setting subtly represents the characters state of mind whether it is loneliness or extreme guilt. A great example of that are Victor and the Monster at the beginning and ending of the novel they are in the arctic. In Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy the first part of the poem, Inferno, show’s Dante being guided through the nine layers of hell and the ninth layer (treachery). “Whereat I turned and saw beneath my feet and stretching out ahead, a lake so frozen it seemed to be made of glass… Just so the livid dead are sealed in place up to the part at which they blushed for shame” (Alighieri, XXXII-IV). The ninth layer is reserved for sinners who have committed acts that have betrayed a special relationship of sort. This is fitting for Victor and the monster as they have broken a special bond, the creature betrayed Victor who was his creator, and Victor betrayed the monster that was his creation. The settings have also emphasized isolation. “On the whole island there were but three miserable huts… I lived
ungazed at and unmolested” (Shelly, 152-153). The island represents the isolation Victor had driven himself too by all of his actions. The settings also represent the extremes the characters will go to for personal achievement. “I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and I may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man” (Shelly, 15). Robert Walton attempted to expand his scientific knowledge by traveling into the North Pole; he attempted to gain knowledge but went to the extreme by travelling through the tough climate of the arctic. Victor spent two years collecting body parts, and not sleeping or eating to achieve his goal of creating life. He then goes to extremes to catch and kill his creation by following him into Russia and the arctic, going into extreme climates and landscapes to catch him. The Setting in Frankenstein does an amazing job of mirroring the themes and the characters.
Frankenstein is a classic example of a great gothic novel. With themes that have become a staple in gothic, being played out in many other works of literature still today. Frankenstein has crafted diverse, interesting and moving characters that have become a reoccurring archetype in many works of fiction. Frankenstein also amazingly sets up the characters allowing them to take center stage in the dark, depressed world Mary Shelly created. Frankenstein is by far one of the best and most influential gothic novels of all time.
Shelly, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Bantam, 2003. Print.
“Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo.” Pinkmonkey.com. n.p, 7 May. 2007 Poe, Edgar Allan. The Cask of Amontillado. New York: United Holdings Group, 2008. Print. “Literature Commentary: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.” Literaryanalysis.com. n.p, 5 Jan. 2005.
Alighieri, Dante. Dante’s Inferno Volume One. New York: Barnesandnoble, 2005. Print.