Frankenstein Summary

  Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a classic novel, one that could be categorized as both Romantic and Gothic. The Romantic movement in British literature began in the late 1700s. Authors during this period often focused on the power of the nature, the importance of the individual, idealized rustic life, and they shunned technology and city-life. Frankenstein certainly does all of these things. Characters often find refuge in nature, those living a simple life are idealized, and certainly the power of science and technology is questioned.

  Additionally, the Gothic movement was a sub-genre within Romanticism. It too focused on the "sublime" or awe-inspiring power of nature. Often times, Gotchic novels convey an air of mystery and darkness, and are fraught with the emotional dilemmas of the characters. This is evident in Frankenstein as well, as the entire story is centered around the nature of evil, while both the monster and Victor Frankenstein face emotional turmoil.

  Shelley's Frankenstein is also a frame story- a story framed or surrounded by another story. The novel begins with a series of letters from Robert Walton to his sister. Robert Walton is at sea with a group of sailors when his boat gets stuck in the ice. His crew rescues an injured Victor Frankenstein from the ice, though Victor is weak and on the verge of death. Throughout the rest of the novel, Robert Walton is relating Victor Frankenstein's story to his sister via letter. The novel only returns to Robert Walton at the very end.

  Victor Frankenstein begins his story with his youth, telling of his loving parents and his adopted sister, Elizabeth. Victor leaves for university but, before he does, his mother dies from an illness. At the university, Victor begins to study science, which he had been fascinated with since his youth. When he has learned all that his professors can teach him, he locks himself up in his apartment, resolving to make a living creation of his own. His fascination with creating life is likely due to the untimely death of his mother. Victor ultimately succeeds, creating a monster so hideous and terrifying that he is immediately ashamed of what he has done. Victor flees his own apartment and, when he returns, the monster has escaped.

  Eventually, Victor is forced to return home to his family when he receives word that his younger brother, William, has died unexpectedly. Victor hears that the young man was strangled, and he knows immediately it must be his monster's doing. However, Victor does not speak up about what his creation has done and the family servant, Justine, takes the fall for the crime. She is sentenced to death. Victor feels a tremendous burden after this happens, feeling responsible for the monster's actions and for being unable to save Justine.

  Victor and his family take a vacation to clear their heads and, unexpectedly, Victor meets with the monster. The frame story now goes a step further, as Victor relates the story of his monster. The monster tells of how he left Victor's apartment and gradually came to understand the world through his senses. The monster settled into hovel outside of the cottage of the De Lacey family. Throughout the course of several months, the monster watched the De Lacey family-Felix, Agatha, and an old man. He learns to read, and he learns that this family is completely invested in each other. Shortly, another woman, Safie, arrives to the cottage. She is in love with Felix, who had tried to help her imprisoned father. The monster tries to reveal himself to these people hoping that, because they seem like kind, generous people that they will accept him. More than anything, the monster feels a deep desire for love and belonging. Instead, he is driven off when he reveals himself to the De Laceys. He vows, as a result, that he will take revenge on mankind and, especially, his creator.

  Victor finishes the monster's story by telling how the monster made one demand of him: he wanted a mate. The monster promised that, if Victor created a mate for him, he would run away to South America and never harm another person. Reluctantly, Victor agrees.

  After traveling for at time to seek answers, Victor goes to a remote island in Scotland and begins work on the she-monster. Halfway through, however, he has second thoughts and destroys the partially-formed creation. The monster sees him do this and, enraged, tells Victor he will be with him on his wedding night, presumably to take revenge. The monster's statement is an example of foreshadowing, or a hint of what will happen later in the novel.

  Victor disregards the remains of the she-monster in the ocean. When he comes ashore, he is accused of murder, only to find out the victim was Henry Clerval, the friend with whom Victor had been traveling. After a period of guilt-induced illness, Victor returns home and marries his childhood love, Elizabeth.

  The night of their marriage, Victor is haunted by the monster's words, convinced he will have to battle his creation. However, the monster kills Elizabeth when Victor least expects it. Weeks later, Victor's father dies of grief as well.

  As a result, Victor vows that he will get revenge, and he chases the monster around the globe. This is how he ends up in the icy North. The story, at this point, returns to Robert Walton, emerging from the frame. Victor dies and, a few days later, the monster appears telling Walton that now he too is ready to die.

  The novel addresses several themes or universal ideas. The first is the nature of evil. The monster in the beginning of the novel is a kind and compassionate being. Against his will, he is brought into the world and he is initially a pure-spirited individual. Time and time again, however, he suffers because of his hideous appearance, despite his innocent inner self. He only becomes evil because the world makes him so. On the other side of the coin, Victor might be considered genuinely evil because he goes against nature and takes the creation of life into his own hands. He constantly assigns evil characteristics to the monster, without ever trying to see his true nature first. Victor also flees his responsibilities as creator, a clearly impure trait.

  Additionally, the novel also addresses the idea of human loneliness. Many of the characters in the novel-Robert, Victor, the De Lacey family, and the monster-all experience feelings of isolation and despair. The frame story nature of the novel also seems to reinforce this isolation. Though each story has echoes of the same emotion, each character is isolated, unable to see past their own suffering to recognize it in others. Shelley's point seems to be that this feeling of aloneness is part of the human experience.

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