The monster, who is supposedly the villain of the novel, is portrayed as a victim, his viewpoint is placed in the centre of the novel’s circular narrative structure making it seem more significant. The theme of nature versus nurture is used as the monster learns about his surroundings and discovers that society see him as a vulgar monster. The monster learns solely through theorems and observations of the family. The monster finds ‘a leathern portmanteau, containing several articles of dress and some books…they consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives and the Sorrows of Werter’.
The books the monster reads are from highly regarded works of literature and would influence him, giving him a broader knowledge of issues in society. Shelley would have read these books as she was growing up so the monster could be a metaphor for herself and her feelings as she matured, which would explain why she does not give it solely evil intentions on destruction. This emphasises that Frankenstein is not just a Gothic novel as the monster would only be presented as a villain causing immense devastation and grief. The more he reads the more he recognises his situation and feels neglected by society; ‘I applied much personally to my own feelings and condition…
I sympathised with, and partly understood them…’ The use of the monsters perspective presented in an innocent manner creates sympathy as he is given a chance to express himself. This stresses the fact that the monster isn’t just a cruel creature with no emotions, which is in contrast with the characteristics of the monsters found in conventional Gothic genre novels. The monster becomes philosophical and starts to question his reason for living; ‘My person was hideous, my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I?’ This creates sympathy for the monster as after this self-education he is left feeling isolated and vulnerable.
This harmful knowledge directly influences his actions as he feels unwanted by society and offers some sort of explanation for his brutal behaviour. This proves that Frankenstein is more than a Gothic novel as this opportunity that the supposed villain has to present its perspective would not be found in a traditional Gothic novel. The monster rebels against society and his creator for being so hideous by killing Victor’s family; ‘If I returned, it was to be sacrificed, or to see those whom I most loved die under the grasp of a daemon whom I had myself created.’ Shelley’s mother died as a result of her birth; she could be conveying the idea that the creator is punished by the created. This shows that this novel has many underlying themes of Shelley’s life to be explored unlike a Gothic genre novel.
The passivity of women is a motif used throughout Frankenstein and is used to convey many themes of Shelley’s life. The monster asking for a woman symbolises the need for women in society, even though they were overlooked in the 18th century. Victors reaction to the monsters request for a women presents opinions of women in society at the time; ‘I was alike ignorant, she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate…had I right for my own benefit to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations…’ Using morals when talking about women suggests that there should be a proper way for women to behave and a respectable way for them to be created. This also depicts that woman are very strong willed; Victor is worried that it will be ‘more malignant’ in the ruin of society and the human race.
Shelley is implying that women should be seen as powerful rather than passive in society, possibly because her parents were feminists. This differs from the traditional Gothic novels as the writer would not introduce personal views on society. Justine is used to create the idea of passive women in the novel; she confesses to a murder that she did not commit: ‘I must be condemned although I would pledge my salvation on my innocence… I did confess; but I confessed a lie.’ This conveys the motif of passive women as she is being completely selfless. The motif of passive women was a characteristic of 18th century Gothic novels, such as, ‘Castle of Otranto’ where woman are portrayed as very submissive and calm. However, in Frankenstein, Justine also illustrates women as very strong and courageous as she says ‘I do not fear to die…
God raises my weakness and gives me courage to endure the worst. I leave a sad and bitter world.’ This shows that she is a very dedicated and strong willed woman as she could tell the truth but she doesn’t, she just accepts her consequent death. Shelley exaggerates the passivity of women in her novel; she seems to be making a point that women are being treated badly in society, as the men (Victor and the monster) are obviously more destructive in the novel, proving that it is not a simple Gothic novel. As women were generally overlooked, Shelley may have had to use some of the Gothic genre conventions in her text in order for it to be accepted by society but she has obviously adapted the gothic novel to suit her style by using underlying complex themes and ideas.
The description of Frankenstein as a ‘novel of the Gothic genre’ does not do this text justice. The purpose of this text is to make the reader aware of the many crucial issues of society at the time whilst maintaining the look of a Gothic novel, it holds greater meaning than a story written to only chill and scare the reader. In the publisher’s introduction it says: ‘Frankenstein is not a simple battle between good and evil; it is not a ghost story, nor really a gothic novel. It defies a single interpretation, engaging instead with some of the crucial social and public questions of the period.’ Frankenstein is more than just a gothic novel as although it’s fulfilling many of the gothic conventions it pushes the boundaries by raising some of the key themes of Shelley’s life and exploring the moral and social issues of the time.