Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelley when she was only eighteen years old after a nightmare she had. It was first published on 1st January 1818 and was an instant success. Using the style of the ‘Gothic Novel’, Frankenstein was the first science-fiction book ever written. Almost two centuries later it has become not only a widely read classic, but also one of the most influential novels ever written. Frankenstein is a moral tale that deals with issues and ethics of medical and scientific advancement and how far humans should go in tampering with nature.
The story raises questions as to who should have final power over life and human nature, God or humans. Shelley calls her book a ‘Modern Prometheus’, because there are many similarities in the plots. The Greek God, Prometheus, gave the human race fire, out of pity so they could eat, but also brought them danger, and was punished for it by Zeus. Prometheus was a hero to humans, but Dr. Victor Frankenstein is a villain because he did nothing to contribute to the world; he did everything for himself rather than using his knowledge for the good of others.
Shelley does not express her views, but simply tells a story. The story explores the dire consequences of meddling in such serious matters. In a dramatic and shocking way she is more persuasive and challenging to people than if she had directly preached her views. Without directly telling people what they ought to think, she is powerfully able to make people question the morality of their actions in a day of rapid scientific advances. The ‘Gothic Novel’ was a very popular style of writing in the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century.
Shelley used this style because she knew it would appeal to the masses. Its use of horror, violence and the supernatural was exciting, intriguing and macabre. Although at one level it was frightening, it was also intriguing and compelling. Although on the surface it repelled, at a deeper level a reader was drawn to the horror, just as the curious are drawn to view victims of an accident. Her clever use of horror disguises her Puritanical views by letting the dire outcome of an obsessed doctor who creates a monster speak for itself. Victor Frankenstein Dr.
Victor Frankenstein is the main protagonist of the novel and is a complex character. The bulk of the story is told from his point of view, revealing his struggle to deal with the responsibility for the tragic consequences of his ‘playing God’ by creating a monster from dead bodies he stole from graves. Frankenstein is a very egotistical and conceited man. He believes totally in his own ability and power. He is self-centred, but at the same time lacks self-awareness. ‘… I doubted not that I should ultimately succeed. ‘ p. 42 Frankenstein’s ego is so immense that he comes to see himself as God-like.
His dream to create a physically superior race that will worship him as its God is the dream of a megalomaniac. He has delusions of grandeur almost to the point of considering himself as the Saviour of the world. Although Dr. Frankenstein admits that he was at first unsure about whether he should perform the act of human creation this hesitancy is quickly taken over by his arrogance and desire to succeed. He thinks he can do no wrong. ‘I doubted at first… but my imagination was too much exalted… to permit me to doubt of my ability… ‘ p. 42
Frankenstein in one sense is an idealist in that he wanted to create a perfect race, a better race than current, imperfect humanity. He has a vision of an army of physically superior humans with high intelligence. However the reality of his method is to combine a collection of different body parts from different human beings, with different proportions, from graves and vaults. His ideal is very different to reality, showing how out of touch with reality he really is. It also shows his immorality, for he disregards authority and has a lack of respect for the dead.
Frankenstein’s readiness to mutilate and steal bodies shows that he thinks of the deceased bodies as merely physical carcasses for use at his disposal. He seems to have no morals or ethics at all and doesn’t even think about the consequences if he was caught. ‘I collected bones from charnel-houses; and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame. ‘ p. 43 Frankenstein’s obsession with creation drives him to break down the boundaries of life and death. He is oblivious to the outside world and nothing else matters to him. ‘…
Still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion. ‘ p. 43 But once creating his being, when the Monster awakes, Frankenstein is terrified by it, and runs away. His ideal of a perfect, flawless being is crushed at the sight of his hideous creation. Frankenstein instantly rejects the Monster, fleeing from its outstretched arms. He is judgemental and shallow, judging his creation on looks, not personality. However, scientists are supposed to be objective instead of subjective. ‘… Now I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished’ P.