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Finally the Monster’s ability to transport himself globally from one setting to another, in spite of his obvious physical appearance and limitations is something which the author leaves essentially unexplored. As a consequence the reader is reminded that this is fiction. However, the themes of Frankenstein – prejudice, knowledge, ambition, injustice and parental responsibility – are familiar and serve to deflect the reader from the fictionality of the novel. Society’s inability to see the true reality beneath the appearance is a central theme.
The Monster is not judged by his actions, such as saving the drowning girl but instead by his grotesque and frightening appearance. The perception of the humans to whom he comes into contact is distorted, and barring the blind, old man De Lacy who judges him by his sentiments, they attack rather than accept him. Society’s prejudice against that which is different (physical, religious, cultural diversity) is a theme to which readers can relate. Attainment of knowledge is another key theme to which the reader can associate.
Walton, Victor and the Monster all begin their stories by communicating a desire to explain the world around them, although each has a different focus. Walton and Victor’s thirst for knowledge is arrogant and ambitious with disastrous consequences. The Monster’s by comparison is simple and pure and driven by necessity. Through the De Lacy’s he learns about love, happiness and kindness and how to ‘unravel the mystery’ of language (Frankenstein, page 89). Through this theme Shelley draws us in to accept that misguided knowledge is more tragic than no knowledge at all.
If we consider modern scientific developments (IVF and human cloning), the ethical implications as identified in Frankenstein, are just as relevant today. The disregard for basic human rights and decency is a theme that emerges throughout the novel. Justice, parental responsibility, oppression, the right to education and companionship are all addressed by Shelley. The injustice of Justine’s execution; the rejection of children by their parents (Justine, Safie and the Monster); the Monster’s desire for love and affection, are all emotive issues to which the reader can connect.
As a consequence of the author’s use of recognisable themes we are drawn in and find ourselves accepting the implausible context in which they are set. Shelley’s characters lend themselves to the romantic and gothic genres. Their characterisation is stereotyped, two-dimensional and largely undeveloped. These characters serve not deflect us from their fictionality but compliment instead the emotional, tragic and fatalistic tone of the novel. Justine, Elizabeth, Safie and Agatha are reflections of the virtuous woman, biologically immaculate as they have not been tainted by sexual experiences or motherhood.
The Monster by contrast is not a fully formed individual but a debasement of the human form. Shelley incorporates other characters not for the purpose of realism but to perform a functional role within the novel. The most significant of these characters is William. He is an undeveloped character and yet his death serves many literary meanings. His characterisation moves the plot forward (his death creates the opportunity for Victor to return to Geneva); helps to develop themes (prejudice, political and revenge) and enables us to understand more about the major characters.
Walton is arguably set apart from the other characters within the novel, as having the ability once faced with a wretched image of his future self, to emerge as the ‘single wiser individual’ (The Realist Novel, page 80). However, the duplication and doubling of the male characters within Frankenstein – Victor and Walton (through their ambition and thirst for knowledge) and Victor and the Monster (through shadowing of God & Man/Satan, Paradise Lost) – leads the reader to conclude that in spite of their marked differences, their fate will be the same, ‘ultimately, failure and death’ (The Realist Novel, page 80).
By the end of the novel Victor and presumably the Monster are dead, whilst Walton although returning to England has in all likelihood not abandoned his hope of ‘utility and glory’ (Frankenstein, page 184). Frankenstein like the Monster is a hybrid (mixture of genres). In spite of Shelley’s use of realist conventions to depict real life issues, Frankenstein is undoubtedly an offshoot of Romanticism, the gothic novel.
The expression of the imagination through incredible events, mysterious settings and satanic imagery are all features of this genre. I would argue therefore that although Frankenstein does not sufficiently draw us in to prevent us from thinking “this is fiction”, this was ultimately not the author’s aim. Shelley instead was intent on creating a sensationalist horror, a science-fiction that would enable the reader to explore the sub-conscious and the principles at the heart of human nature.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Shelley. M, Frankenstein 1818 text (1998) Oxford University Press (World Classics). Walder. D (ed. ), The Realist Novel (2005) The Open University. Approaching Prose Fiction, (2002) The Open University. ? X0499126 Steve Lenaghan 1 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Mary Shelley section.