The novel Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelley when she was only eighteen years old, after a nightmare she had. It was published on 1st January 1818 and became a great success. Mary Shelley used the style of gothic horror in this novel, introducing Frankenstein as perhaps the first science fiction book ever written in this genre. Almost two centuries later it has become a widely read classic novel, but also one of the most influential novels ever written. One of the influences on Mary Shelley when she wrote Frankenstein was the scientific experiments of the time.
Scientists were researching the effects of electricity on dead animals and humans; they were striving to control powers of life and death. They had discovered that an electric current could galvanise the limbs, making them move. Not only does Dr. Frankenstein bring his creature to life by using an electrical current, but also Mary Shelley describes numerous storms, which include lightening, when the monster appears to Frankenstein at various points throughout the book. Frankenstein is a moral tale that deals with issues and ethics of medical and scientific progression and how far humans should go when 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’. Prometheus is a story of a Greek God who gave the human race fire, out of pity so they could eat, but also brought them danger, and was therefore punished for it. Frankenstein is also punished by several horrific deaths in his family. He soon finds out that playing God has horrendous consequences. This story tells the tale of Dr Frankenstein, an optimistic student of natural philosophy who makes a manlike monster from parts of dead bodies and brings it to life by using an electrical current.
Frankenstein’s monster is larger than most men and equally as strong. This superhuman creature seems to be the godfather of many a comic villain. It may be that Shelley wanted to explore what it feels like to be classed as a villain, when really you have a gentle heart that is considerably misunderstood. I think that because Mary Shelley had many fears and insecurities in her own life, including blaming herself for her inability to prevent her children’s deaths, it caused her to become concerned about the issues of creation which led to her writing Frankenstein.
During this essay I will be writing about where my sympathy lies as a reader and also looking at the techniques Shelley uses to engage our attention as a reader and manipulate our sympathies. Throughout the novel Frankenstein’s role varies from being a victim to becoming a villain. Half of the time Frankenstein is a victim of the creature he so carelessly restored to life, because of his obsession with nature’s genetics. This obsession leads to his destruction but everything he love goes first, leaving him with nothing to fight for, only the desperate hope that someday his creature will die.
At the beginning of chapter five Frankenstein portrays himself as a hero as he says “I beheld the accomplishment of my toils” and also ” the wretch whom with such infinite pains and cares I had endeavoured to form”. This suggests that Frankenstein looked beyond the horror of what he was doing and found some sort of glory in his ability to create this monster. He was blinded by his ambition as a scientist and believed he had created a monster with such “beautiful features”.
However when the creature finally “awoke” he suddenly realised the mistake he had made. He could not “describe his emotions as this catastrophe”. This is the point at which the reader too, becomes fully aware for the first time of what Frankenstein has really done in creating such a terrifying monster. Shelley uses a range of techniques to enforce a sense of terror in the opening of chapter five. Her first reference to the creature that Frankenstein is making is a “lifeless thing”.
When we read on, we find out that not only is it a corpse, but also one in which the eyes are a “dull yellow” colour, its “yellow skin scarcely covering the work of muscles and arteries”, and its teeth a “pearly whiteness”. All these things add to the prolonged sense of catastrophe that Frankenstein’s life will turn out to be; what’s more it adds to the feeling of disgust and horror that the readers’ thoughts so rapidly turn to. The image of the candle being half extinguished represents Frankenstein’s life of peace drawing to an end.
This is the very opposite of what Frankenstein was trying to achieve. When Shelley describes the process that Frankenstein has undergone to “infuse life into an inanimate body”, we are further horrified at the thought of bringing about something so terrible. Frankenstein had also deprived himself of his own health in order to create this monster. He has destroyed himself for the sake of his creation; this suggests that he has almost given his own life for the creation of his monster and leads us to question the consequences of such an action.
Mary Shelley examines the consequences of creating a human frame without a soul or conscience. She suggests that as humans pursue science they may discover things about themselves that they do not like. When Frankenstein is asleep his creation comes to him in the night, terrifying him and forcing him to run from the house. Once outside he is “drenched by the rain which poured from the black and comfortless sky”. Here Shelley uses nature to create a sense of eeriness in her writing and build tension.
This is nature’s punishment for Frankenstein because of his obsession to create a monster, destroying the laws of nature. The sky is described as “comfortless”, Frankenstein cannot expect to receive any comfort or solace from nature because of his destruction of the laws of nature and his blatant disregard of them. Nature therefore rejects him. During this chapter Shelley uses a poem by Colendge to show how Frankenstein feels. It states that he is on a “lonesome road” and walks in ” fear and dread” because “he knows a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread”.
It suggests that he has forced himself into a situation where he is alone and beyond the help of others because of his own actions. He stops outside an inn where he meets an old school friend “who on seeing him instantly sprung out”. This meeting is fate as the friend is then murdered, towards the end of the book, by the monster. Previously Frankenstein has repeatedly referred to the creature as a ‘miserable wretch’. He now goes further towards giving the creature an identity by claiming that he is his “enemy”.
Part of Frankenstein’s rejection of his creature is that he does not even give it a name. Frankenstein is pushed to insanity by the fear of “his enemy”. He is so consumed by fear and despair that he even implies that his friend should not have nursed him back to health, but have let him die so that he could get away from the creature and the dreadful consequences of his birth. This is shown when Frankenstein says, “firm in the hope he felt of my recovery, he did not doubt that, instead of doing harm, he performed the kindest action that he could towards them”.