Written by Mary Shelley in 1816, Frankenstein is a novel that conveys several messages and themes. It was written at a time of social and political upheaval: the incredible advances in science and movements in art and culture were changing the way people lived dramatically. For example, the use of electricity, the French Revolution and the Romantic Movement, were leading people to have totally radical, bohemian lifestyles. Shelley allowed these revolutionary ideas to move and inspire her, enabling her to write one of the most remarkable and intriguing pieces of literature in the world.
In the novel, Shelley uses three narrators: Robert Walton; Victor Frankenstein; and the monster, or modern Prometheus, as he was intended to be. The purpose of this essay is to explore what effect this has on our response to the novel overall. I shall do this by explaining how they affect our understanding of the main themes of the novel; the complex time and structure; and the narrators as characters.
Mary Shelley’s classic novel discusses three major themes: ambition and its consequences; the importance of family; and community and isolation.
Victor’s horrific tale shows how blind ambition and ruthlessness can destroy you morally and physically. This happens to Victor as he loses everything dear to him and eventually his own life. Upon hearing Victor’s story of death and revenge, suffering and loneliness, Walton gives up his own ambition of discovering the North Pole, realising that he has sacrificed his sister for his obsession with success. Thus he is saved before it is to late. Victor on the other hand has caused his own downfall: he becomes so obsessed with his creation that he neglects his family by refusing to go home when Elizabeth writes to him.
This ultimately leads to the deaths of his family, Justine and William are killed in the monster’s fit of revenge, and his suffering and loneliness begin to devour him. The theme of the importance of family is reinforced throughout the novel. From Victor’s idyllic childhood, “My mother’s tender caresses, and my father’s smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me, are my first recollections”, to the monster’s grief at his father’s death, close family relationships are regarded as precious and wonderful.
This may be because Shelley lost her own mother when she was very young, and used her own personal experience to inspire her. Both Walton and Victor take their relationships with their sisters for granted, sacrificing them to pursue their own dreams. Victor’s experience shows that you can’t have both: your family and your career to flourish. This idea id introduced very early in the book, when Victor’s departure to university is delayed by the death of his mother from Scarlet Fever.