Themes and Characters

Victor Frankenstein is a brilliant, rational, and self-centered man who comes to understand the importance of friendship, family, and love. His monster is brutal and destructive but also rational and eloquent and longs for affection and companionship. Although these two at times seem antithetical, their characters also complement one another.

Frankenstein’s creation of the monster is a supreme rational and imaginative effort, as he himself explains: “My imagination was vivid, yet my powers of analysis and application were intense; by the union of these qualities I conceived the idea and executed the creation of a man.” After the monster’s creation, the union between Frankenstein’s imagination and intellect disintegrates. Like Hamlet, he is plagued by doubt and inaction: he decides to destroy the monster yet pities him; he decides to make a female monster but destroys her; he knows the monster is plotting revenge, but mistakenly assumes he is the target.

The monster, too, is a strange combination of unbalanced intellect and emotion. As the product of Frankenstein’s reason, he represents reason in isolation. Yet, he tells Walton, “my heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy.” When first the De Laceys reject him in horror and then Frankenstein refuses him any kind of companionship, the monster’s tender emotions turn to poisoned selfishness and envy. Even revenge brings him only frustration and misery, “wasting in impotent passions.” While the monster destroys Frankenstein’s hopes, he does not satisfy his own desires.

Besides the unresolvable clash between intellect and emotions, analysis and imagination, Shelley’s Frankenstein bears other traces of Romantic thought, though questioned rather than wholly accepted. Nature with its variety for the Romantics provided a source of wonder and a source of healing for man. In his deepest distress Frankenstein seeks to draw vitality from his surroundings. His fiancee Elizabeth encourages him, “Observe…how the clouds…render this scene of beauty still more interesting. Look also at the innumerable fish that are swimming in the clear waters…What a divine day! How happy and serene all nature appears!” Yet nature’s joys are impermanent. Just when the mountains cause Frankenstein’s heart to swell with joy, the monster appears; just after Elizabeth has enjoyed the clouds and clear water, the fiend murders her. Nature is at best apathetic to man: it destroys as well as preserves, creates lightning as well as sunshine.

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