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AP Lit Frankenstein

Frankenstein (author bio facts, genre setting, theme(s), symbols & motifs, characters, plot synopsis, point-of-view, key quotes...)
by

Trung Chu

on 16 December 2010

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Transcript of AP Lit Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley What is a frame narrative? The Monster tells
a story to Victor Who tells that story
to Walton Who tells that story to his sister Influences The death and writings of her mother The death of her childrens and half-sister Scientific progress Galvanism: the reanimation
of dead tissue with electricity A story within
a story Myth of Prometheus And the allusions... such as... Mary Wollstonecraft born on August 30, 1797, in London who died giving birth to Mary Swiss Alps In 1816, Mary traveled with her husband to where unseasonable rain kept them trapped inside their lodgings so Mary, her husband and their friends competed to see who could write the best ghost story. Mary won... (of course) Zeus then punished him by having him bound to a rock while a great eagle ate his liver every day only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next day who stole FIRE from Zeus and gave it to mortals. Genres Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology involve technology or scientific principles that contradict known laws of nature A setting in the future, in alternative timelines, or in an historical past that contradicts known facts of history or the archaeological record (17xx vs 1816) Science Fiction Gothic writing involving mystery,horror, and the supernatural, combines elements of both horror and romance Setting Time Place 18th Century (17xx) all over Europe, emphasizing places with which Shelley herself was familiar: Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, and even the Arctic. Theme Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. Dangerous Knowledge

The pursuit of knowledge is at the heart of Victor attempts to surge beyond accepted human limits and access the secret of life.
Robert Walton attempts to surpass previous human explorations by endeavoring to reach the North Pole.
Victor’s act of creation eventually results in the destruction of everyone dear to him, and Walton finds himself perilously trapped between sheets of ice. Whereas Victor’s obsessive hatred of the monster drives him to his death, Walton ultimately pulls back from his treacherous mission, having learned from Victor’s example how destructive the thirst for knowledge can be. Sublime Nature

The sublime natural world, embraced by Romanticism (late eighteenth century to mid-nineteenth century) as a source of unrestrained emotional experience for the individual, initially offers characters the possibility of spiritual renewal. Mired in depression and remorse after the deaths of William and Justine, for which he feels responsible, Victor heads to the mountains to lift his spirits. Likewise, after a hellish winter of cold and abandonment, the monster feels his heart lighten as spring arrives. The influence of nature on mood is evident throughout the novel, but for Victor, the natural world’s power to console him wanes when he realizes that the monster will haunt him no matter where he goes. By the end, as Victor chases the monster obsessively, nature, in the form of the Arctic desert, functions simply as the symbolic backdrop for his primal struggle against the monster. Monstrosity
Obviously, this theme pervades the entire novel, as the monster lies at the center of the action. Eight feet tall and hideously ugly, the monster is rejected by society. However, his monstrosity results not only from his grotesque appearance but also from the unnatural manner of his creation, which involves the secretive animation of a mix of stolen body parts and strange chemicals. He is a product not of collaborative scientific effort but of dark, supernatural workings.

The monster is only the most literal of a number of monstrous entities in the novel, including the knowledge that Victor used to create the monster (see “Dangerous Knowledge”). One can argue that Victor himself is a kind of monster, as his ambition, secrecy, and selfishness alienate him from human society. Ordinary on the outside, he may be the true “monster” inside, as he is eventually consumed by an obsessive hatred of his creation. Finally, many critics have described the novel itself as monstrous, a stitched-together combination of different voices, texts, and tenses (see Texts). Secrecy

Victor conceives of science as a mystery to be probed; its secrets, once discovered, must be jealously guarded. He considers M. Krempe, the natural philosopher he meets at Ingolstadt, a model scientist: “an uncouth man, but deeply imbued in the secrets of his science.” Victor’s entire obsession with creating life is shrouded in secrecy, and his obsession with destroying the monster remains equally secret until Walton hears his tale.

Whereas Victor continues in his secrecy out of shame and guilt, the monster is forced into seclusion by his grotesque appearance. Walton serves as the final confessor for both, and their tragic relationship becomes immortalized in Walton’s letters. In confessing all just before he dies, Victor escapes the stifling secrecy that has ruined his life; likewise, the monster takes advantage of Walton’s presence to forge a human connection, hoping desperately that at last someone will understand, and empathize with, his miserable existence. Texts

Frankenstein is overflowing with texts: letters, notes, journals, inscriptions, and books fill the novel, sometimes nestled inside each other, other times simply alluded to or quoted. Walton’s letters envelop the entire tale; Victor’s story fits inside Walton’s letters; the monster’s story fits inside Victor’s; and the love story of Felix and Safie and references to Paradise Lost fit inside the monster’s story. This profusion of texts is an important aspect of the narrative structure, as the various writings serve as concrete manifestations of characters’ attitudes and emotions.

Language plays an enormous role in the monster’s development. By hearing and watching the peasants, the monster learns to speak and read, which enables him to understand the manner of his creation, as described in Victor’s journal. He later leaves notes for Victor along the chase into the northern ice, inscribing words in trees and on rocks, turning nature itself into a writing surface. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. Passive Women

For a novel written by the daughter of an important feminist, Frankenstein is strikingly devoid of strong female characters. The novel is littered with passive women who suffer calmly and then expire: Caroline Beaufort is a self-sacrificing mother who dies taking care of her adopted daughter; Justine is executed for murder, despite her innocence; the creation of the female monster is aborted by Victor because he fears being unable to control her actions once she is animated; Elizabeth waits, impatient but helpless, for Victor to return to her, and she is eventually murdered by the monster. One can argue that Shelley renders her female characters so passive and subjects them to such ill treatment in order to call attention to the obsessive and destructive behavior that Victor and the monster exhibit. Abortion

The motif of abortion recurs as both Victor and the monster express their sense of the monster’s hideousness. About first seeing his creation, Victor says: “When I thought of him, I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed, and I ardently wished to extinguish that life which I had so thoughtlessly made.” The monster feels a similar disgust for himself: “I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on.” Both lament the monster’s existence and wish that Victor had never engaged in his act of creation.
The motif appears also in regard to Victor’s other pursuits. When Victor destroys his work on a female monster, he literally aborts his act of creation, preventing the female monster from coming alive. Figurative abortion materializes in Victor’s description of natural philosophy: “I at once gave up my former occupations; set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation; and entertained the greatest disdain for a would-be science, which could never even step within the threshold of real knowledge.” As with the monster, Victor becomes dissatisfied with natural philosophy and shuns it not only as unhelpful but also as intellectually grotesque. Plot Summary Characters Victor Frankenstein
The doomed protagonist and narrator of the main portion of the story. Studying in Ingolstadt, Victor discovers the secret of life and creates an intelligent but grotesque monster, from whom he recoils in horror. Victor keeps his creation of the monster a secret, feeling increasingly guilty and ashamed as he realizes how helpless he is to prevent the monster from ruining his life and the lives of others. The monster
The eight-foot-tall, hideously ugly creation of Victor Frankenstein. Intelligent and sensitive, the monster attempts to integrate himself into human social patterns, but all who see him shun him. His feeling of abandonment compels him to seek revenge against his creator. Robert Walton
The Arctic seafarer whose letters open and close Frankenstein. Walton picks the bedraggled Victor Frankenstein up off the ice, helps nurse him back to health, and hears Victor’s story. He records the incredible tale in a series of letters addressed to his sister, Margaret Saville, in England. Alphonse Frankenstein
Victor’s father, very sympathetic toward his son. Alphonse consoles Victor in moments of pain and encourages him to remember the importance of family. Elizabeth Lavenza
An orphan, four to five years younger than Victor, whom the Frankensteins adopt. In the 1818 edition of the novel, Elizabeth is Victor’s cousin, the child of Alphonse Frankenstein’s sister. In the 1831 edition, Victor’s mother rescues Elizabeth from a destitute peasant cottage in Italy. Elizabeth embodies the novel’s motif of passive women, as she waits patiently for Victor’s attention. Symbol Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts Light and Fire

“What could not be expected in the country of eternal light?” asks Walton, displaying a faith in, and optimism about, science. In Frankenstein, light symbolizes knowledge, discovery, and enlightenment. The natural world is a place of dark secrets, hidden passages, and unknown mechanisms; the goal of the scientist is then to reach light. The dangerous and more powerful cousin of light is fire. The monster’s first experience with a still-smoldering flame reveals the dual nature of fire: he discovers excitedly that it creates light in the darkness of the night, but also that it harms him when he touches it.

The presence of fire in the text also brings to mind the full title of Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. The Greek god Prometheus gave the knowledge of fire to humanity and was then severely punished for it. Victor, attempting to become a modern Prometheus, is certainly punished, but unlike fire, his “gift” to humanity—knowledge of the secret of life—remains a secret. The point of view shifts with the narration, from Robert Walton to Victor Frankenstein to Frankenstein’s monster, then back to Walton, with a few digressions in the form of letters from Elizabeth Lavenza and Alphonse Frankenstein. Point of view The primary narrator is Robert Walton, who, in his letters, quotes Victor Frankenstein’s first-person narrative at length; Victor, in turn, quotes the monster’s first-person narrative; in addition, the lesser characters Elizabeth Lavenza and Alphonse Frankenstein narrate parts of the story through their letters to Victor. Narrator Climax The murder of Elizabeth Lavenza on the night of her wedding to Victor Frankenstein After the murder of Elizabeth Lavenza, when Victor Frankenstein chases the monster to the northern ice, is rescued by Robert Walton, narrates his story, and dies Falling Action Key Quotes "I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision—I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world." this quote describes the vision that inspired the novel and the prototypes for Victor and the monster. Shelley’s image evokes some of the key themes, such as the utter unnaturalness of the monster (“an uneasy, half-vital motion”), the relationship between creator and created (“kneeling beside the thing he had put together”), and the dangerous consequences of misused knowledge (“supremely frightful would be the effect of . . . mock[ing] . . . the Creator”). "Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay

To mould me Man, did I solicit thee

From darkness to promote me?" These lines appear on the title page of the novel and come from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, when Adam bemoans his fallen condition (Book X, 743–745). The monster conceives of himself as a tragic figure, comparing himself to both Adam and Satan. Like Adam, he is shunned by his creator, though he strives to be good. These rhetorical questions epitomize the monster’s ill will toward Victor for abandoning him in a world relentlessly hostile to him and foist responsibility for his ugliness and eventual evil upon Victor. "What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?" This quote comes from Walton’s first letter to his sister in England. It encapsulates one of the main themes of Frankenstein—that of light as a symbol of knowledge and discovery. Walton’s quest to reach the northernmost part of the earth is similar in spirit to Victor’s quest for the secret of life: both seek ultimate knowledge, and both sacrifice the comfort of the realm of known knowledge in their respective pursuits. Additionally, the beauty and simplicity of the phrasing epitomize the eighteenth-century scientific rationalists’ optimism about, and trust in, knowledge as a pure good. "So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein—more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation." Victor utters these words in Chapter 3 as he relates to Walton how his chemistry professor, M. Waldman, ignited in him an irrepressible desire to gain knowledge of the secret of life. Victor’s reference to himself in the third person illustrates his sense of fatalism—he is driven by his passion, unable to control it. Further, the glorious, assertive quality of his statement foreshadows the fact that Victor’s passion will not be tempered by any consideration of the possible horrific consequences of his search for knowledge. Additionally, this declaration furthers the parallel between Walton’s spatial explorations and Frankenstein’s forays into unknown knowledge, as both men seek to “pioneer a new way,” to make progress beyond established limits. "I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on." In Walton’s final letter to his sister, he recounts the words that the monster speaks to him over Victor’s dead body. This eruption of angry self-pity as the monster questions the injustice of how he has been treated compellingly captures his inner life, giving Walton and the reader a glimpse into the suffering that has motivated his crimes. This line also evokes the motif of abortion: the monster is an unwanted life, a creation abandoned and shunned by his creator. Extras
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