Frankenstein Theme Handout

Frankenstein Thematic Notes
1. Promethean ambition or the dangers of unrelenting pursuit of knowledge
2. The consequences of society’s rejection of someone who is not attractive
3. The destructive power of revenge
4. The conflict between a parent and child; parent’s responsibilities to children
5. The need for sympathy between human beings
1. Irony: There are two major ironies in Shelley’s novel; the first is that the Creature is a much more
sympathetic character than Dr. Frankenstein – more imaginative and more responsive to his fellow
creatures; the second is that Dr. Frankenstein’s creature has many pleasing qualities, but he is not
physically attractive, and therefore, is an outcast.
2. Antithesis: A contrast of ideas expressed within a sentence or statement; it can also indicate a contrast of
characters, ideas, themes, settings, or moods in a longer piece of writing. Various contrasts permeate
Frankenstein, chief among these are the antithetical natures of Frankenstein and his creation and the
opposition of life and death.
Examples: passion/reason; natural/unnatural; civilized/savage; beautiful/ugly; good/bad; light/dark
3. Allusion:
 Two epic poems were key influences on Shelley’s novel:
o The first is Paradise Lost by John Milton – at various stages in his life, Frankenstein can
be compared with God, Adam, and Satan.
o The second is Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – Frankenstein, like the poem’s
narrator, tells his story both as a warning and as a confession.
 Prometheus = destructive ambition for knowledge
o Subtitle “The Modern Prometheus”
o Greek Mythology: Stole fire from Zeus to help people make weapons and tools (punished
by being chained to a rock and his regenerating liver was eaten every day by an eagle)
o Also refers to story of Prometheus who was said to have animated mankind out of clay
o Two myths fused together: the fire Prometheus stole from Zeus is the fire of life with
which he animate his clay models
4. Philosophies that influenced the writing of Frankenstein
Rousseau’s Noble Savage
 French political philosopher during the eighteen century
 He argued that nature and those who dwell in it are inherently noble
 The “noble savage” lives harmoniously with nature, free from selfishness, want, possessiveness, and
 It is human civilization that perverts and corrupts the natural human
 The ideal of an untarnished primitive who was naturally virtuous was especially appealing to the
John Locke
 Tabula rasa – blank slate; the state of the human mind at birth
 Understanding is made up of impressions, ideas, and sensations
 All ideas are acquired from experiences (no innate ideas)
Two opposing movements: Enlightenment and Romanticism
 Enlightenment and Romanticism
o Victor Frankenstein’s pursuit of knowledge and its destructive tendencies
o The Creature’s appreciation of nature and longing for friendship
o Story critiques the excesses of Enlightenment and introduces beliefs of Romanticism
Nature vs. Nurture? Is it genetic or is it a result of how we are raised / taken care of?