Everybody’s heard of Frankenstein, but very few know who he actually is (He’s the scientist, not the monster). Now you can teach who he is.
Frankenstein Literary Merit
Need we Frankenstein’s its literary merit? Teachers may want to focus on the following issues when teaching Frankenstein:
- The dangers of science and technology: Can science go too far?
- Stem cell research and human cloning: Are there some things humans should just leave be?
- Obsession: How can obsession ruin one’s life?
- Love: How does love motivate one’s actions?
- Beauty: What role does outward beauty play in how one is judged? What role does inner beauty play?
- Romanticism: How does the novel encompass the ideals of Romanticism (the literary movement)?
- Adaptations: How has the novel been adapted into American culture (for example: movies, Halloween masks, children’s books)?
- Nature: How does nature soothe one’s nerves? What responsibility do we have to preserve the Earth’s natural beauty?
- Friendship: How important is it to have friends?
Mary Shelley uses an elevated writing style, including many Latin and Greek based words with which students may not be familiar. Teaching Greek and Latin Roots as well as independent reading strategies will make the novel more enjoyable.
Frankenstein is best suited for an honors class, being a popular novel on Advance Placement Exams, the ACT and the SAT. There are some gruesome scenes; however, they lack the graphicness of today’s shock culture. Average readers will struggle with the novel’s complex style and language.
Attempting to teach it to a non-honors class may be detrimental to your sanity. If you decide to teach it, read Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Shelley alludes to it frequently. Both works have the same structure, frame story. Both deal with the same theme: love conquers all. Both contain supernatural elements. Both are scary.
Teachers may want to focus on the following literary devices when teaching Frankenstein (check out the Frankenstein Study Guide for more information):
- Setting: Scenes depicting Dr. Frankenstein at work occur at night; nature brings peace and contentment; the monster shows up when it’s stormy.
- Tragedy: the novel follows aspects of tragedy, including Dr. Frankenstein in the role of tragic hero.
- Frame story: the story within a story, within a story, within a story accentuates the lack of importance in society and Dr. Frankenstein ascribes to the monster, which, incidentally, has no name.
- Suspense: It’s a can’t put down type of novel.
- Dramatic Irony: Because the narrator tells the story looking back, he is fully aware of what is going on. So is the reader.
- Conflict: Man vs. Monster; Man vs. Supernatural; Individual vs. society
- Allusion: Allusions to other literary works, historical figures, and famous people abound.
Frankenstein Study Questions
1. How does Victor’s life before going to Ingolstadt influence his decisions regarding the monster?
- Up until the time he leaves, Victor is surrounded by beauty–Elizabeth is beautiful, his mother is beautiful, Switzerland is beautiful. Victor has been raised to associate physical beauty with goodness.
- The monster, on the other hand, is not beautiful. He is grotesque. His appearance would shock most individuals, especially those who associate beauty with goodness.
- The death of Victor’s mother influences Victor’s obsession with animating life. He understands the pain associated with losing a loved one and wants to eradicate this pain.
2. What is Mary Shelley’s purpose in alluding to Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner throughout the novel?
- Shelley does more than just allude to it. She uses the same structure to tell her story. Shelley may be giving hints as to the theme of her novel by alluding to Coleridge’s poem. For further treatment of this subject, see this part of the study guide.
3. Give examples of irony in the narrative.
- Situational irony: Frankenstein’s goal is to create life. Instead, he creates a monster that kills people. Ooops!
- Verbal irony: The monster tells Victor he will be with him on his wedding night. What he really means is he will be with Elizabeth on his wedding night, strangling her with his bare hands. I don’t even think he brought a gift.
- Dramatic irony: The reader (and Victor) know that Justine Moritz is innocent of murder. Nobody else does.
4. What are the origins of Shelley’s novel?
- Legend says that Shelley and her poet friends were hanging around the campfire having a contest who could tell the scariest story (there’s some 19th-century fun for ya!). Mary Shelley won. It was so good that her friends encouraged her to write a novel.
5. How is Frankenstein an example of Romantic literature?
- The novel contains elements of the supernatural, the dangers of technology, the importance of nature, and the individual’s quest for glory.
6. To whom does the monster compare himself?
- The monster compares himself to Adam, perhaps as a means of guilting Victor into making him a mate, without an Eve. He also compares himself to Satan from Milton’s Paradise Lost. His knowledge of literature exceeds that of most humans. When you’re ugly and have no friends, I suppose it’s natural to read a lot.
Frankenstein Study Guide
Everything you need to know about Frankenstein by Mary Shelley can be accessed by the following links.
- Frankenstein Chapter Summaries
- Important Quotes from Frankenstein
- Frankenstein Characters with Analysis
- Allusions in Frankenstein
- Frankenstein Study Questions