Frankenstein Summary and Synopsis
Short summary: Frankenstein is a classic in the Western horror genre of literature. The novel follows a young scientist who becomes obsessed with the idea of finding the secret to creating life.
What he finds is that “playing God” is not all he thought it would be. He is overwhelmed by the consequences of meddling with nature and suffers greatly for the rest of his life after the creation of his monster. Common human flaws and downfalls such as grief, pride, unchecked thirst for knowledge, secrecy, and shame are explored as Victor Frankenstein must suffer the consequences of bringing unnatural life into the world.
Once Frankenstein has created life, the livelihood of all he previously held dear is threatened and taken from him in a series of tragic events. Although he attempts to run away from his problems, they always catch up with him. Even when he decides to face things head-on, the consequences of what he has done are too much for any man to bear.
Literary Elements of Frankenstein
Author: Mary Shelley
Type of Work: Novel
Genres: Gothic; science fiction
Published Date: 1818
Setting: Geneva; the Swiss Alps; England and Scotland; the frozen North; Ingolstadt. All during the eighteenth century.
Main Characters: Victor Frankenstein, The Monster
Protagonist: Victor Frankenstein
Antagonist: The Monster
Major Thematic Elements: The dangers of knowledge; nature and the power its beauty holds; literature and written word; monstrosity and abominations against nature; secrecy
Motifs: Passive women; abortion
Exposition: The narrator, Robert Walton, is captaining a ship bound for the North Pole that becomes trapped in ice. He writes to his sister in England about his encounter with Victor Frankenstein who had been traveling by dogsled across the ice. He is taken aboard the ship to recover from the effects of the bitter cold.
Conflict: Victor Frankenstein’s fixation with creating life.
Plot: Told over a series of letters written by Robert Walton.
Major Symbols: Fire; light
Climax: Elizabeth’s murder on the night of her wedding to Victor Frankenstein.
Literary Significance of Frankenstein
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein explores common themes of the time in which is was written. During the 19th century, the Western societies were making numerous bold scientific advances. Frankenstein is a response to uncheck scientific power and dubious ethics. Many religious individuals saw these scientific advances as a slight against God. This novel is a response to this particular social turmoil.
Although certainly a member of the horror genre, Frankenstein can also be viewed in a Romantic lens as well. Romanticism was an artistic movement that highlighted the beauty of nature above all else. Certain themes in this novel enforce this idea—the concept that man cannot achieve anything better than nature itself has is critical to exploring Frankenstein. So not only does the novel provide an interesting commentary on a time in history, it also is an unusual and fascinating study of the Romantic movement in literature.
Frankenstein Book Summary, Plot Outline
Frankenstein plot summary: The narrator, Robert Walton, tells Victor Frankenstein’s story in a series of letters back home to his sister in England. He is captaining a ship to the North Pole, but his ship becomes trapped by ice. Victor Frankenstein encounters the ship with traveling on a dog-pulled sled and is taken aboard to rest and recover from the cold. As Walton helps nurse Frankenstein back to health, he hears his incredible stories.
Frankestein begins his tales by recounting a happy childhood in Geneva. His was very close with his cousin, Elizabeth Lavenza and enjoyed her company. When he is older, he studies at the university in Ingolstadt to study chemistry. While in his studies, he becomes obsessed with a desire to uncover the secret to life. After researching this question for many years, he becomes convinced that he has discovered it. He spends many months creating a creature out of various body parts. On a stormy night alone is his apartment, he finally brings his creation to life. However, he is horrified at the sight of his creation once it becomes animated. He spends a fitful night tossing and turning while his new monster looms over him.
Victor feels intense remorse and wanders out into the streets of town. There, he runs into his friend, Henry, who is also studying at the university. He brings Henry back to his apartment, but The Monster is not there. Victor becomes deathly ill and is sickened by what he has done. He makes plans to return home to his family in Geneva to recover and to put his deeds behind him. Just before he is about to leave, he gets a letter from his father informing him that his brother has been murdered. He rushes home immediately, consumed with grief.
As he travels through the woods in which his brother was strangled to death on his way home, Victor sees his monstrous creation and becomes convinced that The Monster killed his brother. When Victor arrives home, he discovers that a kind girl who was taken in by the Frankenstein family has been accused of the murder. She maintains that she is innocent. Guilty and heartbroken, Victor becomes despondent and even more unwell.
One day, Victor seeks solace in the mountains. As he crosses a glacier, he encounters The Monster. The Monster admits to the murder of Victor’s brother but explains that he had meant to kill Victor. He thinks his creator cruel for giving him life and then abandoning and rejecting him. He begs Victor to create a companion for him so that he no longer has to struggle alone. Although Victor is horrified at the thought of creating another monster, he is eventually convinced to do so.
Victor travels to England and brings his friend, Henry, along with him. They gather information for the purpose of creating a female monster—a mate for the original monster. Victor separates with Henry and Scotland and sets to work on his second creation on an island in the Orkneys. As he works one night, he sees his original monster looking inside at what he is doing. He has a frightening grin on his face. Overcome with disgust at what he is doing, Victor destroys his second creation. The Monster is enraged and swears that he will get revenge on Victor.
Victor gathers up the body parts he was working with and takes a boat out on the lake to dump them. While out on the water, a storm kicks up and Victor cannot return to the island where he was doing his work. He washes ashore in a nearby town and is arrested and accused of murder. When they reveal the body to him, he sees that it is Henry, who has been strangled by The Monster. Victor is sent to prison and becomes feverishly ill.
Eventually, Victor returns to Geneva with his father. Shortly after, he becomes engaged to his childhood companion, Elizabeth. On the night of their wedding, Victor sends her away out of fear that The Monster will show up to kill him. However, it turns out that The Monster always intended to kill his bride. When Elizabeth is murdered by The Monster, Victor returns home to his father who dies of grief after a brief time passes. Victor promises that the rest of his life will be dedicated to finding The Monster and getting revenge. Victor tracks The Monster north but loses the trail. This is when Walton finds him.
Walton closes out with some final letters to his sister. Victor died on his ship shortly after telling his story. He had been ill for some time and the cold exacerbated his health problems. Walton visits the room in which Victor’s body is kept one day and is shocked to find The Monter weeping over his creator’s body. The Monster tells Walton that he has suffered greatly because of his solitude, hatred, and shame. He then leaves for the most remote and icy location of the north to die alone and leave behind his suffering.