Main Themes in Frankenstein
Most of the Frankenstein story takes place in frozen and cold Northern landscapes. The iciness of this setting helps to reinforce the scientific attitude that is often seen as cruel, cold, and uninfluenced by emotion. This attitude—the one in which a young scientist is enraptured by the idea of scientific glory without consider the natural consequences—drives the central conflict of the story as well as many of its major themes. However, the cold environment that provides the story’s physical setting can also be flipped on its head. Nature itself can be cruel and unforgiving. Once something is set into action, its consequences will be felt. Furthermore, the story takes place right at the precipice of the scientific revolution, hinting that unchecked lack of clearly defined scientific ethics could be problematic for society.
The novel has two major motifs: passive women and abortion. All throughout the story, one will only find passive women seem perfectly content to suffer silently and then die. The mother figures, sister figures, etc. are impacted gravely by the main events and then die, all because a man was overly ambitious and took actions without considering how they would impact the people in his life. Abortion is a similar motif. Victor wishes desperately that he could undo his creation. Victor also aborts his work on a female creation when he is unable to handle the hideousness of what he is doing.
What are the major themes in Frankenstein?
- The Dangers in Excessive Knowledge
- Nature and its Inherent Power
- Literature and the Written Word
- Monstrosity and Abominations Against Nature
Major Themes in Frankenstein
The Dangers in Excessive Knowledge
At the heart of this novel is a thirst for knowledge at all costs. When Victor applies himself to making discoveries beyond that which is done before, he carelessly and recklessly pushes ahead with no regard to what it will mean for him, for society, or for any of those he holds dear.
Even the story’s narrator, Robert Walton, embodies these traits as he is on an expedition to the North Pole. Still, nature creates consequences for this action as well, and his ship becomes trapped in ice. However, having learned from Victor’s stories and subsequent death, he is able to see that a reckless pursuit of knowledge and discovery can have consequences that no man can ever truly be prepared for. Because of this, he turns back.
Nature and its Inherent Power
This is a common theme in Romantic literature. Emotional, natural, and spiritual beauty is above all else in this artistic movement and philosophy. As the seasons turn during the course of the novel’s action, the moods of the characters shift.
While Victor was stricken with remorse and grief after Walter and Justine’s deaths, he travels into the mountains during springtime and notices his pains are somewhat alleviated. The Monster experiences this as well, hinting that he might be more human than initially suggested. His eloquent plea for a companion is something most readers can empathize with. However, as the action becomes more intense later in the novel and Victor chases The Monster into the icy North, a primal struggle against nature is revealed as futile.
Literature and the Written Word
The most obvious example of this theme comes from the fact that the novel is presented as a series of letters. The novel also references other existing and great works of literature that came before it. This suggests an enormous power and influence coming from the written word. The Monster even becomes more terrifying as he develops a stronger grasp of language. He is able to appeal to human sensibilities instead of simply being a grotesque sin against nature.
Monstrosity and Abominations Against Nature
The Monster in this story is at the center of all the major conflicts. He is hideous and shameful and is completely rejected even by the human who made him. In many senses, however, the true monstrosity is the secrecy and knowledge with which Victor created The Monster. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that Victor himself is as great of a monster as his creation, if not more so, even. The scary thing about this is that he can blend into society whereas his creation never can.
In order to achieve great scientific advancements and receive all the glory on his own, Victor does not work with any other soul to create The Monster. Having created this abomination in secret, he becomes doomed to suffer in secret. The consequences play out as others pay for his sins and his guilt utterly consumes him over the years. He is full of shame and remorse but is never able to truly share this with anyone else. His only redemption is that he was able to confess it all to Robert Walton before his death.