Friday, March 5, 2010

Final Questions for Shelley's Frankenstein (pp.121-end)

(at right: Caspar David Friedrich's "The Sea of Ice," depicting the sublime cathedrals of ice--the setting of the beginning and end of Shelley's Frankenstein).

1. Do you consider Frankenstein a “reliable narrator”? The largest frame story is his own, which he carefully puts into the hands of Walton (and indeed, even the Creature’s story is from the mouth of Frankenstein!). Are there any slips or cracks in his story which make us doubt his veracity? You might consider how this relates to the idea of the Creature as Frankenstein’s “double” as well…

2. Is Frankenstein’s act of destroying the female monster an act of heroism or cowardice? What reason does he give for destroying it, and do we accept this at face value? Likewise, do we believe the Creature’s vow to Frankenstein, that he will abandon society with his female companion?

3. Why do you feel Shelley included the scene where Frankenstein is imprisoned in Ireland for Clerval’s murder? How might this scene reflect some of the major themes of the novel?

4. How does Shelley reconcile the “frame story” of Walton the explorer? What has he learned from Frankenstein and the Creature? Can we say of him, as the narrator says of the the Wedding Guest in Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “A sadder and wiser man/he rose the morrow morn”?


  1. 2. Frankenstein is, no doubt about it, a coward. He creates life and shrinks from the responsibility. His fear for his original creation causes him to double-cross the creature in a horrific way. Victor is a malevolent Creator, who left the children alone with a magnifying glass, and is surprised when his is the ant hill they target. To delve into my own twisted sense of judgment, I believe it is karmic justice when the creature destroys Frankenstein's life for not giving him a companion.

    I believe that the creature would have left peacefully if he had been given a companion. Nobody wants to be the lone wanderer of their kind, a lonely god among the stars. In the end, he chases his "father" only for the need to be seen and a part of something. He chooses to perish with his creator because he no longer has anyone who understands his origins, and he has given up. The lonely god rests.

    4. Walton meets the end result of scientific madness, the result of what it can be suggested he is searching for. He sees in Frankenstein and Frankenstein's creature all the things he should avoid, that he does not want to become. I believe that he will be a far wiser person from the encounter with the mad doctor and his abomination.

  2. Good responses...though I might challenge you to support your reading of Walton's character in Question #4. Frankenstein has a high-sounding moral, but do his actions (and final words) support it? Does Walton truly see the folly in challenging nature and "storming" the heavens? Consider Page 182, where Walton confronts the mutineers; Frankenstein rises up and shouts, "What do you mean? What do you demand of your captain? Are you then so easily turned from your design? Did you not call this a glorious expedition? And wherefore was it glorious?" The mutineers are shamed into following along, and Walton agrees that he must continue his glorious quest. When Frankenstein dies and the mutineers re-establish their aims, Walton laments, "the die is cast; I have consented to return, if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision; I come back ignorant and disappointed" (183). So for all his talk of not wishing to risk others in his pursuit of glory, the madman wins out--he would gladly sacrifice any man (or woman!) to gain knowledge and immortality. Frankenstein's values win the day!