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English Literature

Themes

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Frankenstein is not just a book about a man who creates a Monster. Mary Shelley intended her readers to learn from her tale. It contains many of her ideas on how people should behave. These were shaped by her upbringing, relationship with Shelley, and her reading of the works of many famous authors and philosophers. These ideas can be summed up in the main themes of the novel, namely knowledge and discovery, justice, prejudice, and isolation.

Knowledge and discovery

The novel begins with Walton describing his own voyage of discovery, which he hopes will lead him to the North Pole. On meeting Victor, he hears of another tale of discovery, that of the secret of creating life itself.

The Monster is also on a path of self-discovery, and all three characters share a powerful desire to acquire knowledge - a desire that ultimately leads two of them to their deaths, and which very nearly kills Walton.

The Monster quite naturally seeks knowledge about where it came from and how to survive in a hostile world. Through patient endeavour [endeavour: Earnest effort to achieve something. ], it learns how to speak and read. But the knowledge it gains only leads it to curse its existence.

It knows that it can never be accepted in the world of man, yet craves human company and the love of the father who abandoned it. Finally, through learning of the 'sanguinary (bloody) laws of man', the Monster is taught that it can be acceptable to kill in some circumstances. This knowledge leads to the deaths of many innocent people.

Robert Walton was brought up by his uncle, and is self-taught in the art of sea-faring. This is despite his father's dying wish that his uncle forbid him from embarking on a life at sea. His determination to succeed, shown by his willingness to work "harder than the common sailors during the day (and devote his) nights to the study of mathematics… medicine... and physical sciences", leads him to believe he can be the first to discover the sea passage to the North Pole. However, his real motivation is self-glory, fuelled by overwhelming ambition. This leads to him failing to assess the dangers of his voyage and knowingly putting the lives of his crew at risk.

Victor Frankenstein also puts others' lives at risk, as well as his own, through his ambitious pursuit of knowledge. He neglects his loving family and allows his health to suffer greatly in his obsession to discover the secret of creating life out of death.

Shelley makes it clear she believes knowledge such as this cannot lead to good. Some benefit may have come from finding a way to the North Pole, but no good is shown to come from Victor's creation of the Monster.

She shows Victor's 'success' to have severe and tragic consequences that should serve as a warning to scientists, past, present and future, that knowledge is a very dangerous thing and should only be used for the good of mankind - and certainly not personal gain.

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