How does Shelley go beyond the usual horror story elements to focus on characters and the differences between their behaviors, beliefs and values?Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In his essay, "Frankenstein:  In the Context of the Romantic Era," George V. Griffith states that Mary Shelley's novel deals with such Romantic topics as 

the primacy of feelings, the dangers of intellect, dismay over the human capacity to corrupt our natural goodness, the agony of the questing, solitary hero, and the awesome power of the sublime

Dangers of the intellect

Both Walton and Victor Frankenstein are examples of ambition that defies the natural order.  Walton writes that he will carry out his mission despite cost of human life:

One man's life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race.

And, Victor Frankenstein feels much the same as he allows his brother, friend, and wife to be sacrificed in his pursuit of science.  Truly, Victor corrupts what is natural and innocent as his lack of nurturing for the creature transforms him into the monster that he becomes.

The human capacity to corrupt natural goodness

Human nature often corrupts what is by nature innocent. For, the creature is totally without sin until he is rejected.  Influenced by the writings of the English philosopher, John Locke, Shelley depicts how important the creature's social conditioning is to his nature.  When he is reviled and rejected by Victor and all others that he approaches, the creature vows revenge upon humans and his killing begins, whereas before he is rejected, all he has wanted is love.

The agony of the questing, solitary hero

Possessing a life filled with fear and agony, Frankenstein in Chapter 18 (Volume 3, Chapter 1) is unable to enjoy the beauties of nature while he is with Clerval, who observes the scenery "with an eye of feelig and delight."  Instead, Victor declares himself,

“I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul. . . .” (An image that recalls the giant oak Victor watched destroyed by lightning when he was 15.)

The power of the sublime

While Victor follows the Rhine, however, he sees many lovely towns, hills, and ruined castles on cliffs surrounded by black forests.  In this journey of natural beauty, with the majesty of the Alps and the musical loveliness of the Rhine, Victor feels his soul somewhat restored.  He declares that his "gush of sorrow" is but a "slight tribute to the unexampled worth of Henry," soothing his heart.



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