Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born to radical thinkers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft in London in 1797, a period of political and social unrest. A revolution was sweeping Europe, one whose technological innovations would forever transform traditional means of labor. As a result, farm laborers flocked to rapidly growing cities, the hubs of manufacturing. Although the Industrial Revolution increased production of goods in efficient and ingenious ways, it also brought new levels of squalor and brutal working conditions to the working class. In response to these inhumanities and to the science that had made such miraculous—or diabolical—machines possible, an intellectual and artistic movement grew. Later called Romanticism, the movement included political dissidents, radical philosophers, and rebellious artists who rejected the traditional forms of thinking and writing to fashion their own way of interpreting the world. The exotic fascinated them; distant places and peoples captured their imaginations. To the Romantics, the natural world was divine and beautiful—an awe-inspiring creation to be respected.
Mary Shelley was a nineteen-year-old Romantic thinker spending the summer of 1816 in Geneva in the company of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the poet Lord Byron, when she penned one of the most well-known horror stories of all time. The writers were confined indoors for much of the stormy summer, and Byron set forth the challenge to write a horror story. As Mary Shelley pondered what her story might be, she listened to the conversations of her husband and Byron regarding the latest achievements—and limitations—of science. Could life be given to the lifeless? Where and how did life begin?
It was in this environment that Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus was conceived. Frankenstein is the story of an obsessed, glory-driven scientist whose unnatural creation corrupts his maker’s character and destroys the lives of those he loves most. It is a story of human loss and revenge, of guilt and debilitating remorse. It serves as a cautionary tale about unchecked ambition and progress, contrasting the powerful beauty of the natural world with an abhorrent creation of man. In the end, Frankenstein is a story of an abominable creature, its abominable creator, and their inextricable connection to one another.
What are the consequences when the wishes of God or nature are defied? Which fate is worse—to die or to live and suffer? Shelley explores both themes throughout the novel, and indeed the novel’s subtitle refers to a deity in Greek mythology who gave fire to mankind, thus bestowing on the human race an instrument both for good and for its destructive opposite. An angry Zeus had Prometheus bound to a rock, where an eagle ate his liver, only to have it grow back and be eaten by the eagle again, day after day. Shelley also evokes The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, wherein a mariner shoots an innocent albatross while at sea, thus committing a crime against nature. The mariner’s crew perishes as a result, while the mariner is doomed to remain alive. He wanders the earth in guilt and misery, warning others with his tale of woe.
Victor Frankenstein lives with his own albatross—the monster of his creation. His story endures because we continue to struggle with questions of scientific ethics: Where do we draw the line between scientific intervention and the laws of nature? As cloning, reproductive medicine, and end-of-life care become more and more advanced, is it always right to pursue scientific advancement? What are the costs?
Frankenstein has persisted throughout time as a menacing, but fascinating, presence in popular culture. Whereas in the novel Frankenstein is the creator, popular culture has appropriated the name and given it to the creature. Thus, people instantly recognize the lumbering bolt-necked giant, popularized in James Whale’s 1931 film, as Frankenstein. However, this confusion may be easily understood: creator and creature may be more alike than they are different.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Explain how Frankenstein is a cautionary tale about the possible consequences that can result when scientific knowledge defies nature.
2. Demonstrate that one theme of the novel is concerned with the folly of judging by appearance and not by character.
3. Explain the significance of companionship to each of these characters: Captain Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and Frankenstein’s creation.
4. Sequence the intellectual and emotional development of Frankenstein’s creation throughout the novel.
5. Determine how the novel’s various settings contribute to its mood of loneliness and despair.
6. Compare and contrast Victor Frankenstein with his creation, explaining when in the story they are most different and when they are most alike.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Study Guide
• The Study Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
• Before chapter Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading...
(The entire section is 447 words.)
1. How do the novel’s different settings contribute to its mood of loneliness and despair? Identify specific places and the effects they have on the main characters.
2. Do you think Victor Frankenstein should have shared his secret of bringing a being to life? Why or why not? Was his decision grounded in bravery or cowardice?
3. Do you support or oppose Victor Frankenstein’s decision to destroy his creature’s mate? Re-read Victor’s and the monster’s arguments to help you formulate your answer.
4. In what ways are Victor and the monster like father and son? What are Victor’s responsibilities to his creation? To mankind?...
(The entire section is 416 words.)
fortitude: strength of mind
hitherto: until now
1. What is the relationship between Captain Walton and Mrs. Saville?
They are brother and sister.
2. What contributed to Captain Walton’s boyhood fascination with the North Pole?
His uncle’s library was filled with accounts of attempted voyages to the...
(The entire section is 298 words.)
assailed: attacked or criticized
conviction: strong belief
inexorable: impossible to persuade
integrity: moral uprightness
suppliant: person making a plea
1. Why is having a friend so important to Captain Walton?
Captain Walton wants to be able to share the joys of success with another person, and in the event of disappointment, with a friend who would help console him. Captain Walton also wants a like-minded companion with whom he can...
(The entire section is 277 words.)
befallen: having happened to
dismay: cause anxiety
gales: strong winds
haste: rapidity of motion; undue eagerness to act
1. What does Captain Walton want to communicate to his sister in this short letter?
Captain Walton wants his sister to know that he is safe and well into his voyage. He and his crew have been spared from any major accidents. He reassures his sister that he will be calm and cautious in his journey.
2. Why is...
(The entire section is 107 words.)
ameliorate: make better
apparition: ghostlike image
lay to: remain still
paroxysm: attack of emotion
unqualified: without limits
1. What strange sight do Captain Walton and his crew see over the boundless ice?
They see the shape of a giant man riding on a sled.
2. Why are Captain Walton and his crew so excited after seeing the strange form far away on the ice?...
(The entire section is 398 words.)
contrived: brought about
pittance: tiny sum of money
syndic: government official
1. Who is the narrator?
The stranger, Victor Frankenstein, is the narrator.
2. Why do Victor’s mother and father enter the cottages of the poor?
Victor’s mother had lived in poverty, and her husband had saved her from that fate....
(The entire section is 172 words.)
galvanism: contraction of a muscle, induced by an electric current
league: about three miles
1. Compare and contrast the characters of Elizabeth and Victor.
Elizabeth and Victor are very close to the same age. Though they get along well, they are very different. Elizabeth is calm, whereas Victor is passionate and devoted to...
(The entire section is 317 words.)
insurrection: violent uprising
1. What is the omen of Victor’s “future misery”?
Victor’s mother dies of the scarlet fever she had helped Elizabeth to survive.
2. What does Victor’s mother expect of Victor and Elizabeth?
She expects Victor and Elizabeth to marry....
(The entire section is 236 words.)
1. How does Victor feel the study of science differs from other areas of study?
He feels with other subjects, one can learn all there is to know; with science, the incentive is to go further and discover something new.
2. What unanswered question of science does Victor ponder?
Victor wants to know what gives...
(The entire section is 191 words.)
inarticulate: indistinct; not clearly expressed
recurred: went back to
1. What is the mood at the beginning of the chapter? How does the weather set the mood?
The November night is rainy and dreary, which sets a dark and ominous tone for what Victor is about to do.
2. Why is Victor repulsed by his creation?
Victor had intended for his creation to be beautiful, but instead it twitches to life as an ugly, horrifying specimen. While Victor had chosen...
(The entire section is 308 words.)
devolved: passed on
1. Who is Justine Morwitz?
Justine is a servant of Victor’s family. Victor’s mother had taken her in when she saw that Justine’s mother mistreated her.
2. What is Elizabeth’s opinion of Justine?
Elizabeth thinks highly of Justine, who always looked “so frank-hearted and...
(The entire section is 222 words.)
acquitted: found innocent
cabriolet: two-wheeled carriage drawn by a horse
1. Why does Elizabeth feel guilty about William’s death?
She had let William wear a valuable miniature of his mother when they were outside. Because the miniature is gone when the body is found, Elizabeth thinks it was the miniature that attracted the murderer’s attention.
2. Victor laments, “I did not conceive the hundredth part of the anguish I was destined to endure.” What does this...
(The entire section is 255 words.)
exculpated: freed from blame
1. What evidence is brought against Justine at the trial?
A market-woman had seen Justine near the site where William’s body was found. When the woman asked Justine what she was doing there, Justine seemed confused. A few days later, a servant found in Justine’s possessions the missing miniature that William had been...
(The entire section is 316 words.)
aiguilles: high, pointed pieces of rock
1. Does Victor think he has been a good person? Explain.
Victor is confused. He believes that, although he has committed horrible acts, he has always had a love of virtue and he has always had good intentions.
2. What does Victor consider when he says, “I was tempted to plunge into the silent lake, that the waters might close over me and my calamities forever”? What prevents Victor from acting out his idea?...
(The entire section is 307 words.)
dissoluble: capable of dissolving
1. What emotion of Victor’s precedes the appearance of his creation?
Victor feels joyful, as he has been overcome by the awesome beauty surrounding him. He asks the spirits to either let him be happy or take him away from life.
2. What does Victor determine he will do when his creation comes near to him?
Victor vows to fight him to the death.
3. What does the...
(The entire section is 213 words.)
inclemency: coldness, wetness
1. Describe the monster’s first sensations.
The monster is confused by all that is around him and disturbed by light.
2. How do the monster’s senses develop over time?
At first the monster cannot distinguish his sensations, as if he were a baby. Then, as he grows used to the sights, smells, and sounds around him, he can single out what he sees, smells, and...
(The entire section is 212 words.)
endeared: made lovable
1. At the beginning of the chapter, what does the monster long to do, and why doesn’t he do it?
He wants to join the cottagers, but because of the strong negative reactions humans have had to him, he does not.
2. What is it about the cottagers that the monster believes causes them to suffer?
They are poor.
3. Discuss the monster’s kindness toward the...
(The entire section is 225 words.)
purport: intend; purpose
strain: sound of music performed
verdure: lush vegetation
1. Describe the woman who comes to the cottage. Who is she? Who does she want to see?
The woman arrives at the cottage on horseback dressed in a dark suit and a black veil. She is beautiful, and her voice is musical. Felix calls her “sweet Arabian,” and later the monster hears that her name is “Safie.” Safie is at the cottage to see Felix.
2. How does the woman’s presence at the cottage affect...
(The entire section is 241 words.)
flagrant: obvious; conspicuously offensive
1. Explain how the De Lacey family became poor.
The French government put a Turkish merchant in jail, which surprised and enraged many people, including Felix. Felix helped the merchant escape from prison, and in return, the merchant promised wealth and his daughter to Felix. Felix brought the merchant and his daughter to safety, away from the French government. However, the government was furious about the escape and determined to find the person responsible. In time, they discovered...
(The entire section is 240 words.)
accorded: agreed with
deprecate: express disapproval; disparage, belittle
transport: carry away with strong emotion
1. Why does the monster compare himself to Adam? What differences does he see in their circumstances?
Like Adam, the monster is alone, not connected to any other individual among God’s creation. However, Adam was created “perfect,” whereas the monster is hideous. Adam was protected by and able to communicate...
(The entire section is 246 words.)
tenement: rented property
1. Describe the change in the monster’s attitude toward humankind after the cottagers drive him away.
The monster is enraged and declares war against humankind, especially his creator.
2. What does the monster feel he should have done differently to gain the cottagers’ acceptance?
He feels he should have shown himself only to the old man and waited until the old man knew...
(The entire section is 217 words.)
siroc: hot wind
1. Why does the creature demand Victor make the companion as ugly as the creature is?
Being ugly will unite the two monsters. No one will want to be near them.
2. What are the main points of the monster’s argument for creating a companion?
The monster feels it is Victor’s obligation to help him to be content. He insists that companionship and affection would take away all...
(The entire section is 252 words.)
solemnization: marriage celebration
1. Why does Victor’s father want Victor and Elizabeth to marry as soon as possible?
The Frankenstein family has experienced nothing but grief and loss. Victor’s father desperately wants the happiness of a wedding to dispel the negative feelings. Victor’s father is also advanced in age....
(The entire section is 194 words.)
epoch: period of time
1. In which country does Victor plan to finish his second experiment?
Victor plans to finish his second experiment in Scotland.
2. Why does Victor tremble at the word “Chamounix”?
It was in Chamounix that the monster appeared and asked Victor to make him a mate.
3. What does Victor fear the monster will do...
(The entire section is 169 words.)
debility: physical weakness
sophism: false argument
1. What reasons lead Victor to destroy his second creation?
1) Victor was going to create a monster whose capabilities were unknown.
2) Victor had no guarantee that the mate would agree to the pact he’d made with the monster.
3) The mate might hate the monster, and in this rejection, the monster might continue to wreak havoc on humans.
(The entire section is 201 words.)
assizes: court sessions
maladie du pays: homesickness
1. How do the first witness and his companions know that the dead man they found had been murdered?
The corpse’s clothes were not wet, so the person had not drowned. Upon further examination, they noticed the prints of the murderer’s fingers on the corpse’s neck.
2. What detail in the first witness’s description of the body upsets Victor? Why?
The person had been strangled, and marks...
(The entire section is 216 words.)
1. Elizabeth sends Victor a letter. What worries does she express concerning their marriage?
She knows Victor has been miserable and distant. She suggests that he might not actually love her and that he’s agreed to marry her only out of duty. She asks him if he loves another woman.
2. What does Victor say about his “secret” in his letter to Elizabeth?
He tells Elizabeth that his secret is a terrible one, but he will tell...
(The entire section is 239 words.)
1. Captain Walton can best be characterized as which of the following?
A. proud and bold
B. timid and affectionate
C. intolerant and stubborn
D. reasonable and considerate
E. domineering and ambitious
2. Which poem strongly influences Captain Walton’s feelings for the ocean?
A. Paradise Lost
B. The Divine Comedy
C. “Ode to the West Wind”
D. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
E. “Lines Composed a...
(The entire section is 1246 words.)
1. Discuss the role of nature in Frankenstein, including its effects on mood, the main characters, and the plot itself.
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, nature is portrayed as influential, dangerously powerful, and healing. It is a perpetually looming force, whether it is the confining ice of the Arctic, the intimidating peaks of the Alps, or the mutually destructive and animating bolts of lightning. Although it physically confines characters, it also uplifts them, restoring some hope or tranquility to their troubled hearts and minds.
Up in the northern reaches of the Arctic, Captain Walton and his crew endure biting cold and crushing ice. The Arctic is a dangerous, desolate...
(The entire section is 1536 words.)