What lessons can be learned from the novel Frankenstein as they would pertain to the modern reader?
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein deals with themes that are universal and quite relevant even today to the modern reader.
The most salient themes involve the risks of tampering with nature's unique order, the dangers of ambition turning into obsession, and the necessity for human connection of any and every kind.
The risks of tampering with the unique order of nature is evidenced by the creation of the creature and Victor's insistence in testing the parameters of science. Like the old sayings go, "be careful what you wish for", and "do not tempt Karma". When someone attempts to make changes to anything that is already working (such as changes to the normalcy of life), then chaos is meant to follow.
The dangers of ambition are evidenced in Victor's obsession with creating life. It is an entirely different thing to be naturally curious than to directly perpetrate against an organized operating machine such as the human being. To make its tampering an obsession is a direct insubordination of ethics and to human dignity.
Finally, the human need for communication and connection is evidence throughout the entire story. We see that the monster, even when it opens its eyes, immediately seeks the touch of its creator, Victor. It was Victor's disgusted reaction what gives the monster its first indication of isolation and neglect. The monster then seeks a connection with the family in the cottage, and when it discovers how morbid he looks, he feels destitute by nature. He then asks his creator to make a female companion for him, for he sees that humans always make a connection. However, it is not to be. Eventually, the monster and its creator will continue to live a vicious emotional cycle of hatred and fear.
It is because these topics are so ardent to every society and so relevant to the human condition that the novel will continue to be considered a study in both human psyche, the human condition, and human emotion. All these are also top characteristics of Gothic literature.
One abiding lesson is that we shouldn't exploit nature for our own ends. Far too often, we look at nature as an object, something to be controlled, measured and used. We no longer seem to have any understanding of the mystery of nature, its innate value, and so we tend not to treat nature with the reverence it deserves.
An almost religious reverence for nature was a very important element in Romanticism, an artistic and intellectual movement of which Frankenstein is a prime example. Like Frankenstein himself, we often succumb to arrogance and hubris, thinking that because we have the power of reason, that somehow gives us the right to lord it over creation. One of Frankenstein's avowed objectives in creating the monster is to have a race of creatures all of his very own, a race that will treat him like a god, out of gratitude for its creation. By controlling nature, we can, like Frankenstein, feel like gods, completely invincible in our sovereignty over the natural world.
But as well as potentially leading to environmental destruction and the extinction of numerous animal species, this overweening arrogance radically distorts our self-understanding. We are humans, not gods, and we should look to the fate of Frankenstein to provide us with a salutary lesson in what can go wrong if we don't recognize this simple fact.