What do you think is the significance of Frankenstein's dream about Elizabeth?
In Chapter Five of Mary Shelley’s classic of Gothic literature, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, Victor is finally successful at reanimating dead human tissue. His horror immediately upon gazing at his achievement, however, invades his dreams. In that dream, his cousin and future bride, Elizabeth, is transformed during their embrace and kiss from the healthy, vibrant woman he cherishes to the very image of death. As Victor describes this horrific transformation:
“ . . .I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel.”
This dream, occurring immediately after his realization that he alone is responsible for creating the terrifying being from which he fled in disgust, is highly symbolic. Since observing a violent thunderstorm as a teenager, Victor has been obsessed with the natural phenomena he has witnessed, mainly the effects on a tree of a lightning strike. His fascination with fundamental questions of life and death becomes all-consuming, leading to the two-years of experiments with dead tissue that ends with his creation of the “wretch” that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Victor sets forth on a life’s mission to, essentially, become God, giving little consideration to the moral ramifications of his efforts. As he regales Robert Walton with his story, he celebrates his achievement: “I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter,” later reiterating, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.”
Victor had become so bold as to equate himself with God, the creator of all life on Earth. In so doing, he has subverted nature and his dream about Elizabeth is a representation of the damnation to which he has now succumbed. He has not created life; he has created death. This horrific creature that Victor has fled will now represent Death. In the most remarkable display of hubris, Victor has asserted his right and demonstrated his ability to perform the work preserved for the female of the species, giving birth to new life. He has insulted God, and he has perverted the natural order of life. The vision of Elizabeth being transformed into the decomposed remains of his deceased mother is symbolic of that hubris.
Soon after he has successfully created the monster, Frankenstein has a frightening dream about his eventual wife Elizabeth. In the dream he kisses her but when he does, she changes into his dead mother. This dream shows how Frankenstein is feeling guilty about creating the monster. This is why a woman features so prominently in the dream; Frankenstein has in a sense taken over a typical female activity, that of giving birth to a new life. The dream is all the more telling in that it features two of Frankenstein's loved ones. Birth, or creation, and death are therefore inextricably linked in this dream. It is also prophetic as Frankenstein's monster will go on to cause the deaths of many of his loved ones.