What are some examples of irony in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Irony is an invaluable tool employed by many authors, including Mary Shelley. In her book, Frankenstein, Shelley utilizes irony to encourage her audience to question pivotal concepts. For example, the very thing that Victor desires arguably becomes his greatest enemy and the use of desired language brings the...

Check Out
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Irony is an invaluable tool employed by many authors, including Mary Shelley. In her book, Frankenstein, Shelley utilizes irony to encourage her audience to question pivotal concepts. For example, the very thing that Victor desires arguably becomes his greatest enemy and the use of desired language brings the creature great pain.

Beginning with the irony that Victor experiences, Victor works arduously to create the monster for years and then spends the rest of the book regretting his wish. At the beginning, Victor illustrates that:

“My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement. Sometimes, on the very brink of certainty, I failed; yet still I clung to the hope which the next day or the next hour might realise [the creature]”

After all of his efforts and hopes, the creature was made. However, as soon as he accomplished his dreams, instead of feeling relief and joy, he felt guilt and horror.

Furthermore, this same concept of irony occurred for the creature. Once the creature saw a French family communicating, he diligently pursued language acquisition. He studied intently to communicate with this family and find belonging. However, through his newly acquired language skills, he learned how the world perceived him. As a result, instead of feeling accepted and a sense of belonging through language, he felt more isolated and condemned.

Consequently, both Victor and his creation experienced the literary tool of irony. Although it is impossible to understand why Mary Shelley utilized this technique, it has caused her audience to question assumed standards and values in society and their own lives to this day.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the big examples of irony in Frankenstein is that Victor set out to artificially create life, and in doing so successfully, the monster which he brought to life reigned death upon his family, systematically killing each of Victor's loved ones one at a time. In learning how to "create" life, Victor causes a domino effect of death.

Also, the "monster" is not born a monster. Rather (after being abandoned by Victor), it's interested in, first, taking care of its basic needs (food, warmth, shelter), and then it's interested in human connection. This last need drives the monster to reach out to several groups of people from which it's constantly rejected, attacked, and driven away. Even after the monster saves a little girl from drowning, the crowd attacks the monster and forces it away. The "monster" only grows bitter, angry, evil, and "monstrous" when society treats it with cruelty. So, Victor did not create a monster outright, but his initial abandonment and a string of cruelty created the monster.

Finally, if you consider Frankenstein to be a Gothic novel, Gothic literature sort of showed the "dark side" of Romanticism. So, Romantic literature had sweeping landscapes and epic adventures and quests fulfilling the broad and sweeping desires of human progress. The Gothic movement included the sweeping landscapes and grand adventures in Romanticism, but it also showed the consequences of unchecked ambition. Despite making great strides and progress in science, Victor fails to predict the terrible consequences not considering whether his quest was moral in the first place. So, Victor achieves a great scientific achievement which also causes the deaths of all of his loved ones and the downfall of his career and life. To put it simply, Victor's story shows that just because we CAN do something doesn't mean we SHOULD do something.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team