What plot exposition does Shelley offer the reader in chapters one and two of Frankenstein?
The first two chapters of Frankenstein, excluding Walton's four letters which open the novel, offer readers the things typically found in an exposition. The novel's beginning introduces Victor Frankenstein, his family, and how his interest in science began. The opening of the chapters offers readers with insight into the loving family with which Victor was raised.
The following details specifics of the exposition of the novel.
1. Victor, unnamed at the beginning of the chapter, is Genevese. His father, prior to marrying his mother, Caroline, worked very hard. His lifestyle and career had no room for a wife.
2. After his father married, the life of the Frankenstein's changed dramatically. Victor's family settled down and began to grow (with both natural children and adopted children).
3. Victor and Elizabeth, his "cousin," are meant to marry and the family nurtures their relationship.
4. Victor becomes interested in science--stemming from a great storm he witnesses.
5. Victor leaves for university (Ingolstadt) and his interest in science and mathematics blooms.
Exposition is a literary device used to introduce information about a character's background or information about the setting that will help us to understand what is going on in the text. It is often provided toward the beginning of a text, though sometimes no exposition is provided at all and we are simply expected to catch up with characters without it.
In Chapters 1 and 2 of this text, Victor discusses his ancestors' positions as well as his father's role in the community and some background about his father's marriage and wife, Victor's mother. He tells a sad story about his mother's background, including how she nursed her father and, eventually, watched him die. Victor describes their relationship as well as his own childhood, including how Elizabeth Lavenza came to live with their family and be his sister and playmate. He also introduces Henry Clerval and provides background information about this man as well. Finally, Victor describes his early educational interests and how his curiosity was piqued by natural philosophy (i.e., science).
In the opening chapters, Victor Frankenstein describes his family's accomplishments and generosity, their European travels, and how Elizabeth came to be a part of his family. Victor emphasizes his closeness with Elizabeth and observes that while her interests lay in literature and artistic aesthetics, his were more scientific. He acknowledges that his parents were extraordinarily kind and indulgent.
Victor characterizes himself as precocious in childhood and insatiably curious about science and metaphysics. He credits Elizabeth and his friend Henry Clerval with helping him hold onto his humanity as he became more and more immersed in his studies. Natural philosophy and electricity also captured his interest, but when he first began to consider galvanism, he passed a point of no return, and he foreshadows the tragedy to come by acknowledging that all of these memories predate his "after tale of misery."
Mary Shelley provides plot exposition by expounding on Frankenstein's character as a brilliant scientist surrounded by love. The reason for this presented information is to parallel the eventual creation of "the monster" who was like any other living being, but neglected and therefore lacking the luxuries Frankenstein possessed: namely, love. Further plot exposition occurs as Shelley poses inspiration for Frankenstein's greatest creation and greatest mistake through the "dazzling light" that is lightning, and also as Shelley ends chapter two with a strong message of foreshadowing. She says "Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction" (43).