What is the significance of the books the creature reads?

Expert Answers

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

By reading some specific titles, the creature that Frankenstein created learns all he needs to learn about humanity, including the fact that he has no place in it. This eventually generates an agony in him, as well as hate for his creator.

While the creature observes Felix and his family in the cottage, he discovers some of humanity's great gifts: music, for instance, as well as familial love and, of course, language. As Felix, one of the cottagers, instructs Safie, the creature also learns through these lessons. The book Felix reads aloud to Safie (and, unwittingly, to the creature) is Ruins of Empires, by Volney:

Through this work I obtained a cursory knowledge of history and a view of the several empires at present existing in the world; it gave me an insight into the manners, governments, and religions of the different nations of the earth. (chapter 13)

The creature wonders at the marvels of human history, but at the same time, he discovers vice and evil:

For a long time I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow, or even why there were laws and governments; but when I heard details of vice and bloodshed, my wonder ceased and I turned away with disgust and loathing. (chapter 13)

He also learns the value of the property, the facts of life, and the concept of family, and he can finally tell he is not a human being but a "monster." This makes him miserable.

Later, in chapter 15, he finds in the woods a leather portmanteau containing three more books: Milton's Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch's Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter by Goethe, and he treasures them. By reading these volumes, the creature learns more about human nature:

They produced in me an infinity of new images and feelings, that sometimes raised me to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection. (chapter 14)

By reading Werter, the creature begins to ask himself about his true nature.

Plutarch teaches him about virtue and vice and provides him a wider knowledge of human society:

The cottage of my protectors had been the only school in which I had studied human nature, but this book developed new and mightier scenes of action. (chapter 14)

Finally, Paradise Lost creates in him the need to search for God: his god, his creator. He relates himself both to Adam (since he has no father or mother) and to Satan, as he begins to envy the bliss of his protectors.

All these readings prepare the creature to confront the truth about his origins. Indeed, after becoming a competent reader, he can read Frankenstein's journal accounting his own creation. This awakens feelings of self-loathing, which will eventually guide the creature toward revenge and turn him into a real monster.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When the monster is living outside the De Laceys' cottage, watching and learning from the family, and gathering wood for them, he finds a lost bag containing three books: Milton's Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch's Lives, and Goethe's The Sorrows of Werter. He has learned to read well enough to understand these books, and he reads them eagerly. He has strong responses to each one.

He admires Werter greatly, describing him as "divine" and wondering over his words on death and suicide. The creature cries at Werter's death. When he applies Werter's situation to his own, however, he finds differences, such as that there would be nobody to mourn his own demise.

Plurtarch's Lives elevates his mind and teaches the creature to admire virtue and hate vice. He has a special admiration for "peaceable lawgivers," such as Numa, Solon, and Lycurgus.

Paradise Lost has the strongest impact on him of the three works. He identifies with Adam, as neither her nor Adam were born of a mother, and he also identifies with Satan. He curses himself, however, for having been give life, feeling that even Satan had companions, while he is "solitary and abhorred."

All three books increase his understanding, but all three increase as well his sense of alienation from the human race.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Frankenstein's creature finds several significant works of Western literature in a leather bag: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Sorrows of Werter, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. These titles are all significant for their impact on the creature and his perceptions of the world around him, as well as their effect on the reader.

Milton's Paradise Lost has a particular impact on the creature. He relates to the plight of Adam, but also to the situation in which Satan finds himself. The epic poem discusses evil, the origins of evil as well as the consequences of evil behavior, and Shelley also explores the theme of evil throughout Frankenstein. The parallels between the novel and Milton's epic poem are especially significant for readers. These parallels illuminate for the reader the question that drives the plot forward: who is truly evil, the thoughtless and evil creator, Victor Frankenstein, or his creation, the isolated and murderous creature who is abandoned and left to his own devices?

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Another way the theme of language manifests in Frankenstein is through the specific works of literature the monster uses to learn language. The three main books the monster reads are: John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Werther, and Plutarch’s Lives of Ancient Greeks and Romans. Through these books, he not only learns language, but also specific worldviews. They shape his outlook on death, suicide, civilization, divinity, love, and so many other human things.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial