What is the symbolism of ice in Frankenstein?
The use of ice in Frankenstein has several purposes. First, it adds to the sensory elements that are needed to understand, both, the setting as well as the atmosphere of specific chapters in the novel. The part of the novel where ice is more evident at the beginning, when Captain Walton's boat is exploring the Artic and encounters ice. There, the captain and crew see the monster sledding on an iceflo from a distance. Shortly after, he rescues Victor. This is when Victor confesses his story to Walton.
Here we see that the ice is a perfect symbol to represent the fate that Victor's life has taken. Victor's fate has led him to a life that is fruitless, barren, frozen in time, and inevitably miserable. In the frigid and lonely Artic, there is nowhere to go, nor nothing, to do but to chase, or be chased. This is the case between Victor and the creature. This particular chase begins in Switzerland, when Victor determines to kill the creature. The chase crosses country boundaries and ends up in the Artic circle, where the are found at the beginning of the story. As it goes on, the creature seems to lure Victor to that very cold and freezing spot. This is evident in one of the notes that the creature leaves for Frankenstein just to elevate his chagrin.
My reign is not yet over — you live, and my power is complete. Follow me; I seek the everlasting ices of the north, where you will feel the misery of cold and frost, to which I am impassive.
Here we note that the monster actually wants to lead Victor to a cold, desolate, barren and "dead" place, in hopes that Victor succumbs to it. The idea of darkness, coldness, and isolation is also a Gothic element of narrative. Hence, it would also be a representation of Victor's fate and of his own soul.
The ice symbolized the coldness and desolation that Frankenstein's monster feels in his loneliness. Victor, his creator, has rejected him. Other humans have recoiled from him in horror at his appearance. There is nobody else like him on the Earth. To the monster, the desolate Arctic wasteland, full of ice and empty of people, provides a refuge from the cruelty with which he has been treated.
The cold, barren landscape, a place of glaciers and caves of ice, symbolizes how Frankenstein's monster feels inside after his rejection by mankind. He is desolate. Victor has even destroyed the companion he promised to make for the monster.
It's poignant, sad, and an indictment of how humans judge by external appearances that the monster finds the icy territory he now inhabits kinder to him than the human civilization he has fled. He prefers isolation to the pain of rejection. He tells Victor:
The desert mountains and dreary glaciers are my refuge. I have wandered here many days’ the caves of ice, which I only do not fear, are a dwelling to me, and the only one which man does not grudge. These bleak skies I hail, for they are kinder to me than your fellow-beings.