Describe the main themes of Frankenstein.
There are several themes at work in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I would argue that the three most prominent themes are:
- Man and God: This subject appears frequently, and sometimes in a mythical as well as religious context. For example, the subtitle of the book is "The Modern Prometheus", alluding to Victor's power and the suffering he endures because of it. The novel must also be taken in the context of the time it was written and the memes common to the Romantic movement; science was new and exciting but dangerous and corrupting, at least according to those who saw it as a force that was diametrically opposed to spirituality. In Shelley's depiction, science "gone mad" is amoral, deluding itself to be Godlike, when in fact its creations lack the divine spark that distinguishes humanity. That is the central tragedy for Adam; he is aware of his own monstrosity and the sin that his creator has committed to create him.
- Loneliness: Both Victor and Adam spend considerable amounts of time alone, for various reasons, but often to the same effect; they meditate upon their problems and come to the conclusion that few people, if anyone at all, can help them. Loneliness only serves to corrupt the mind and bring despair, and it is no surprise that the story ends in the Arctic, one of the most desolate places of all, with only Adam and Victor remaining. We might interpret that Adam's loneliness was the offspring of Victor's; but where Victor's loneliness was a choice, brought on by his antisocial tendencies, Adam's was a necessity. In fact, Victor's isolations may have cost him the social skills that would have made the hubris and error of his experiments obvious, lending more weight to the monstrous nature of Adam's existence.
- Appearances: Much is made of Adam's hideous appearance - not simply his ugliness but the fact that he stirs an instinctive revulsion in many people who see him (something akin to the "Uncanny Valley" effect that plagues humanoid creations in digital media and robotics). Yet, he thinks, feels emotion, and has ambitions; it is clear that he is indeed "human" in the ethical senses of the word. Yet, he concludes that humans will never be able to accept him because of his appearance; this is a strong commentary upon the value of appearances and the way that we tend to equate beauty with good, and ugliness with evil.
Lajos Egri in his excellent book The Art of Dramatic Writing maintains that any good dramatic work has to have a thesis which contains the formula "X leads to Y." There is always a "leads to" in the formula, and this constitutes what is called "the second act." In Frankenstein the basic thesis is: The abuse of science leads to disaster. Victor Frankenstein wishes to create a living human being and succeeds in doing so. This leads to unforeseen consequences. The Monster he has created hates his maker and takes terrible revenge. The doctor must try to destroy his creation. This thesis has been used countless times since Mary Shelley published her novel in 1818. For example, Nathaniel Hawthorne used the thesis in both "The Birth-Mark" (1843) and "Rappaccini's Daughter" (1844). H. G. Wells used it in The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896). And in modern times it has been used by popular writers like Robin Cook. It has become a staple of science-fiction. An interesting example of this thesis that the misuse of science leads to disaster is Curt Siodmak's 1942 sci-fi novel Donovan's Brain. A scientist keeps a human brain alive in a tank for scientific research. The brain, which belonged to a wicked man, keeps growing and takes control of the scientist's life.
The three most prevalent themes in Frankenstein are creation, knowledge, and politics. These ideas continue to show themselves throughout the story creating time for the reading to draw a deeper connection to the concepts.
Creation- This theory shines the light on how things began. It shows creation from both view points, which helps the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the character’s feelings.
Knowledge- This premise uncovers how power can be misused. Yes, knowledge is power but it must be used insightfully.
Politics- Society emerges and dictates what is morally acceptable. This show how the government can rule with an iron fist, with no remorse, causing others to question what they believe.