Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 402
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as part of a friendly ghost story writing competition with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and friend Lord Byron when she was eighteen years old. The novel has prompted many melodramatic takeoffs in film and much critical interest. It is one of the earliest works of science fiction, and the scientific techniques described in it are shadowy at best, yet they represent adequately the scientific knowledge of the time.
The books subtitle links it to the Prometheus myth, popular in the Romantic era. Both Percy Shelley and Lord Byron wrote Promethean poems. Prometheus, a Titan, stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, allowing them to thrive and create. Frankenstein’s creature was brought to life through the “fire” of lightning. In both cases, the reader must wonder whether the powers given to humankind are blessings or curses. The novel questions what responsibility humankind has in the face of achievements that can have both good and bad results. Frankensteins suffering clearly shows that he realizes too late that he miscalculated the destructive potential of his discovery.
The novel is filled with imagery of light and dark. The creature, brought to life through the power of lightning, is always in the shadows of darkness, and he commits dark deeds.
The Romantic writers with whom Shelley can be connected wrote in part as a revolt against the Enlightenment assumption that scientific advances and education represent the highest possibilities of humankind. If scientific achievement is paramount to Frankenstein, it comes at the expense of humanity, including the lives of everyone whom Frankenstein loves. Frankenstein offers interesting views of the psyche of man in both Frankenstein and his creature, and of the social damage that can result when love is denied, as it was to the creature, or relegated to low status, as it was by Frankenstein. A psychological inquiry also suggests the idea of the creature being the double, or dark side, of Frankenstein.
One interesting stylistic device in the novel is the lack of a constant or reliable narrator: Robert Walton, Frankenstein, and the creature all tell their own stories. The reader thus is given different points of view from which to judge the story. Another point of interest is the consideration of gender: The novel has a female author, employs stereotyped female characters, and shows contrasts between the typically male and female motives of ambition and love.
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