Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Frankenstein Analysis
Because many young readers come to Frankenstein with preconceived ideas of the content, derived from a plethora of television and film renditions, the complexity and ambivalence of the actual text may present a challenge. The epistolary structure of the novel is important, as readers never hear the monster’s tale directly. It is always filtered through Frankenstein’s narration, Walton’s writings, or both.
Resonating through the novel is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), a poem that Mary Shelley knew well and quotes in the text. Like the Mariner, Frankenstein is compelled to tell his tale to one who might profit from it. Unlike the Mariner, however, there is no evidence that Frankenstein has gained clear insight into himself and repented. When he, near death from cold and exhaustion, first accosts Walton, he verifies that their direction is north before accepting help. Later, he eloquently pleads with Walton’s men to remain steadfast in their exploration no matter what the danger or the cost. He tells Walton that he finds nothing blameable in his past conduct. Dying, he urges Walton to seek happiness in tranquillity and avoid ambition. His final words throw this self-awareness into doubt, however, for he admits that while his own hopes were blasted, someone else might succeed.
In Coleridge’s tale, the listener goes away a sadder and a wiser man. Walton, who has listened to both Frankenstein and the monster, does likewise, his idealism tempered by an acknowledgement of human frailty and balanced with a more wholesome realization of the need for close human ties. He turns the ship south, putting commitment to the needs of his men ahead of his desire for renown and glory. Frankenstein and the monster remain ambivalent characters . There is much to applaud and appreciate in Frankenstein’s driving ambition and much to pity in his gradual abandonment of all human affection and his obsession first with the pursuit of knowledge and then of revenge. In the monster, there is much with which to sympathize and much to condemn. One reason that Shelley’s book has remained popular is that it captures modern humanity’s paradoxical fascination with gaining control of nature through scientific discoveries and...
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