What are some areas of confusion in the book Frankenstein by Mary Shelley?
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published her classic work Frankenstein in the early nineteenth century, and it became the prime example of the gothic novel. The book features picturesque settings, gloomy atmospheres of terror and mystery, violent events, and a psychological plot, all of which have become standard elements of the genre.
As brilliant an example of gothic literature as it might be, the book is not without its confusing elements. In order to make her characters more convincing, Shelley uses an epistolary style to tell her tale. The narrative is conveyed by an exchange of letters, or epistles, used to carry the plot of the story. This is not the preferred writing style of later novelists, since it fails to limit the point of view, causing some confusion for the reader.
In Frankenstein, the readers are introduced to three separate narrators, each of whom is explaining a portion of the tale from a particular perspective in the first person. All of these vantage points are framed within the larger story. In other words, the novel presents a story within a story.
For example, in one narration, Arctic explorer Robert Walton advances the plot through a series of letters written to his sister, Mrs. Saville, about his polar exploration. Four of those letters appear in the prologue to the story, while five others appear in the epilogue. It is somewhat perplexing that Mrs. Saville plays no role in the story other than being the recipient of those letters.
So strange an accident has happened to us that I cannot forbear recording it, although it is very probable that you will see me before these papers can come into your possession... Such is my journal of what relates to this strange occurrence up to the present day.
In a second narrative voice, Victor Frankenstein relates his fantastic story about the creation of a monster. Walton and the readers of the novel become aware of Victor’s ambition, which is summed up for the reader in chapter 2:
It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.
In the third narrative voice the author uses to spin her tale, the monster reveals his feelings to Victor. He tells of loneliness and his resentment toward humans who refuse to accept him:
I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me?
By choosing the technique of multiple narrators, Shelly infused areas of confusion into her novel. While her work is classic and one of the finest examples of the gothic genre, she does leave room for improvement in the area of narrative technique. Future authors favor singular narration.