What are some recurring symbols in Frankenstein?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A recurring idea in Frankenstein is the abuse of human knowledge. Knowledge, particularly scientific knowledge, can be used for the benefit of humanity. (Think of all the ways that science has improved our lives: clean water, modern medicine, the eradication of deadly diseases.) But it can also be used for dangerous ends (such as the manufacture of nuclear weapons.)

Victor Frankenstein's crazy experiments definitely fall into the latter category. When he created his monster, he wasn't thinking about benefiting humanity; he was thinking only of himself. He wanted to create a race of creatures who would bow down before him like a god.

But Victor's plans go disastrously wrong right from the off as his monster breaks his programming and starts going around killing people. He also defies his master and makes increasingly shrill demands of him. Almost everything bad that happens in the story is an example of the misuse of science, one of the most important recurring ideas in the book.

In the story, the monster begins to identify with Adam, our original ancestor according to the Genesis creation myth. The monster as Adam symbolizes both creation and the dual nature of man. Adam was created as an innocent creature but then defied God by eating of the Tree of Knowledge, thus introducing sin and death into the world.

The monster, too, was innocent when created but quickly lapsed into sin when he started killing people. Although the monster is a hideous creature that frightens everyone who lays eyes on him, in his dual nature he strongly resembles Adam and every subsequent human being.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are some important symbols in Frankenstein?

Nature is an important symbol of the power that Frankenstein wishes to harness in order to create his race of monsters. Like the good Romantic he is, Victor is positively mesmerized by the forces of nature, as can be seen in the remarkable passage where he goes into raptures over the play of lightning on the summit of Mont Blanc. For the Romantics, nature was not just something pretty to look at; it was a powerful life-force in its own right.

As well as providing an endless source of wonder, the natural world managed to combine both beauty and terror, invoking a feeling of the sublime deep within the Romantic soul. That's precisely what Victor feels when he beholds the astonishing scene on Mont Blanc. And it's that same feeling that he wishes to evoke in others through his creation of a new race. He wants the whole of humanity to be as overawed by him and his creatures as he is by the play of lightning about the mountaintop.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are some important symbols in Frankenstein?

There are a couple important symbols in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.


Light is a symbol which represents knowledge. For the two main characters in the text, Victor and the creature, knowledge is of the utmost importance. Both desire to shed light upon their lives. Victor's search for Forbidden Knowledge will shed light on the scientific community regarding death and reanimation. As for the creature, his desire for knowledge revolves around his need to find his identity. At the same time, light tends to hurt the eyes of the creature (in the same way his knowledge of his birth hurts him).


The symbol of fire is important for the creature. When cold, fire is able to warm a person. When the creature first discovers fire, he places his hand within the flame and is burned. This is ironic, given he needs to fire to stay warm. At the same time, this symbol mirrors the symbol of light: what the creature desires harms him.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on