Key Plot Points
While we encourage your class to read Frankenstein in its entirety, we understand that time is a constraint. These key plot points will help guide you to the most salient parts of the novel.
Victor Frankenstein Is Found by Robert Walton’s Crew (Letters 1–4): The novel begins in epistolary form, narrated by explorer Robert Walton in four letters to his sister, Margaret Saville. Walton, who is sailing with a Russian crew to the North Pole, describes encountering the eccentric Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Nearly dead, Frankenstein begins to tell Walton his life story. The novel proceeds from Frankenstein’s point of view as his story begins.
Frankenstein Studies “Natural Philosophy” at Ingolstadt (Chapters 3–4): The novel’s emphasis on monstrosity and reanimation begins with Frankenstein’s growing passion for “natural philosophy.” Frankenstein, who enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Geneva, encounters death for the first time at age seventeen. His mother, a kind and compassionate woman, dies of scarlet fever right before he leaves for the university at Ingolstadt. As a university student, he becomes convinced that he can create a noble race and attempts to animate his own creature.
The Creature’s Animation (Chapter 5): After months of experimentation and preparation, Victor Frankenstein succeeds in sparking life out of a stitched-together assemblage of body parts. The monstrosity of Frankenstein’s creature showcases the novel’s underlying argument that nature is the most perfect force in the universe. Frankenstein violates the natural processes of life and death when he animates the creature, whose appearance is so horrifying and unnatural that Frankenstein promptly abandons it.
Death and Revenge Commence (Chapters 7–8): The creature, cognizant and crazed, escapes the laboratory and begins to wander the world in search of its maker. The novel’s major theme of revenge is revealed when the creature murders William, Frankenstein’s youngest brother, to punish Frankenstein for abandoning it. Frankenstein discovers the creature lingering at the site of William’s murder, but tells no one because he does not think anyone will believe he created a monster. Frankenstein, though overcome with guilt, refuses to take responsibility for violating the laws of nature. His silence leads to the wrongful execution of Justine Moritz, who is erroneously blamed for William’s murder.
The Creature Acquires Language (Chapters 11–16): The creature suffers as he navigates the world he does not understand. He spends months living in the mountains and observing the impoverished De Lacey family, anonymously gifting them firewood and being left books in return. Having learned to speak and read, the creature approaches them in hopes of companionship; horrified, they family drives him away and abandons their home. The creature’s surprising eloquence, combined with his tragic experience of repeated rejection on the basis of his appearance, underscores the novel’s concern with the consequences of social prejudice. The creature reveals himself to be capable of goodness, empathy, and intelligence. However, he is condemned to a life of isolation and rage because of humanity’s prejudice against him.
A Companion for the Creature (Chapter 20): The creature’s natural need for companionship introduces a major conflict in the novel: Frankenstein must repeat his unnatural animation experiment in order to make the creature happy, but a new creature— which would have free will of its own—might cause even more damage. Despite knowing that the creature will likely commit murder again, Frankenstein decides not to finish creating a mate for him. Instead, he destroys the new creature’s body before animating it.
The Creature Resolves to Seek Revenge...
(The entire section is 898 words.)