Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein as Character Foils: Compare and contrast the character traits of Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein. While both men are ambitious, Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with his goals. Ultimately, his ambition leads to disaster for himself and his loved ones. Conversely, Robert Walton decides to give up his quest to the North Pole in order to preserve both his life and the lives of his crew.
- For discussion: Follow Walton’s and Frankenstein’s predominant character traits as they develop throughout the novel, especially in relation to the context of the plot. How does each character respond to danger and discouragement? How does each change?
- For discussion: At the end of the novel, what do Walton’s and Frankenstein’s actions suggest about ambition and exploration? Do you think there is an intended moral? Explain your thinking.
Scientific Exploration as a Theme: The majority of the novel’s conflicts are driven by Victor Frankenstein’s obsessive search for the origins of life. His curiosity and self-directed scientific studies spiral out of control, leading to isolation, deteriorating health, and destruction.
- For discussion: What evidence can you find of the novel’s repeated warnings that scientific knowledge can be dangerous and destructive? What does this evidence suggest about educational discipline versus limitless exploration and experimentation?
- For discussion: Why would a work of Romantic literature offer criticisms of science? In what ways are the values of the Romanticism and the scientific Enlightenment at odds?
The Creature and Victor Frankenstein as Character Foils: Throughout the novel, Victor Frankenstein is frequently depicted as dark, mysterious, and passionate—classic traits of a Byronic hero. Though Henry Clerval is most often considered to be his foil, the creature contrasts with Frankenstein’s character in ways that emphasize his arrogance and selfishness. While the creature is in search for belongingness and love, Frankenstein abandons his friends and family, shunning the basic human need for love in favor of self-serving intellectual pursuits. Discuss with students the possibility that the creature is not villainous but in fact a foil who ultimately exposes Frankenstein as the true antagonist.
- For discussion: Though the creature becomes a murderer to retaliate against Frankenstein for abandoning him, Frankenstein repeatedly endangers the lives of his friends and family in order to accomplish his goals. Who do you sympathize with the most? Why? Who do you think is right? Use examples from the text, especially those that reveal Frankenstein’s or the monster’s character traits, to explain your answer.
- For discussion: The creature is widely considered to be the novel’s antagonist. However, many of his actions and feelings highlight his blamelessness, especially compared to Frankenstein’s selfish carelessness. Do you think the creature is actually an antagonist? If not, who do you think is the novel’s antagonist and who the hero? Give examples from the text to explain your answers.
The Creature as a Satanic Figure: The novel repeatedly draws a comparison between the creature and Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The creature even prefers Paradise Lost to all of the other texts he reads during his time with the De Laceys. He later tells Frankenstein that Satan is “the fitter emblem of my condition” than Adam. However, despite the creature’s criminality, he is often depicted as a tragic and blameless victim of Frankenstein’s irresponsible ambition.
- For discussion: Follow the creature’s predominant character traits throughout the course of the novel. What motivates his hatred of humanity? Why does he murder William and Elizabeth?
- For discussion: Is the creature’s desire for revenge evil? Why or why not? What evidence can you find to support your opinions?
The Responsibility of Creation as a Theme: The responsibility of creation is an important...
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