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Discussion Prompts for Frankenstein

We will spend five class meetings discussing Frankenstein. For each of these meetings, you should suggest prompts to guide our discussion from the List of Frankenstein Discussion Prompts .

Plot Summary

Walton's Early Letters:

Frankenstein begins in epistolary form, documenting the correspondence between Captain Robert Walton and his sister, Margaret Walton Saville. These letters form the framework of the story in which Walton tells his sister the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creature as Frankenstein tells it to him. Walton sets out to explore the North Pole and expand his scientific knowledge in hopes of achieving fame and friendship. Unfortunately, the ship becomes trapped in ice. One day, the crew observes a being in the stature of a giant man in the distance on a dogsled. Frankenstein was in pursuit of his monster, when all but one of his dogs from his dogsled died. He broke apart his dogsled to make oars to row an ice-raft toward the vessel. Hours later they find Frankenstein, weak and in need of sustenance, near the ship. Saved by the kind occupants of the ship, Frankenstein starts to recover from his exertion and recounts to Walton his story, warning Walton of the wretched effects of allowing one's ambition to push one to aim beyond what one is capable of achieving.

Victor's Narrative:

Victor Frankenstein begins by telling Walton of his childhood. Frankenstein was raised by a wealthy family, and was always encouraged to seek a greater understanding of the world around him (in science), whilst remaining in a safe environment surrounded by loving family and friends.

Frankenstein grew up with close ties to Elizabeth Lavenza, his orphaned "cousin" (it should be noted that she is of no direct family ties to Victor) brought to his family who is raised with Frankenstein like a sister, and his friend Henry Clerval. As a young boy, Frankenstein becomes obsessed with studying outdated theories of science that focus on achieving natural wonders. He plans to attend college at Ingolstadt, Germany when a week before departure his mother and sister, Elizabeth, become very ill with Scarlet Fever. Elizabeth recovers, but Victor's mother dies from the disease. The whole family is in grief, and Frankenstein views it as his first misfortune. At college, he excels at chemistry and other sciences and discovers the secret to imbuing the inanimate with life, in part by studying how life decays. He also becomes interested in galvanism, a technique discovered in the 1790s. Frankenstein didn't have many friends but the ones he did, he treated well.

In contrast with later film adaptations the monster in the original novel was not created from dead body parts. In fact Frankenstein himself concedes that he later found that reversing death was impossible. While the exact details of the monster's construction are left ambiguous Shelley's depiction of the monster is akin to that of a golem. Frankenstein explains that he has been forced to make the monster much larger than a normal man, in part because of the difficulty in replicating the minute parts of the human body. After giving the monster life, Frankenstein, disgusted by and fearful of the monster's appearance, flees. Henry Clerval comes to Ingolstadt to study with Frankenstein, but ends up nursing him after his exhausting and secretive efforts to create a human life. Frankenstein recovers from his illness in four months. He determines to come home, for his five-year-old brother William has been found murdered.

After several harsh encounters with humans, the monster becomes afraid of them and spends a year living near a cottage and observing the family who lived there. Through these observations he becomes educated and self-aware and realises that he is very different in physical appearance from the humans he watches. In loneliness, the monster seeks the friendship of the family of cottagers (the De Laceys). The family was previously wealthy, but is forced into exile when Felix De Lacey rescues the father of his love, Safie. The father, a Turkish merchant, was wrongfully accused of a crime and sentenced to death, obviously because of racism. When the man is rescued, he promises Felix that he may marry Safie. But, he loathes the idea of his beloved daughter marrying a Christian and flees. Safie comes back, though, eager for the freedom of European women. Eventually, the monster tries to befriend the family, but they are afraid of him, and this rejection makes him seek vengeance against his creator. He travels to Geneva and meets a little boy in the woods. In the vain hope that because the boy is still young and potentially unaffected by older humans' perception of his hideousness, the monster hopes to kidnap him and keep him as a companion, but the boy reveals himself as a relation of Frankenstein, so the monster kills him in his first act of vengeance against his creator. The monster plants a necklace he removes from the child's body on a sleeping girl, Justine Moritz, the Frankensteins' trusted servant who is like a member of the family. She is found with the necklace and despite knowing she is not guilty, admits to the murder. She then is put on trial and executed.

When Frankenstein learns of his brother's death, he returns to Geneva to be with his family. In the woods where his young brother is murdered, Frankenstein sees the monster and becomes sure that he is William's and Justine's murderer. Frankenstein, ravaged by his grief and guilt for creating the monster who wreaked so much destruction, retreats into the mountains alone to find peace. After a time in solitude, the monster approaches Frankenstein. Initially furious and intending to kill it, Frankenstein composes himself upon the monster's pleading. The monster delves into a lengthy narrative of his short life, beginning with his creation, which fashions an impression of him as an initially harmless innocent whom humans abused into wretchedness. He concludes his story with a demand that Frankenstein create for him a female counterpart, reasoning that no human will accept his existence and character due to his hideous outer appearance. He argues that as a living thing, he has a right to happiness and that Frankenstein, as his creator, has the duty to facilitate it. He promises to never reappear in his life if Frankenstein does so.

Frankenstein, fearing for his family, reluctantly agrees and travels to England to do his work. Clerval accompanies Frankenstein, but they separate in Scotland. In the process of creating a second being on the Orkney Islands, Frankenstein becomes plagued by the notion of the carnage another monster could wreak and destroys the unfinished project. The monster vows revenge on Frankenstein's upcoming wedding night. Before Frankenstein returns to Ireland, the monster murders Clerval. Once arriving in Ireland, Frankenstein is imprisoned for the crime, and falls violently ill. After being acquitted and back to health, Frankenstein returns home.

Once home, Frankenstein marries his cousin Elizabeth and, in full knowledge of and belief in the monster's threat, prepares for a fight to the death with the monster. He doesn't want Elizabeth to be frightened at the sight of the monster, so he asks her to stay in her room for the night. Instead, the monster kills Elizabeth; the grief of his wife's, William's, Justine's, Clerval's, and Elizabeth's deaths kills Frankenstein's father. After that, Frankenstein vows to pursue the monster until one destroys the other. Over months of pursuit, the two end up in the Arctic Circle near the North Pole. [edit] Walton's later writings

Here, Frankenstein's narrative ends and Captain Walton reassumes the telling of the story. A few days after Frankenstein finishes his story, Walton and his crew decide to turn back and go home, since they cannot break through the ice. As Frankenstein dies, the monster appears in his room. Walton hears the monster's adamant justification for his vengeance as well as expressions of remorse before he leaves the ship and travels toward the Pole to destroy himself on his own funeral pyre so that no others will ever know of his existence.

Tropes and Trope Intersections Appearing in this Work

  • Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a prominent feminist of the time. She wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women and had a huge impact on Shelley. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, she addresses Women's Work. In the novel, the women are very passive. They do not seem to have a voice of their own; they are dependent on the men in their lives and seem to have no control. For example, Justine dies due to a murder that she does not commit. It seems as if she has no defense against her execution. Her destiny is already decided. The men however play active roles in their destiny. They go to college to study and have careers. The women, however, are expected to stay home and take on the traditional roles as mother and homemaker. Shelley criticizes this role of the woman by showing how it eventually leads to heartbreak and death. The women are too emotional and irrational to defend themselves from their own demise.
  • We can also see the aforementioned claim of passive women from Elizabeth. She was forcibly set to wait for Victor's return for marriage as if it is her responsibility. And, despite eventually reuniting with Victor, she is murdered by a monster. Just like Justine, Elizabeth is part of tragedy in the book, in that the innocent are punished.
  • On the contrary on the above point, Shelley depicts only SOME of the woman as passive. One character, the Arab Safie, does not follow this assumption. She rejects her father's demands on staying with the limitations of life in Constantinople. She took the initiative, struck out to enemies regardless of the uncertainty of the future, and followed no one but herself. Passive? I think not.
  • Victor Frankenstein's labors in the creation of the monster are a strange mixture of both pleasure and work/toil. "But my enthusiasm was checked by my anxiety, and I appeared rather like one doomed by slavery to toil in the mines, or any other unwholesome trade than an artist occupied by his favourite employment."[1]
  • “You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!” –The Monster[1]
Frankenstein provides a glimpse into a non-human dominated working relationship. The monster forces Victor to toil on the production of a female companion. This domination of the creator shows the very human fear of loss of power. This shows that the creator is chained and enslaved to his creation. Although victor is physically forced to work for his creation, it shows his hidden passion to see his creation complete. This allows him to become god and create a pair of superhuman creatures that can potentially reproduce. This will enable the pair to create a new race of superhuman creatures that will overpower and dominate the existing human population.
  • Mental and physical work are both heavily represented in Frankenstein. Frankenstein uses both mental and physical labor in the monster’s creation. When the monster and Frankenstein attempt to wreck the other’s existence they engage in a battle of wits and physiques that span the continent of Europe and the frozen seas of the North.

Connections to Later Media

  • This comic by XKCD: depicts a machine that, like Frankenstein, feels sorrow at being abandoned by its human creators. The machine is also compelled to impress its master despite neglect.
  • The general premise of the Frankenstein story has been used over the years to convey the current anxieties and fears of the societies and cultures reading it. For instance, the Boris Karloff, 1931, version of Frankenstein placed the monster in the realm of horror classic. [2]. Young Frankenstein, the 1974 Mel Brooks film, shows the monster searching for its own identity [3], a possible hearkening to the soul searching done by many teens and young adults during the Hippie era of the 1960s. Van Helsing [4], a 2004 film, shows Frankenstein’s monster in a sympathetic light as a creature whom is concerned with defining what it means to be human. This view of the monster speaks to our modern anxiety about how we define higher order life and intelligence.
  • The description of Frankenstein’s monster as a creature who was horrified by its own appearance and was made from parts stolen from corpses reanimated by a mysterious method in the dead of night is one that resonates with certain modern depictions of zombies.
  • The use of “franken” as a prefix has come to describe things created from many different parts, or something considered a monstrosity. For example the term “frankenfood” is used for genetically modified foods, and “Frankenstrat” Eddie Van Halen’s guitar creation. [5]

Writing Styles

Use of multiple viewpoints

Frankenstein is written from several different points of view and these all serve to create a sense of depth and complexity to the story. As the views switch from that of Walton, to Frankenstein, and to the monster the reader is shown just how there are many different possible views and interpretations on the events have transpired. Viewed in one light, Frankenstein shows the Monster as wicked a blood-thirsty, while in the other light the Monster reveals himself to be misunderstood and scorned throughout his existence. These differing views create a much more realistic story in which no one person or thing is completely right or completely wrong

Use of different modes of narration

The novel also switches modes of narration. The novel opens in letters, read from the third person as an observer. This later to shifts to the first person narration of Frankenstein and then to the narration of the monster. Also seen is the use of flashbacks, which when coupled with how events in the story line up further helps establish the "cloud of mixed feelings" that reveals how in one perspective the monsters action are barbaric while in another they are justified. The use of the different narrators ask the readers to question whom they trust and how the information given to them can be trusted. Each narrator shares their own story with their own opinions.


John Hampden

When touring Oxford, Frankenstein mentions visiting “the tomb of the illustrious Hampden, and the field on which that patriot fell.”[1] John Hampden was an English Politian and revolutionary. Hampden died fighting in the English Civil War. He recieved a severe shoulder injury during a battle at Chalgrove Field. He survived six more days and then died in Thame.[6]

"Ancient Mariner," Coleridge

“Like one who, on a lonely road,
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And, having once turned round, walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.”[1]

This references Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and is placed in the prose shortly after Frankenstein first awakens his monster as a self-description. The poem details seaman’s journey to the arctic. Ironically, the format, a frame story, is very similar to that of “Frankenstein.”[7]

The poem shows the consequences of ones actions. The mariner is forced to travel and tell his story to everyone he meets. The Mariner is subject to punishment for killing the albatross, which is considered bad luck. He has to wear the albatross around his neck as a result. Perhaps this is a symbol in Frankenstein, the monster is like the albatross for the doctor. He is constantly plaguing the doctor and is the reason for his misfortune and terrible terrible life from then on. The monster is like hte albatross around the neck of hte mariner, reminding him of his folly and bad judgment and actions.


Galvanism is generally thought to be the method by which Frankenstein animates his monster. This view is especially prevalent in Hollywood representations of the Frankenstein story, i.e. the good doctor raises his monster on a giant platform during a stormy night and the surge of electric power supplied by the storm animates the monster.

Ingolstadt and the Illuminati

Frankenstein goes to Ingolstadt to be enlightened with the knowledge of the age. This may be a possible allusion to the Illuminati, or enlightened, an order of scholars who were based in Ingolstadt.

The Ancient World

At the end of Chapter 4, Victor compares the disturbances to his “domestic affections”[1] to various traumatic man-made historical events including the Greco-Persian conflict, the rise of Caesar, and the discovery of the Americas with the resultant downfall of the Aztec and Incan Empires.


Prometheus is a Titan in Greek mythology. He is attributed with creating mankind, and stealing fire from the gods, giving it to man. The other gods didn't like Prometheus after he stole their fire, and was punished severely. The Greek gods were very human in their personalities and interactions, as opposed to other religions whose deities are dissimilar to humans.

Victor Frankenstein's story runs parallel to Prometheus, in that he created a new form of life. Unlike Prometheus, Victor is not particularly fond of his creation. Victor's confrontation by an angry mob later in the story is symbolic of the Greek pantheon confronting Prometheus. Prometheus is thus sentenced to spend a life time chained to a rock while an eagle pecks out and eats his liver every day (it regrows every night because of his immortality), which can be compared to the gnawing anxiety felt by Victor and his regret of his creation.

Paradise Lost by John Milton

In Chapter 15, the monster tells Frankenstein that he found copies of Milton’s Paradise Lost, a “volume of Plutarch’s Lives," and the Sorrows of Young Werter in the woods near the De Lacy home.[1] Paradise Lost tells the story of the fall of Man from God’s grace from angelic, demonic, and human perspectives. However, the monster, who, like Adam, is the first of his kind finds more in common with Satan the chief antagonist of the poem. The monster says, “Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition, for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me.”[1]

Plutarch’s Lives

In Chapter 15, the monster tells Frankenstein that he found copies of Milton’s Paradise Lost, a “volume of Plutarch’s Lives," and the Sorrows of Young Werter in the woods near the De Lacy home.[1] Plutarch’s Lives, also known as the Parallel Lives, is a series of biographies about various Greeks and Romans written in the 1st Century A.D. In one of those biographies, the Life of Alexander, Plutarch states:

“It being my purpose to write the lives of Alexander the king, and of Caesar, by whom Pompey :was destroyed, the multitude of their great actions affords so large a field that I were to :blame if I should not by way of apology forewarn my reader that I have chosen rather to :epitomize the most celebrated parts of their story, than to insist at large on every :particular circumstance of it. [8]

A reading of this passage is that Plutarch is choosing to focus on the character traits of Caesar and Alexander that influenced the great events in their lives. The monster suggests that Lives influenced his feelings of morality. The monster says, “but Plutarch taught me high thought[1] ” when he compares the affects of Lives to the affects of the Sorrows of Young Werter on his person. When the monster explores the affects of Lives in more detail he says that he “felt the greatest ardour for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice”[1] after reading about the men Plutarch portrayed.

Sorrows of Young Werter by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In Chapter 15, the monster tells Frankenstein that he found copies of Milton’s Paradise Lost, a “volume of Plutarch’s Lives," and the Sorrows of Young Werter in the woods near the De Lacy home.[1] The Sorrows of Young Werter, from the German Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers, was published in Leipzig in 1774. The Sorrows of Young Werter is a book composed of a series of letters from a young student named Werter who falls desperately in love with a female character named Lotte. Eventually, Werter suicides.[9] The monster read this novel and found it to be “a never-ending source of speculation and astonishment.”[1] He revels at the depth of Werter’s character, and although he doesn’t understand why, the monster emphasizes with the protagonist.

“Mutability” by Percy Shelley

When the monster is explaining the affect on his character of the three books he found to Victor, the monster tells Victor, “the path of my departure was free.”[1] This is from the poem “Mutability” by Shelley’s husband Percy [9].

Mutability by: Percy Bysshe Shelley

We are the clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly!--yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost forever:
Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.
We rest.--A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.--One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond foe, or cast our cares away:
It is the same!--For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability. [10]

Historical Influences


Ingolstadt, the town where Frankenstein attends university, is the home of the historically verifiable chapter of the Illuminati, or enlightened. The Illuminati is now a favored target of modern conspiracy theorists because of its history as a secret society. The Ingolstadt Illuminati, also known as the Bavarian Illuminati, existed from 1776 to 1784.[11]

Luigi Galvani

Luigi Galvani was born on September 9, 1737 in Bologna Italy. He is a notable scientist who discovered that electricity is a vital force of life. He deduced this after experiments involving running electrical current through dead frogs. The dead frogs convulsed whenever the current was run.[12]


Education Leading to Pain

Pleasure before Education vs. Pain after Education.

Frankenstein had much pleasure with his family initially, almost an ethereal joy (mainly with his sister, Elizabeth, and his friend, Clerval). However, when he goes to school and becomes erudite in "galvanism," he totally changes. This change eventually leads to his hapless situation with the creation of an uncontrollable monster. Similarly, when the monster was initially created "tabla rasa," he experienced joy in the natural wonders of the world (the trees, the people, etc.). However, when he becomes educated, he experiences incredible pain and grief because he discovers who and what he is (preconceived notions of beauty).

Sacrifice Leading to Change in Class Stratification

Frankenstein's father is initially rich and looked as if they he would retain his social rank. However, Frankenstein's father decides to marry one of his good friend's daughters because his friend dies unexpectedly. This decision leads to Frankenstein's family to fall into a lower class. Similarly, the family (De Laceys) that Frankenstein's monster oversees in the woods was initially very wealthy until Felix decides to rescue the father of his love Safie from prison. From the plot summary, "The family was previously wealthy, but is forced into exile when Felix De Lacey rescues the father of his love, Safie. The father, a Turkish merchant, was wrongfully accused of a crime and sentenced to death. When the man is rescued, he promises Felix that he may marry Safie."

Isolation vs. Companionship

Throughout the story, Shelley makes sure to portray the positive aspects of family and friends, and the negativity of being alone. In the beginning of the book, we learn that the captain is making his way on a journey. On the ship however, he has no one to converse with or relate to besides his sister through letters every couple months. For this reason, he feels very alone and friendless. The biggest example of this motif though is the monster. He travels alone all the time and everyone he "meets" shuns, is overly frightened by, or tries to attack him. Thus, he is confined to spend every day without company, and he hates himself and the world for his isolation. The monster goes so far as to blame his vices on loneliness and lack of sympathy. The monster initially describes Felix as the saddest of his Protectors, as having "suffered more deeply than his friends". At the time, the monster can discern any particular reason why Felix acted thus. Later,the appearance of Saife completely alters Felix's manner: "every trait of sorrow vanished from his face, and it instantly expressed a degree of ecstatic joy". The physical companionship provided by Saife completely altered the cottagers. This stresses the benefits of friendship while silently critiquing the lack of romantic relations. Finally, Frankenstein himself is only truly pushed over the edge of misery when the last of his close friends (Elizabeth) dies, making him truly isolated. Before this, he always had someone close to him he could go back and relate with, and that allowed him to experience some sense of happiness in companionship.


Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as a criticism of passion. She used passionate characters to reveal the dark side of passion. In the novel, Victor Frankenstein, the monster, and Robert Walton all suffer due to their frivolous passion. In Frankenstein’s case, he follows his passion for knowledge and mysterious science and is punished for doing so. Due to his obsessive, passionate nature, he devotes all of his time for several months to create his monster. He rarely eats, sleeps, or leaves his laboratory. Another example of Frankenstein’s tendency to throw logic out the window is when he flees his creation. At this point, Victor Frankenstein is so afraid of what he has created that he cannot even face it.  When asked to create a companion for his monster, he seems to use logic to decide that the creation of a second monster is too much risk, even if it means that his first creation will continue to wreak havoc. Mary Shelley implies that if he had continued to act on passion and create the second creature, the damage he had caused would have continued to multiply. The anger and loneliness that the monster feels as a result of his abandonment creates a strong emotional drive against Frankenstein.  His passion for revenge drives him to murder Frankenstein’s younger brother and his new wife. The monster’s passion contributed to his solitude and misery. Similarly to Frankenstein, Robert Walton realizes the tragedy that his passion could cause and ends his trip to the arctic before the entire voyage is doomed. In this example, Shelley shows that logic is safer than passion. Throughout Frankenstein, She tries to show how passion can drive people to insanity, ruin their lives, and completely consume their minds. Acting upon ones passions is often associated with courage; Shelley clearly disagreed with this idea. She portrayed the passionate characters in her novel as thoughtless cowards. The novel was written to show how passion can be detrimental.


The story of Frankenstein is a series of stories with in stories with in letters. This format calls into question the accuracy of the information presented and therefore the reliability of the speaker. Robert Walton composes the entire text as letters to his sister. Within that text is the Victor Frankenstein’s narration of his entire life. Within that narrative, is the monster’s recounting of his entire life up to that point. The monster’s story includes the history of the cottagers. This retelling cast doubts on the impartiality all portions of the story. When viewed in this light, Frankenstein could be nothing more than the hallucination of Robert Walton, or any degree of fiction, intentional or not.

Nature is the root of all good

In tune with one of the ideals of the Romantic movement, nature is held in very high esteem throughout the novel. Consistently it is exposed as "glorious", "maternal", or "enchanting". All these positive words show just how nature is a source of goodness and joy. Further quotes exemplify this:

“My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature” (Shelley, 2005, p. 103)
“The very winds whispered in soothing accents, and maternal Nature bade me weep no more.” (Shelley, 2005, p. 83)


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Shelley, M. (1831). Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. London.
  2. Frankenstein (1931 Film). (2010, February 3). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 4, 2010, from
  3. Young Frankenstein. (2010, January 29). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 4, 2010, from
  4. Van Helsing (Film). (2010, February 4). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 4, 2010, from
  5. Frankenstein in Popular Culture. (2010, February 25). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 26, 2010,
  6. John Hampden. (2009, December 25). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 1, 2010, from
  7. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. (2010, January 26). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved January 27, 2010, from
  8. Gill, N.S. (n.d.). Plutarch Texts: Life of Alexander. Retrieved February 5, 2010, from
  9. 9.0 9.1 University of Pennsylvania English Department. (n.d.). Sorrows of Werter. Retrieved February 5, 2010, from
  10. Shelley P.B. (1824). Mutability. Retrieved February 5, 2010, from
  11. Illuminati. (2010, January 13). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved January 26, 2010, from
  12. Luigi Galvani. (2010, March 2). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from
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