There is this great post on tumblr, (and while I can’t seem to find it, it basically says this):
Being smart is knowing Frankenstein isn’t the monster.
Being wise is knowing Frankenstein is the monster.
Victor Frankenstein is fascinated by science. After extensive research, he discovers the secret to life, and constructs a humanoid body out of corpses, designed to be a perfect being.
But when the monster wakes up, Frankenstein is horrified and runs away. The monster escapes and discovers the world, only to find that he is alone. He demands Frankenstein build him a partner, but Frankenstein destroys the female in fear. The monster then vows vengeance on his creator, making sure Victor will understand the despair he’s experienced.
Where to begin with this book? It just covers so much in such little space.
The plot is one of genius, and it’s amazing to think that teenage Mary Shelley thought it (most) up for a story-telling contest during her vacation in Geneva.
First thing’s first: this story is a frame story, which means there’s a whole lot of skepticism at to whether or not any of this is true. Is Victor telling the truth? is Walton telling the truth? What if Walton made everything up? The air of ambiguity doesn’t tear from the story though, because you learn soon enough that it doesn’t matter if it was real, it matters that it happened.
Second, it’s just so well pieced together. Sure, there are parts where you think, “Really? How convenient is that?” But when you look back at the story, it seems almost fated that the lives of Victor and the monster are twisted together, as if the creator and the created are irreversibly tied together. My favourite part has to be when the monster tells his story, because understanding sensations that seem so mundane to us put a new perspective of what it means to be.
I can’t say too much of the plot without spoiling, so I’ll move on to the characters.
Victor Frankenstein is the most pretentious, arrogant, ambitious, selfish douche in literature. He’s also a genius. And stubbornly static in terms of character development. You can’t really admire the guy, since he broke laws of nature, morality, religion, and so forth, but on some levels you can identify and sympathize with him. As his loved ones fall around him, you do feel bad for him. And who hasn’t wanted something so bad, they didn’t care about the consequences, at least to some extent?
For example, there’s Walton, the first layer of the frame story. He’s the narrator who’s main character trait is that he’s just as ambitious as Frankenstein was, hoping to explore the Arctic Circle, which is where he finds Victor.
The side characters are pretty static—almost interchangeable by name. Victor’s friends and family—Clerval, Elizabeth, his father—all share similar sentiments towards him and most of what we know is that they worry about him constantly. All the female characters are pretty much sticks, and men don’t amount to much either.
The monster, though, is the most complex character, and the best to analyze. Is he human? Is he something else? Is he intrinsically evil? The struggles of puzzling this out for both the monster and the reader make it easy to identify with him.
And that’s what makes this book so great: there is the constant question of “Who’s responsible for this?”
Is it Frankenstein’s fault that his family is murdered? Is it the monster’s because he’s technically a sentient being? Is society wrong by excluding the monster based on mere appearances? Is science wrong for making discoveries?
Shelley weaves these questions so subtly into the plot, that you know they are there without having them shoved in your face. And the answers to these questions aren’t black and white (though Victor, stubbornly, thinks that they are). In the end though, the answer seems to be morality. Science is good, when it stays within moral limits. The monster becomes a monster when he kills intentionally. Victor is cruel, because he does not act like the creator he is supposed to.
The answer, of course, isn’t that simple, and I could go on and on about this novel for (probably) ever.
Recommendation: Bookmarked For Life. I adore Frankenstein. Read it, and wonder what constitutes a human.