Frankenstein Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss similarities between Frankenstein's monster and the text of the novel as a whole.

    Both the monster and the text of the novel are objects that have been created by salvaging older materials. In the case of the monster, Frankenstein built his body out of dead body parts; he also learned how to think, read, and speak from old literary texts. Similarly, the overall text is held together by references and allusions to various poems and literary works. As such, we see that both objects are something new that have been synthesized from a collection of old components.

  2. 2

    How might the novel be read as a commentary on scientific progress?

    Frankenstein, a young scientist filled with ambition, becomes obsessed with the possibility to create life -- something that science has yet to accomplish. Ultimately, he is able to do so; through this act, he achieves what we would typically conceive of as 'scientific progress', because he has expanded the scope of what science allows humanity to do. However, this act of 'progress' has almost entirely negative consequences: the monster subsumes the entirety of Frankenstein's life, murders innocents, and achieves no perceptible good for society. One might say, therefore, that the novel reflects a thesis that not all potential scientific advancements are progressive of necessity.

  3. 3

    What relation does the novel's alternate title, The Modern Prometheus, bear to the story?

    Frankenstein is a Promethean analogue: just as Prometheus stole fire from the gods, so too did Frankenstein 'steal' from the domain of nature by learning the secret to create life by himself. Just as the gods for this crime punished Prometheus, Frankenstein receives nothing but misery from his creation, and ultimately dies in an attempt to destroy what he made. In this way, Shelley's novel really is a modern retelling of the Prometheus myth.

  4. 4

    What does the novel gain from having so many levels of narration? Why do you suppose it might have been structured with so many embedded narratives?

    One noteworthy aspect that this structure affords the novel is that it adds to the parallelism between the monster and overall text. The novel is a patchwork of various perspectives and testimony, be they various narrators or the voices conveyed through various letters. This makes the overall narrative a dubious patchwork of the experiences of different people, similarly to the way in which the monster's body is literally composed of parts of many different deceased people.

    This structure also creates a deep sense of irony within the text. It is a text overtly concerned with scientific standards of proof; however, the multiple narrators and secondhand information directly undercut the degree to which the reader has grounds to believe the narrative. Like the moral sphere of the narrative's events, this is a puzzle that the novel compels the reader to resolve.

  5. 5

    Do you think that the monster has free will? Provide textual examples in support of your claim.

    [Multiple answers can be argued. This is merely one example.]

    Assuming the truth of Frankenstein's testimony, the monster does not have free will. Frankenstein says that "the stages of the discovery [with respect to learning how to give life to inanimate tissue] were distinct and probable," which implies that there was explicit scientific grounding for every aspect of the creation process (Volume I, Chapter 4). If we take this claim seriously, then we can plausibly infer that the underlying mechanisms of the monster's brain and body were entirely designed by Frankenstein -- whether or not Frankenstein was consciously aware of the ramifications of his design. With regards to the creatures mind, we know that the majority of his sentiments and schemas of thought were coopted from the three books by which he learned how to read -- Paradise Lost, Plutarch's Lives, and The Sorrows of Werter. We therefore have plausible grounds to claim that external forces ultimately determine all aspects of the monster’s behavior.