Frankenstein (Film) Literary Elements

Frankenstein (Film) Literary Elements


James Whale

Leading Actors/Actresses

Colin Clive/Boris Karloff

Supporting Actors/Actresses

/Mae Clarke/Dwight Frye






National Film Registry by National Film Preservation Board, USA 1991; Online Film and Television Association Hall of Fame 2011

Date of Release

November 21, 1931


Carl Laemmle, Jr.

Setting and Context

1931: An unidentified small middle European village; Frankenstein's ancestral castle; Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory; a graveyard; an old mill.

Narrator and Point of View

Opening introduction actor Edward Van Sloan presenting a warning in the name of the producers to potential viewers who may be shocked or horrified by what they about to be see. The narrative is objectively told through the limited perspective of various characters including, but not limited to, Dr. Frankenstein, his assistant Fritz, the Creature and the grieving father of Maria, the little girl the Creature accidentally kills by throwing into the lake.

Tone and Mood

Subtle dread and intensifying horror mixed with philosophical warnings against man delving into the science that tampers with God's domain.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Dr. Frankenstein. Antagonist: The Creature.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is actually the one that pits Dr. Frankenstein against himself for having created a Monster seemingly capable of heinous crimes rather than a resurrecting at the very least a normal, average human being.


The film climaxes with the villagers pursuing both Frankenstein and his Creature to the mill which they burn down and from which the Creature apparently falls to his death. A sequel reveal the Creature actually managed to survive.


Pathetic little Fritz's success in instilling fear and anxiety in the clearly more physically intimidating Creature by taunting him with a lit torch foreshadows the means by which the paranoid and otherwise powerless villagers manage to (seemingly) fatally trap the Creature on the burning mill.


The Creature's reaction to the warmth provided by his first encounter with sunlight since become a stone cold corpse is a masterpiece of ironic understatement paired to the overstated manner in which Fritz creates a sense of ethical confusion in the mind of the Creature over the issue of whether fire is good or bad.

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

While not innovative in the sense of having been created from nothing, James Whale's direction of Frankenstein is innovative in the sense of learning from the films made by the German Expressionists and transferring them to a genre most ideally suited. The sets featuring high ceilings, offbeat camera angles and generally otherworldly atmosphere inside the Doctor's laboratory and in any scene involving the Creature not only paid respected tribute to what came before, but was deeply influential in creating what would become the dominant look of Universal's series of monster movies for the next two decades.


The entire mood and atmosphere of the scenic design of the film is a broad allusion to German Expressionism.


The single greatest paradox in Frankenstein is that villagers almost certainly enact far greater wrath upon their village by burning down their own mill, thus bringing on economic damage and all in the pursuit of what they suspect is a child murderer, but who in reality was not even attempting to hurt the little girl.


The story of the Creature can be interpreted as a parallel to the story of Jesus. He is given life a Godlike creature, he is resurrected, his demonstration of peace, love and compassion gets him targeted for persecution and, of course, the alert viewer cannot fail to recognize that Christian iconography permeates throughout the narrative, especially in the form of crosses which pop up everywhere.

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