Shelley’s Frankenstein is commenting on the human condition, and exploring what exactly makes us human. Therefore many thematic ideas correspond with this exploration. In the first volume four prevalent themes are: love, creation, education, and deceit. All defining aspects of humanity.
The thematic idea of love appears very early in the novel, such as the heartfelt letters between a brother and sister, and the loving treatment Victor gets from his parents. However, sorrow soon follows Victor’s idyllic childhood, as illness befalls his mother and takes her life. This is the first of many deaths, as Victor himself reveals to the reader, affirming that William and Justine are the
“first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts” (90).
These events along with others in the novel reveal the idea that life is full of suffering and that suffering is a part of the human condition.
Education, which is a defining aspect of humanity, appears in Frankenstein, as Victor becomes fully engulfed in his studies and thoroughly enjoys it. Victor describes his enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge by expressing
“that the stars often disappeared in the light of morning whilst I was yet engaged in my laboratory” (51).
Education also relates to humans’ thirst for knowledge and the great lengths and boundaries they surpass to reach it. In Victor’s case, his curiosity in the natural sciences leads him on his dangerous quest to unveil the secret of life and to create his own living being. Like the Mariner in Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Victor violates the laws of nature and those around him suffer for his dangerous ambitions.
Creation of many forms appears throughout the novel. A few forms of creation include art and literature. For example, Victor observes that Elizabeth,
“busied herself in following the aërial creations of poets” (38).
Creation also appears in the formation of Frankenstein’s creature. The novel indicates that humans pursue what they find beautiful, and once Victor finds his creature to be ugly, he immediately abandons him. Creation relates to the epigraph as well, as it is a creature rhetorically asking: Did I ask to be made? This provides foreshadow and contradicts Victor, as he thought,
“A new species would bless me as its creator and source” (55).
In fact, the epigraph provides foreshadow that the creature would not “bless” Victor as its creator, but rather question the consequences of his existence.
The mention of clay references the story about Prometheus, as well as the novel’s subtitle: The Modern Prometheus. This in itself is a foreshadow, as Prometheus’s creation of mankind leads to his downfall and suffering. As we can already see, Victor’s creation could lead to a similar fate.
Deceit is prevalent in the first volume, as Victor hides his studies and feelings from his friends and family. This later proves to be a fatal flaw.
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