‘Theme’ is a central idea present in a literary piece. It serves as an essential ingredient that makes a story appealing and persuasive. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley has various themes woven together to complete a narrative which teaches value, warns of possible consequences of abusing science or intelligence, highlights a futuristic outlook. Some of the overarching themes of the novel are given below.
Themes in Frankenstein
The theme of creation is at the center of the novel, Frankenstein. The story shows how Victor creates a monster and instills life in it after gaining scientific knowledge of life at Ingolstadt. Victor plays God or pretends to become one to create life. His ambition of creating life and emulating his own creation fails. The creature, he has created, forces him to create a companion. When Victor denies he turns into a real monster. In other words, Victor’s secret toil, as Mary Shelley had stated, was an unnatural and irreligious act which costs him dearly. The theme also signifies that interrupting natural order may cost lives and sanity and it is important to stay within boundaries.
Although depicted at the secondary level, the novel also explores the theme of alienation. It might be possible that Victor creates the monster to end his isolation. However, in the process of doing an unnatural thing, he creates a creature, who is also his enemy. The creature, who is innocent feels alienated. Hence, he asks for a companion. When humans hate him for the way he looks, he begins to kill to persuade his creator, Victor Frankenstein. Another alienation is of Robert Walton who seeks his sister’s love and writes her letters. Victor, too, seeks Elizabeth’s and his family members’ love as he alienates from them and immerses in the world of science.
Although several characters are trying to align themselves with one another. For instance, Robert Walton with his sister through letters and Victor Frankenstein with his family, they feel quite isolated from the world. Victor is engaged in his experiments, and Robert Walton goes on expeditions, where he meets Victor. In the same way, the creature, Frankenstein’s Monster tries to seek the companionship of the poor family to end its isolation.
Mary Shelley has very beautifully woven the idea of the crossing limits in this novel. Through Victor Frankenstein, she explains that humans have certain limits despite grand ambitions. When these limits are crossed, the natural order is destroyed. This interruption rebounds when the limits are crossed. Victor’s attention to Waldman’s lectures and his obsession with the idea of creating a new life is equated to the crossing of boundaries set by nature. Victor eventually pays the price as he loses his family members and friends until he dies while chasing the Creature.
Under the overarching theme of creation, the theme of ambition also runs parallel in the novel. Although since the ancient period, ambition is associated with negative passion, here Victor’s ambition leads him to create a human deemed as a monster physically. It proves that ambition is not good when it comes to unnatural directions. The creation of a new life defying the natural order of life and death is clearly an incorrect ambition. Later, it proves to be fatal when the Creature begins to kill Victor’s closest family and friends.
Another secondary theme in Frankenstein is an injustice. Mary Shelley has demonstrated this theme in two ways. The first is Justine’s trial in the court on the accusations of murdering William. The court awards her death sentence even though Victor has clear hints of the creature having killed William and Justine was framed for the murder. The second example of injustice is when the Creature request for a companion Victor denies. The Creature was helpless and innocent turns into a killer.
The novel, Frankenstein, highlights the theme of individual responsibility as well as social responsibility. Victor’s ambitious project of the creation of a new life reflects the lack of realization of the individual responsibility and the lack of government control. Victor does not show any fear in creating a new life and playing with the laws of nature until it takes the lives of several of his family members. Justine’s death signifies that entire the judicial process lacks responsibility when they punish an innocent. In other words, individuals and society often fail to respond to their duties and responsibilities toward the family and community.
Although this is not an explicit theme, the theme of natural laws is implicitly put into the mouth of characters and the narrator in Frankenstein. Natural laws keep the balance of life on this earth. ‘Life and death’ cycle is a natural law. However, when Victor Frankenstein uses science to create life using dead human organs and chemicals, he violates the natural law of life and death. The result is the birth of innocent yet monstrous creature who turns violent when his needs aren’t met.
The parental responsibility is another theme apparent in the upbringing of Victor Frankenstein. His father, Alphonse Frankenstein, has done his best to educate him in the top university Ingolstadt to study science. Victor whole-heartedly completes his education which shows his good upbringing. However, when Victor creates the Creature, he forgets to give this monster the moral and social education about how to live and behave in a society. In other words, he forgets his parental responsibility towards his creation.
One of the secondary themes that stay in the background is the theme of revenge. Victor Frankenstein creates the monster but stops short of creating its companion which leads the Creature to take revenge on him. The Creature kills his family members to make him realize the pain of loneliness. In the same way, Victor runs after the monster to exact revenge of his family members but dies during the chase.