The novel Frankenstein is a gothic horror story and was written by Mary Shelley in 1816, based on a nightmare she had while on holiday in Geneva. It was influenced by the social and historical events that were happening during the period in which it is written. It also draws heavily on events that had occurred in her past and were happening in her life at the time of writing the novel. Her mother died in childbirth so she grew up without a maternal influence, and her father was either absent from her life or was often surrounded by his friends, so she did not have ideal parental figures to look up to.
Similarly, in the story the monster has no mother as he was man-made, and his ‘father figure’, Victor, who is his creator, rejects him when he realises what he has done. When Shelley wrote the novel she was only eighteen and had already suffered many deaths in her family. Her half sister had committed suicide and she had lost a baby just before she wrote the novel. She was very depressed after these events and we can see how this could have influenced the way in which she wrote the novel and the events which happened to the monster, which are mainly bad experiences.
The monster is also portrayed as being depressed in the story, as he feels that he has nothing of any value in his life and no friends or family to turn to. Shelly uses the emotions of grief and sadness throughout the book, reflecting her own feelings at the time she wrote it. The book was written at a time of great change. New technological and scientific things were being discovered very rapidly and scientific theories were gradually replacing the ideas held in the past that religious beliefs were more important than anything.
Dr Lind, a famous scientist of the period, discovered that he could create movement in dead frogs by passing electric currents through them. Shelly thought that the ability to bring humans back to life would eventually follow and she saw this as playing God. Shelly felt that if people use science to bring the dead back to life, only bad things will result, and this is portrayed in the novel as the monster has many bad experiences. Frankenstein is the story of how Victor came to create the ‘monster’, who is not given a name.
From his initial experiments with dead creatures, which he finds fascinating, he goes on to form the monster from dead body parts. After the monster is brought to life, it is portrayed as being grotesque, and Victor is horrified with the result of his experiments. The reader feels Victor’s disgust, and this initially shapes our own feelings towards the monster. In chapters 11 to 16 of the book we hear the monster’s story in his own words of what happened to him after Victor rejected him and he was left to fend for himself.
For the first time the reader feels what the monster has gone through and begins to feel differently towards him. At the beginning of chapter 11 the reader finds the monster trying to make some sense of the world into which he has been forced to live. The chapter describes vividly the sensations he feels – heat, cold, hunger and thirst – and how he attempts to cope with them. At this stage the reader feels very sorry for the monster and the situation he finds himself in.
His lack of knowledge makes him appear very innocent and vulnerable, and the reader is surprised when the monster begins to learn and make sense of his experiences. “I found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it. In my joy I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain. ” But also the reader feels sympathy for the monster because he is like a lost and vulnerable child. “I was a poor miserable wretch.
” Shelley is portraying him as a child-like, simple being who accepts the world around him and does not at the moment realise that there are great differences in society in terms of class and wealth. Later on in the chapter the monster learns that ordinary people reject him because of the way he looks, when he is discovered attempting to get food and shelter by entering a peasant’s cottage, and reacted to with horror. “The whole was roused; some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stone and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country.