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Term Definition

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (the wife of the famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley) creates the now-classic story of a scientist who, out of pride and hubris, decides to create a living being: the Frankenstein Monster. The Monster, however, turns out to be much of a monster. He is in fact a sensitive and refined soul who is continually misunderstood because of his physical appearance. There is thus a sense of tragedy that permeates the whole work. 

Introducing Frankenstein’s Monster

Frankenstein is a Gothic horror novel by English writer Mary Shelley (1797-1851). Written in epistolary form, the novel was first published in 1818 without credit and reprinted five years later under the author's name. Set sometime in the 18th century, the story recounts an artificial-life experiment gone horribly awry. 

Victor Frankenstein is a young Italian science prodigy who develops a life-creation technique while studying in Germany. Setting out to create a living person, he miscalculates the measurements of the human body and ends up giving life to an eight-foot, yellow-skinned monster. Visually repulsed and traumatized by his creation, the doctor flees. Dejected, the monster also disappears. 

Four months later, Victor returns home, only to find his brother slain and the family nanny falsely accused  and hung for the crime. Suspicious, Victor is confronted by his creation at a mountain retreat, where he learns of the monster's newfound speaking skills, as well as the destruction left in its path. The monster demands that Victor make a companion. 

Victor complies, but abandons the idea at the last minute. In retaliation, the monster kills a friend of Victor, who gets blamed for the crime. After his release, Victor sets off to marry his beloved Elizabeth, but the monster appears and claims her life before fleeing to the North Pole. 

Seeking revenge, Victor sleds up north, but nearly freezes in the Arctic cold. He's rescued by Captain Waldon, who learns of Victor's story before the latter's passing. The monster appears, mourns its creator, and departs on an ice raft; leaving humanity for good.

The Monster’s Pursuit of Knowledge

Two of the primary themes of Frankenstein are dangerous pursuits of knowledge and the consequences that ensue from such goals. Victor aims to break new ground in the realm of science by creating the world's first artificial life form. He succeeds, only to lose all the people and things that are dear to him as a consequence. Captain Waldon, meanwhile, aspires to be the first person to reach the North Pole. When the Captain's ship gets caught in ice, he realizes that the trip can go no further, and so he turns around for the wellbeing of his crew. Having learned of all that Victor has suffered, the Captain takes it as a cautionary tale about the destructive effects of dangerous knowledge pursuits.

The novel is also dominated by the theme of monstrosity, in terms of the creature's repulsive appearance, as well as the unnatural method in which it's made. Indeed, the monster is frightening and every bit as dangerous as it looks. However, some of its worst actions are provoked by rejection from humans. 

The real fault, of course, lies on the creator, Victor Frankenstein, who assembles the monster from a variety of stolen body parts. In a sense, Victor is a monster, because he pursues his mad experiment beyond the bounds of science, and carries on with a zeal and secrecy that alienate him from the rest of the world.

Taking Frankenstein to the Stage

Shelley's novel was an instant success and the source of numerous theatrical adaptations in her lifetime. Despite this, Frankenstein was widely panned by critics up until the 20th century, when the story gained newfound popularity through a series motion picture adaptation. 

Silent actor Charles Ogle played a long-haired, hunchbacked version of the monster in a 16-minute short produced by Edison Studios in 1910. Most famously, the monster was rendered in its recognizable square-headed form by Boris Karloff in three features for Universal Studios: Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939). 

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