Themes and message


Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein contains a number of themes, which are all related to the novel’s message. We outline some of them here and also explaine the title.  


The full title of Mary Shelley’s novel is Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus. Many people mistakenly believe that the name Frankenstein refers to the monster. However, it is actually the name of the scientist who makes the creature, Victor Frankenstein. 

The fact that the name is often applied to the creature hints at the similarities between the two characters. It also underlines how we can’t really tell which is the protagonist and which the antagonist.

The second part of the title, The Modern Prometheus, refers to an Ancient Greek myth. Prometheus creates human beings from clay, and then steals fire from the gods to make humans more godlike. He is punished by the gods and condemned to eternal torture. 

The parallels with the story in Frankenstein are clear – both Frankenstein and Prometheus misguidedly believe that they can play God. When their plans go wrong, both are punished. 

The ethics of science

Frankenstein features a scientific experiment with catastrophic consequences. Therefore, the ethical responsibility of science is a key theme. The novel was written at a time when scientific discovery was booming, making many question the relationship between religion and science: If man now had the ability to play God and create life, what sort of ethical responsibility came with that privilege? 

There are several unethical elements about the way Victor Frankenstein goes about his scientific experiment. Like Walton, he appears to be motivated mainly by ambition and a desire for glory, which is rather selfish. He creates the creature from dead body parts which he finds in graves and slaughterhouses. This is illegal as well as unethical. 

Also, when Frankenstein turns out to be horrified at his creation, he does not take responsibility for it. He flees, hoping that things will work themselves out. This ends up having disastrous consequences for the people who are later killed by the creature. 

The creature actually criticizes him, arguing that Frankenstein has a moral obligation to him as his creator and father:...

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