Themes and message

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein contains a number of themes, which are all related to the novel’s message. We outline them here. Note that there are other themes you could explore as well. 

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 dangers of ambition

Shelley explores the dangers of ambition through the main character, Victor Frankenstein, and also through the character of Captain Robert Walton in the frame story. Both men are highly ambitious and hope to achieve “glory” through scientific and geographical exploration. Walton says, “I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path” (p. 17). Similarly, Frankenstein claims: “Wealth was an inferior object; but what glory would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease […].” (p. 42)

Both men fail to pay attention to the dangers o...

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