Ideas for Analyzing Frankenstein

Robert Harris
Version Date: June 18, 2000

Questions for Further Investigation and Analysis

1. Compare the novel to a Greek tragedy, especially as it develops the themes of ambition, overreaching, hubris ("overweening pride"). Which characters display these "epic" flaws?

2. In classical and neoclassical doctrine, the "greatest of all contests" was the struggle of reason to control passion. In the nineteenth century, passion began to rise in esteem against reason. Feelings were more important. Yet the contest seems to continue. What elements of that struggle do you find in the novel? The characters of Victor and the monster are especially relevant to look at.

3. Is Frankenstein a Gothic novel? Why or why not? What elements of the Gothic does it contain? Metonymy of gloom? Tyrannical male? Others?

4. Does the geographical movement of the novel have metaphorically thematic or symbolic application? What is the meaning of ice, winter, wind, Northern locations, darkness, etc.?

5. Discuss the elaborate framing device provided by the letters at the beginning and the end of the novel. What purposes does this strategy serve? Why is this wrap-around frame more effective or useful than the usual introduction-only frame?

6. "Mary Shelley in Frankenstein clearly comes down on the side of nurture in the Nature-versus-Nurture controversy." Attack or defend.

7. "Victor Frankenstein and the monster share the same personality. Like father, like son." Attack or defend.

8. How is Victor Frankenstein like Faust?

Ideas for Computer Analysis

1. Compare the predominance of Gothic gloom in Frankenstein with another Gothic novel, such as The Castle of Otranto or one of Ann Radcliffe's novels.

2. Compare the tonal qualities of darkness and gloom with those in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Which is darker, and why? Note that Heart of Darkness is only about half the length of Frankenstein, so you will need to make an appropriate adjustment for your comparisons.

3. How do the passages relating to happiness and beauty fall within the novel, and how to they occur in relation to those of darkness? Look for such terms as lovely, beautiful, beauty, pleasure, delight, joy, delighted, enchanged, gay, happy and contrast them with terms such as ugly, disconsolate, melancholy.

4. What is the occurrence and effect of passages about light in this "dark" novel? Search for day, light, sunlight, sun, radiant, bright and so on and contrast these with terms related to darkness, such as dark, darkness, night, black, darkened, gloom.

5. One of the characteristics of "horror" novels is the high level of anger exhibited by some characters. Compare the "anger" words in Frankenstein to those in, say The Castle of Otranto.

6. Run the novel through Words.exe to determine the frequencies of word occurrence. After the common "glue words" (such as the, of, is, and, etc.), what words are used most often, and of what kind are they? Approach the meaning of "kind" from several aspects. That is, are they nouns, verbs, or adjectives? Are they tonal words such as dark or gloom? Are they words conveying excess of a quality rather than moderateness (such as terror rather than fear, elated rather than happy)? And of course, so what?

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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com