Shelley's Frankenstein

4-5 pages

Bring your paper to the Honors Program office (Wyatt 139)

  1. All the principal characters we have come to know, if not love, in Honors 211 have had their adventures in special environments or landscapes.  In certain cantos of Dante’s Inferno, for example, the landscape plays a crucial role in our understanding of the condition of the damned in the afterlife.  Limiting your focus to one or two passages in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, discuss the role that landscape plays in the novel.

  2. In Honors 211 we have grown used to hearing various characters tell their own stories to specific audiences.  Frankenstein consists of three major first-person narratives embedded within one another, and a variety of minor first-person accounts.  Each narrative has its intended audience: Robert Walton writes to his sister, Mrs. Margaret Saville; Victor Frankenstein tells his story to Robert Walton; the monster reveals his experiences to his creator, Victor Frankenstein.  Among the minor first-person narratives, Justine recounts her story to Victor and Elizabeth.  And so on.  Discuss the interaction between the narrator and the audience in any one first-person narrative in the novel.  What influence for example, does the listener have on the dramatic unfolding of the narrator’s story?

  3. In Inferno 5 Dante hears Francesca tell her lamentable story in language charged with sentiments made popular in Arthurian romance, her favorite reading matter. Similarly, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Monster tells his story to Victor in language and dramatic form derived from Milton’s Paradise Lost. In some respects, the Monster thinks of himself and his adventures as a composite of characters and scenes from the great English epic. In what way is the Monster’s narrative a kind of Paradise Lost redux? What do the parallels tell us about the Monster? About his relationship with Victor and the rest of society?

  4. Victor claims that he created the monster for reasons having to do with philanthropy and personal glory ("A new species would bless me as it creator and source..." (82)), but in class we’ve discussed how his motivations appear to be more complex and appear to bear upon his relationship with his father, his mother, and Elizabeth.  For example, Victor's dream immediately after the monster comes to life (85) suggestively links the monster to Elizabeth and his mother.  Explore what Victor’s deeper motives appear to have been and how these inform your reading of the novel.  You might, for example, consider what Victor’s motives suggest about the relationship between science and society, or reason and emotion, or men and women, or the public and private spheres.

  5. Discuss Victor's relationship with the monster as it evolves over the novel.  You are welcome to pursue the idea we've discussed in class about their being doubles.  If you'd like to explore this, then provide sufficient evidence of doubling and discuss its significance.

  6. In Canto 26 of the Inferno, Ulysses recounts how his final quest for forbidden knowledge brought about his demise and that of his faithful companions. Likewise, the myth of Prometheus, who is punished for stealing fire from the gods for humans, expresses concern about the pursuit of forbidden knowledge. Discuss how Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus explores this anxiety and raises the question of whether there are kinds of knowledge that humans ought not to pursue.

  7. Discuss how Victor’s predilection for haunting tombs, graveyards, dissecting theaters, etc. might be connected to other “voyages” to the land of the dead that we have encountered (and will encounter again in Ulysses) in this course. How is his “voyage” like and unlike those others?  What is the significance of the similarity or difference?