Major Themes in Frankenstein
[This list has been composed with the idea of assisting readers to
trace major themes as they unfold through the intricate texture of the
novel. Of course, the critical commentary touches upon these themes as
well, but, since each voice is individual and the essays trace their own
intricate paths, no attempt has been made to cross-index the commentary
- Adversarial Relations: involving motifs of
antagonism, hatred, revenge; the definition of one's self by one's
- Alienation: a sense of not belonging, either
to a community or to one's own sense of self.
- The Beautiful: as an Enlightenment
category of aesthetics, invoked in conjunction with or
opposition to the sublime.
- Benevolence: among the highest of
Enlightenment virtues, the active expression of love and sympathy for
one's fellow beings.
- Candor: a social mode highly esteemed by a
writer like Jane Austen, an openness expressing a lack of dissimulation
and a sense of common bonds with one's fellows.
- Social Class: linked to political power,
access to education and justice throughout the novel.
- Creation: involving both creativity,
procreation, and the right and/or ability to create.
- Death: the frequency of death, and the place
of the dead, are both involved in this theme.
- Delusion: the opposite of candor and
truth, dissimulation involving others or oneself.
- Depravity: a word subsuming both a sense of
sin and original sin.
- Destiny: or fate, or necessity; both as it
may be self-energized or seen as an external force in control of the self.
- Doubling: involving acting in the manner
of another, art copying life, similarities of action between two figures,
or the eerie sense of there being a second self, a
- Duty: both one's sense of obligation to one's
fellow beings and one's sense of responsibility for oneself.
- Education: how as well as what one learns.
- Family: the value of the domestic circle is
a central issue of this novel.
- Family -- Domestic Affections: the value
of shared and loving intimacy to be discerned, and experienced, in family
- Family -- Mother: the role and the
relationships established by the maternal figure.
- Family -- Orphan: this surprisingly common
condition in the novel suggests an obverse condition to that of the
enclosing domestic affections..
- Family -- Patriarch: the role and
relationships established by, or expected of, fathers in the novel.
- Family -- Son: the role and responsibilities of
male children in the novel.
- Female Friendship: the value of bonding
- Gender Roles: how one fulfills or departs
from stereotyped expectations of the male or female.
- Guilt: Not just the sense of remorse, but how
it is generated, and its value or dangers.
- Health: both its abstract meaning as a sign
of well-being, and the specific ways in which an individual's
health becomes affected by mental and physical conditions.
- Imagination: a Romantic icon, highly
problematized in the course of the novel.
- Justice: how it functions; who is in
control of it; who suffers or is privileged by it.
- Knowledge: its uses and abuses.
- Language: both how it is acquired and
functions and how it affects communicaiton among human beings.
- Madness: the novel implicitly questions
what is to be construed as sane behavior, particularly in the character of
- Male Friendship: male bonding among the
principal human characters is unusually pronounced, as is the fact of the
Creature's isolation from it.
- Naming: the Creature in this edition is
identified as "the Creature" because that is what he calls himself and he
is given no other name; but he is constantly defined, especially by
Victor, by other names.
- Narrative: both the self-consciousness with
which characters in the novel attend to their narratives, and the larger
question of how its events are controlled through their telling.
- Nature: the meaning and function of
"nature" in the novel.
- Nurturing: involving its constituent
elements and the value accorded its operations; also, by contrast, what
happens when these are not present.
- Passion: as opposed to the "domestic
affections," the values comprised by it, the implicit dangers within it to
the self and others.
- Perspective: involving the ways in which
viewpoint can shift meaning throughout the novel.
- Politics: suggestive of various ways in
which contemporary political and social issues emerge within the novel.
- Purpose of Life: involving the many
different, sometimes conflicting, senses of ultimate purpose driving or
surrounding the novel's characters.
- Religion: its individual and social
- Self-Analysis: involving the importance, or
dangers, of holding a mirror up to the self.
- Sensibility: essentially, the emotional
life, but, in a broader sense, involving elements of gender, psychological
balance, social acceptance.
- Sexuality: the role, also the displacement, of
- Slavery: involving both the sense of
one's control by an external power and its social significance.
- Solitude: involving its effects on various
characters in the novel
- Sublime: a crucial term in
Enlightenment aesthetics, in contrast to the beautiful; frequently
invoked throughout the novel.
- Sympathy: the cardinal human virtue of the
Enlightenment, the basis of all fellow feeling.
- Truth: involving not just candor but the
problematics of fiction.
- Utility: concerning the contribution, or
lack thereof, of individuals to a common weal.
- Vegetarianism: what meaning we may attach to
the fact that there is only one vegetarian in the novel, and he is
isolated from everyone else.
- Writing/Communication: involving why one
writes, how one writes, to whom one writes -- or speaks.