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Frankenstein – plot and themes

Frankenstein - plot and themes
An illustration from Luigi Galvani's 1792 book on experiments with electricity.
© British Council

A summary of the main events of the book and a look at some of the themes which continue to fascinate readers to this day.

The novel opens with Captain Walton, an Arctic explorer, writing in a letter about finding Victor Frankenstein almost frozen, and about a huge, mysterious figure he and his crew had seen earlier crossing the ice with a dog sled. Victor tells the captain his life story and of his obsession with finding a way to create life following the death of his mother. He explains that he created a monster but was so disgusted by what he had done that he ran away. He falls ill and takes months to recover. When he returns home, he discovers his brother has been murdered and he is convinced the monster is responsible. His brother’s nanny is arrested and hanged for the murder and Victor runs off to the mountains filled with guilt. The monster finds him and tells him about the life he has experienced since Victor created then abandoned him. He tells him how he has been rejected, despite his attempts to make friends:

Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good – misery made me a fiend.

The monster presses Victor to admit responsibility and to show some sympathy and understanding. He begs Victor to create a female companion for him, after which he promises to leave forever for South America. Victor agrees and travels to Scotland to begin work. But before he finishes, he becomes convinced he is making a terrible mistake and tears apart his unfinished creation. The Monster, who has followed Victor, promises revenge. He kills Victor’s best friend and on the night of Victor’s wedding, kills his wife. Now it is Victor’s turn to seek revenge and he follows the monster to the Arctic, but collapses before he can find him, bringing us back to the start of the novel.

The novel ends with another letter from Captain Walton telling of Frankenstein’s death and how the monster, mourning the death of Victor and more alone than ever, goes off into the night, probably to his death.

Watch this short video for a review of some of the themes and background of the story.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

The themes of Frankenstein continue to fascinate us to this day – in fact, perhaps now more than ever. As in Frankenstein, recent films and TV shows like Westworld, Blade Runner 2049, Ex Machina and others, look at the ethical issues and questions of rights and responsibilities that are raised when Artificial Intelligence (AI) reaches a point where it can be seen as truly ‘alive’. Famous figures such as Elon Musk and the late Professor Stephen Hawking have warned about the dangers. What do you think?

  • How do you feel about Victor Frankenstein and his creation? Do you feel sympathetic towards the monster?
  • Do you see technological developments like Artificial Intelligence, genetic engineering or cloning as great opportunities for humankind or as great dangers? Or somewhere inbetween?
© British Council
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