Frankenstein Summary

Mary Shelley


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Frankenstein Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Frankenstein  by Mary Shelley.

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, a novel written by Mary Shelly and published in 1818, was inspired by a dream Shelly had the night that she and several other writers decided to hold a contest to see who could write the best horror story.

As the story begins, Walton is looking for a new passage to Russia. He comes upon a half-dead man lying on the ice and through a series of letters recounts the story the man tells him. The man is Victor Frankenstein, and he begins by recounting his childhood. When he was a child, he lived in Naples where he was one of three sons. His parents adopted the orphaned Elizabeth with whom Victor later falls in love.

Weeks before he leaves for university, his mother and Elizabeth fall ill from scarlet fever, his mother eventually succumbing. Victor is ravaged with grief and begins scientific experiments to handle it. He develops a secret technique for reanimating non-living matter. He soon takes his experiment to a larger field, making a human. He puts together pieces of different bodies and, although his intention is to create something beautiful, his creation is hideous. When it awakens, Victor flees, repulsed.

He meets his friend Henry on the street and takes him back to his apartment. He is fearful of what Henry will say when he sees the creature, but when they arrive, it has escaped. Henry falls ill from the experience, and his friend nurses him back to health for the next four months. Henry receives word that his youngest brother was murdered, and he returns home. He sees the creature off in the distance around the crime scene and becomes convinced that the murder was the creature’s work. In spite of this knowledge, he is powerless to stop his brother’s nanny from being hanged because he fears no one will believe his story.

Victor retreats into the mountains where the creature finds him. He pleads with Victor to make a creature like him so that he will not be alone anymore. He tells Victor that everywhere he goes, people are frightened by him; he only found a place secretly with a family in the woods led by a blind father. The creature argues that because he is a living being, he deserves happiness. If Victor makes him a companion, they will retreat into the South American wilderness, but if Victor doesn’t, the creature will ruin his family.

Victor begins work on a female companion but is plagued by the fear that this new creature will become more evil than his first. He tears apart the unfinished female, and the creature vows revenge. He first kills Henry, planting the corpse so that the blame will fall to Victor. Victor suffers a breakdown in prison, but is later acquitted when his father comes to his aid. The creature vows to be with him on his wedding night, and Victor takes that to be a threat on his life.

Instead, the creature strangles his beloved Elizabeth. When Victor is unable to shoot him, he vows revenge and pursues the creature all the way to the North Pole where he soon falls to exhaustion and hypothermia.

Walton resumes the story from here. Although Walton had seen the creature and wanted to pursue him, the ship became stuck in ice. Walton takes Victor’s story as a warning and turns the ship around. He finds the creature on the ship mourning the death of Victor, saying it brought him no peace. He is left alone with his crimes. The creature vows to kill himself so that the world will never know of his existence, and Walton watches him standing on a piece of ice retreating into the darkness, never to be seen again.

The pursuit and the limits of knowledge are central themes to the novel. At the time, science was coming into a modern renaissance, and Shelly had been privy to galvanism, the electrical stimulation of tissue, as well as other theosophic theories of life. Victor is driven to grief by the death of his mother, and in return, he decides to pursue the creation of life itself.

His creation is only a monster, however, and Victor refuses to identify any humanity. The result is a vicious cycle with Victor attributing evil to the creature and the creature then taking revenge. Victor further isolates him by refusing to name him. Throughout the book the creature is only referred to with names such as “it” and “creature.”

Victor’s creation ultimately destroys everyone he loves. In the end, his obsession with knowledge and his quest to follow the creature killed him as well. Walton heeds Victor’s warning and pulls back from chasing the creature, and the knowledge of who and what it is.

The second part of the title, A Modern Prometheus, suggests that Victor seeks to become like the famed titan who returned the knowledge of fire to humans. His contribution, the secret to creating life itself, remains a secret in the end, his quest for knowledge a futile exercise. Frankenstein remains one of the most iconic horror novels of all time, teaching us that our unchecked thirst for knowledge can be our destruction.