What is Frankenstein Even About?

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is up for public debate. Following the death of Shelley’s mother, feminist legend Mary Wollstoncraft, it is valid to say her novel is largely motivated by this event. Moreover, the deeply psychological and religious motivations within the text help shape our view of the novel’s main characters, especially Victor. Whether it be an exploration into parenthood, death or lamentation, Frankenstein is a novel that has instilled great debate in my mind and the wider world of literature.

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The absence of a maternal figure has left Shelley questioning what motherhood entails. Exacerbated by her several miscarriages, the disassociation with maternal feelings seems to surge through Frankenstein. Victor mirrors a birthing scene as he animated his monster in his lab, portrayed in Kenneth Branagh’s adaption with a womb- like ambiance. This shows Shelley exploring the science of motherhood, with the awkwardness and consequent neglect a result of Shelley’s own feeling of disconnection from both a mother and child. Therefore, the entirety of Shelley’s novel can be seen to be an exploration into what it is to be a parent, and Victor’s subsequent failure at this through abandonment and lack of nurture. This is supported by Frankenstein and his monster’s poignant goodbye towards the end of the novel, whereby, despite their conflicting hate and vengeance towards each other throughout the novel, there is an essence of love and lament. This reflects the unconditional familial love one feels towards their child or parent, drawing a conclusion to Shelley’s question regarding what it means to be a mother.

A modern reader could diagnose the novel’s protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, with an assortment of mental health problems. His depressive state continues throughout the text, with contemplations of suicide and extreme isolation. The juxtaposition of these depressive states with those of jubilance also suggests the chance Victor suffers from Bipolar disorder; in his periods of mania and depression, Victor channels pathetic fallacy to mirror his state of mind. This is supported by his flouncy attitude to his love interest, Elizabeth Lavenza and the jump from extreme motivation to animate his creation, to utter seclusion from mankind and his love of science. The underlying mental health references are possibly a reflection of the anachronistic taboo attitude to mental issues, where someone would simply be committed to a mental asylum; could this be the authority-critical voice of her anarchist father William Godwin shining through?

In conjunction with the psychoanalytical debate, Frankenstein’s monster can be seen to be a mental concoction of his id or a possible dissociative personality disorder.  The whole ‘animation’ scene could be perceived as a spiritual awakening of Victor’s repressed violence, explaining the deep connection Victor seems to have with the monster’s actions. Alike gothic phenomena ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde‘ the theme of doppelgangers and doubles are extremely common in Gothic literature of the period, mixing horror and terror with psychological and physical discomfort.

Shelley’s involvement with the Free Love movement suggests that there must be some essence of homoeroticism somewhere in her one and only novel. The relationship between Victor and Clerval is questioned to be more than good friends like a contextual reading would interpret it; their close relationship and Victor’s reliance and acceptance of his company within his deep feelings pf desolation, may depict a kind of homoerotic relationship between the two. This is enhanced by Victor’s seeming disinterest in marrying Elizabeth, and his more intense reaction to Clerval’s murder than his bride-to-be.

In reality, we will never actually know what Frankenstein’s moral is, or what Shelley’s intentions were when writing her masterpiece. The ambiguity in so many fields truly creates a mysterious air around the text, leaving us as the reader bemused and questioning; that is the true nature of literature.

Angel Witney

@angelxwitney