Protagonist: The protagonist in the novel is Victor Frankenstein. He is the main character who contends with the conflict in the novel. His decision to create life provides a problem that he attempts to escape but eventually marks his death.
Antagonist: The antagonist in the novel is also the protagonist, Victor Frankenstein. Victor may have directed all of his hate and blame towards the monster he created, but is worst enemy lay within himself and his refusal to accept responsibility for his actions.
Conflict: The main conflict in the novel is based on the “monster” Victor Frankenstein created in his laboratory. He neglects his responsibility to the monster he created by ignoring its existence, and his cowardice leads to inner feelings of guilt and unhappiness that ultimately cause his life to unravel and the people he loves to perish. His refusal to be accountable for his action brings the misery and misfortune that constitute the foundation of the novel.
Chronology: Robert Walton writes in his first letter to his sister Margaret Saville about his desire to explore the world. His second letter then tells about his preparations for a crew and more about how he desires to explore the unexplored. In this letter he also explains how he wishes he had a friend to share his life with. In his third letter, he tells how the voyage is underway and going well. His fourth letter tells how the ship became trapped between floating blocks of ice and, after being freed, the ship encounters and takes aboard a man who was stranded on floating ice. Walton tells how the man is in wretched condition and is very melancholy. He tells how he gradually befriends the man and, after talking for some time, the man agrees to tell Walton the story of his life and how he came to be where he is now. His name is told to be Victor Frankenstein. Walton, during the narration, takes notes in the form of a letter for Margaraet.
Victor Frankenstein was born in Geneva, Switzerland, to a family of notoriety. His family adopted a young girl his age named Elizabeth from a poor family who could not support her. As a child, Victor was fascinated with alchemy and sciences. At age seventeen, Victor’s mother died. Soon after, he enrolled in the University of Ingolstadt. He took classes in natural sciences and began a routine of intense studying in the pursuit of preventing death and decay. He then unlocked the secret of creation, and after some years of meticulous work that almost resulted in his death, he was able to create a human being from dead materials. He abandoned the monster he had created in horror, and tried to leave the University, but on his departure he came across his friend Henry Clerval, and Clerval convinced him to stay. Clerval then nursed him back to health and the two men had good times with each other at the University, so much that Victor came to forget about the monster he had created. Victor was about to return home to Geneva when he received a letter from home describing how his younger brother William had been murdered and how house worker and family friend Justine Moritz was being accused for the murder. Victor believed without a doubt that the real murderer was his creation, and proclaimed to the town that he knew the real murderer, but without proof, no one could believe Victor, and innocent Justine was put to death. Victor slipped into a state of intense grief over the two deaths because he felt personally responsible for them. He decided to take a trip to the Alps to try to relieve his conscience and his soul. In the mountains he met the monster, and he reluctantly agreed to listen to the story the monster had to tell. The monster told how he had a difficult time adjusting to his new surroundings and how he was hated by all the people he first came in contact with. He then told how he came across a cottage with three people living inside, M. De Lacey, Felix De Lacey, and Agatha De Lacey. He told how he learned all about the human experience from simply observing these people: how to speak, to read, to write, to be happy, to love. He told how he confronted these people that he loved in the hope that they could accept him, and how when he introduced himself, he was met with fear and hate, and how he ran away from the people, and how they moved away and left him all alone again. He told how after that experience he became bitter to mankind and lost all the love he used to preserve. He then told how he went to Geneva, and came across William, and killed him, and then framed Justine for the murder. He then asked Victor if he would make a deal with him, whereas the monster would leave the civilized world forever if Victor would only agree to create a female companion for him. Victor had sympathy for the monster, but felt extreme hatred when told of the two murders the monster committed. He eventually agreed to help the monster with his request. Victor went home and set out with Clerval for vacation in England. The two separated after many months, with Victor settling on an island in Scotland. Victor started his work of creating another monster on the island in Scotland, but decided he could not complete it due to the potential disastrous effects on humanity. He destroyed all he had accomplished and then faced wrath of the monster face-to-face. The monster told Victor that he shall ruin his life and that he will always be watching, specifically on Victor’s wedding night. The monster then departed and Victor was left in despair. Victor vacated the island soon after, but was lost at sea, and eventually landed on the coast of Ireland where he was arrested and accused of murder. Upon the discovery that the man he was accused of murdering was his friend Clerval, Victor submerged into a delirious slumber where only the arrival of his father in Ireland could bring him out. He was inevitably cleared of his murder charge and released from prison, and returned home to Geneva with his father. Victor then became engaged to Elizabeth, whom he loved all his life. He still remained upset about the deaths of his friend Clerval, his brother William, and family friend Justine, but decided to marry Elizabeth despite his grief. Victor and Elizabeth were subsequently married, but on their wedding night the monster crept into their room and strangled Elizabeth. Victor’s father was then overtaken with grief and died. Victor then had no one left in his life, and consequently dedicated his actions to the pursuit of the monster. He chased the monster all over the continent until he reached the arctic where he nearly perished until Walton’s ship picked him up. He had allowed his hate to encourage him to persevere and to accept all hardships that could be encountered.
Upon the completion of Victor’s narration, Walton describes to Elizabeth how the story is probable and how much he respects and admires Victor as a person. Victor remains melancholy. In his next entry, Walton tell Margaret how the ship has again become surrounded by ice and may not be able to leave for some time. The following entry has the ship still surrounded by ice, with the crew demanding the voyage to detour from its present northern course for a more southern course, in which Walton, but not Victor, agrees. The next entry has Walton agreeing to return, although he maintains that he will be effectively disappointed. The final entry by Walton tells how the ice has broken and the ship will be returning home. Victor tries to get out of bed, but realizes he is near the end of his life, and spends the last minutes telling Walton to avoid too much ambition and asking him if he will continue the search to kill the monster. Victor then dies. The monster enters the cabin through the window some time later, and address the body of his dead creator. He turns to Walton soon after, and the monster explains that he should not be regarded with hate, for he only requested what every human being already takes for granted, to be loved and treated with kindness, and this void is what causes him to do the things he did not have the heart or the desire to do. The monster finishes his speech and then disappears forever, leaving Walton to just stand and think.
Theme: There are two themes in Frankenstein. This first is related to the role of the Creator and his relationship with human beings. The message of the novel tells us that humans cannot rival God, for they do not have the authority over the creation of the life of another human being. It is not their place to decide who lives and who dies. In the novel, Victor Frankenstein’s attempt to create another human being brought only misfortune and misery into his life, as if he was being punished for his attempt on divinity, thus displaying the message of the inauspicious consequences of striving to rival the heavens.
The second theme imbedded into the novel is concerned with the acceptance of responsibility. This message proclaims that one must abide by the effects of his or her actions. One who flees or denies the results of his or her behavior will surely be plagued with guilt and despair that will never surrender until accountability is accepted. Victor, by creating the monster, owed the monster an honest effort to provide for his well-being and assure his safety. By disowning these obligations and treating the monster with disgust, Victor violates his responsibility to the monster and begins the journey down the road of sorrow and ruin that his evasions have set him upon. This theme promotes the “honesty is the best policy” that can be found in so many other works, such as The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe.
Rising Action: The action of the novel begins rising at the creation of the monster. However, the biggest degree of ascension occurs when Victor meets the monster for the first time since its creation. The monster’s narration and request for a companion defines the battle between the creator and the monster. From that point on, tension mounts with every action that Victor commits. Victor’s destruction of his work on a new creation pits the two men as utter rivals, with Victor fighting the impending doom of time and anxiety. This action rises all the way until Victor’s life comes to its symbolic end when he loses the only two people left that he cares about, his father and his wife Elizabeth.
Climax: The climax of the novel occurs on Victor’s wedding night. The monster’s words of warning about being with Victor on his wedding night provide a degree of suspense. The reader is pushed to the point of excitement to discover something that can already be assumed, that the monster will strike again. The pinnacle of the story occurs as Elizabeth screams, and Victor realizes that he has lost, that everyone he knows is gone on account of his actions, and that the monster has won.
Denounment, or Falling Action: The falling action occurs after both Elizabeth and Victor’s father have died. At this point, Victor’s life has all but been completely ruined. The remainder of the novel is concerned with the describing how Victor dedicated the rest of his life to pursuing his monster throughout the continent and the north. The novel wraps up when Walton retakes to his letter writing to his sister, telling about the perils the ship is undergoing. The conclusion occurs when Victor dies, and the monster returns for his departing monologue, and Walton is left by himself.
Flashback: Flashbacks are not used in the novel Frankenstein, at least not in the context by where the author takes the reader back to a certain time period in the past to relate events in the third-person viewpoint. However, it must be noted, that the vast majority of the novel is set as a sort of flashback because it consists of a character, Victor, relating the past incidents of his life in the first-person viewpoint. While this may not be considered a genuine flashback, it still deviates from the chronological order in which the novel is presented in the beginning, and thus contains some of the characteristics of a flashback.
Setting: In Victor’s narration, most of the novel takes place in Switzerland, specifically Geneva, while some takes place in the British Isles. In actuality, the story is based on Walton’s ship, which resided in the northern ice fields of the Arctic. Shelley does not pay much attention to the setting in her novel, except to describe the beauty of the surroundings that Victor encounters. Except for the ice in the Arctic, this novel could have occurred almost anywhere in Europe, and thus does not play a significant role in the proceedings of the novel.
The pursuit of seizing control over the possibilities that lay beyond human reality constitutes the fundamental foundation of the novel Frankenstein. There is a desire in the novel to achieve greatness through means that are not plausible, such that the attempt can only bring ruin upon those that strive to attain these goals. Two men in the novel, Victor Frankenstein and Robert Walton, pursue greatness through methods that prove both immoral and illogical, leading to the near death of one, and the untimely death of the other.
Victor Frankenstein pursued a greatness that should never be attempted, and which cannot be endured. He strove to control what no human being has the understanding or the responsibility to comprehend: the ability to create another life. This role in humanity belongs solely to the Creator, whose authority is supreme over mankind. Victor believed that his ambition could place him among the heavens, parallel to life itself. His thirst was merely for greatness, assuming an authority that was not rightfully his to command. In the novel, the consequences of his decision became apparent, as he spent the majority of his life afterward plagued by anxiety and grief resulting from the course of his actions. He refuses to confide in anyone the knowledge that he holds for fear that he will not be accepted among those whom he loves, for he believes that they shall certainly believe that he is the cause of all the misfortune upon the household. In a way, the Creator has punished Victor for his arrogance, reprimanding him for trying to take a throne among beings he does not belong with, and cannot possibly understand. His quest for prominence clouded his ability to reason, and allowed him to ignore the real responsibility of his deeds, of which he had never given thought, to the point that he was radically unprepared to accept the presence to which he was obligated. These thoughts never occurred to Victor until the end of his life, when he lay on his deathbed. At this point, although he does not fully accept the evil he has created, he implores Walton to avoid the ambition that can possess a man’s soul, and to accept the happiness and tranquillity that can be attained without yearning for greatness. Victor, for his offense of disregarding the authority that he did not deserve to utilize, suffered the severe consequences of his irresponsibility, lost all that had once been of comfort to him, and died alone, dejected, and broken.
Robert Walton pursued a greatness that was similar to Victor’s. He strove to master the unknowns of the physical world, so that his desire for adventure could be quelled as his notoriety increased. He decided to voyage through the arctic, taking the lives of his crew into his hands, merely to satisfy a virulent craving for knowledge. He violated the authority of the natural world, endeavoring to unlock secrets that were never meant to be understood through the wisdom of mankind. In his obsession, he placed the lives of other human beings in danger, disregarding health and reason in his operation. His ignorance is essentially different from that of Victor, for Walton contained no knowledge of how to accomplish his task, and did not even exercise the determination to accomplish this task. This contrast between the two men is elucidated in Walton’s September Fifth Letter to his sister Margaret, where he agrees with his men to turn South and relinquish his quest while Victor is outraged and maintains the desire to continue his search. Walton has come to take heed of the obvious limits to his endeavors, while Victor has not. By the end of the novel, Walton had come to respect the authority of nature before it could to his unnecessary demise.
Experimenting with the limitations of authority constitutes a major role in the novel Frankenstein. Both Victor and Walton resolve to accomplish a degree of godliness, with the former mastering the mystery of creation and the latter pursuing the secrets of the physical world. Both men violate the principles this world has been founded upon, where there are boundaries for which no man can cross, and knowledge which no man was intended retain. Both men, however, took separate routes in displaying their aspirations: Walton understood there were limits to human endeavor and stopped himself just short of ruin, while Victor pushed himself through the breaking point. In either case, both men found that authority needed to be respected, and transgression upon that authority only brought sorrow and misfortune, and death.