Responsibility and alienation were evident scenarios in 19th-century societies. Mary Shelley supports these themes through her writing in the novel Frankenstein. Through the plot, setting, characters, imagery, and other themes, Mary Shelley portrays how 19th-century society neglected their individual and social responsibility, leading to the alienation of specific people in the community.
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Shelley uses imagery throughout the novel to make the element of alienation and responsibility more concrete and appealing to the readers. An aspect of imagery is evident when Shelley describes the Glacier Mountains and valleys to create a vivid understanding of the alienated nature of the setting where Victor and his creation go. For instance, Shelley states, “the solemn silence of this glorious presence-chamber of imperial nature was broken only by the brawling waves or the fall of some vast fragment” (Shelley, 2022, p. 98). The vivid description of the valley creates an appealing and concrete imagination of alienation from society. Shelley also utilizes imagery to portray Victor and the monster’s alienation from society. “I felt the cheering warmth of summer and heard the rustling of the leaves and the warbling of the birds, and these were all to me” (Shelley, 2022, p. 204). It is only in alienated places that sounds of birds and rustling of the leaves can be heard.
Shelley uses exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and eventually resolution in the development of the novel’s plot to describe how society has contributed to alienation through neglect of their responsibilities. The book begins with the story of Victor Frankenstein, the protagonist character who is obsessed with science. The rising action occurs when his obsession and alienation from society drive him to create a monster, leading to conflict when he becomes frightened and abandons it (Brännström, 2006, p. 11). The story’s climax occurs when Victor learns of the murdering trend of his creation. Despite building a wife for the monster, Victor destroys the new creation, and the monster takes revenge by murdering his loved ones. The chasing spree leads to the falling action when Victor chases the monster to the Northern ice, where he dies at the rescue of Walton. The story ends with the conflict unresolved, where the monster kills himself in regret of Victor’s death. Through the plot, Shelley portrays the society and individuals’ failure to take responsibility for their actions and alienation.
Shelley also portrays the element of alienation through the setting in which the story is developed. The novel is set in an isolated environment and during a period of scientific and technological advancement. The location in which this novel is set helps create the theme of isolation in which Victor and the monster are victims. They are both disconnected from society, yet find comfort and connection with each other (Brännström, 2006, p. 9). They tend to seek an environment that is isolated from society, such as the north and the glacier on the island. The monster says, “I am an unfortunate and deserted creature, I look around, and I have no relation or friends upon the earth” (Shelley, 2022, p. 144).
Shelley integrates characters such as Victor and the monster to inform and develop the novel’s theme of alienation and neglect of responsibility. As the antagonist character, Victor Frankenstein is described as an ambitious and obsessive person who goes ahead to create a monster despite his lecturer’s lack of support, indicating society’s neglect of social responsibility. He says, “For this, I have deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation” (Shelley & Bolton, 2018, p.42). His poor relationship and inability to make friends are depicted by his unforgiving nature and failure to accept responsibilities. Victor refuses to forgive the monster and take responsibility for his creation. His actions help the reader to understand the conflicts and why they are never resolved at the end.
The novel develops several themes and ideas through the characters’ actions, scenes, and traits. One central theme depicted in the story is abandonment which is seen through Victor and the society, Victor and the monster, and the monster and the society. As Victor narrates, he barely had friends and was consistently isolated from society. Similarly, the monster fails to get the love he desires from his creator and society. The monster says, “Accused creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?” (Shelley, 2022, p. 115). Another dominant theme that brings the novel to life is revenge. The main cause of conflict between Victor and his creator is the desire to revenge on each other. The monster wants Victor to feel the same pain he felt when he killed his new-made wife and thus goes ahead to kill his loved ones. The theme of creation is also dominant in the novel, evidenced by Victor creating a monster with human abilities like feelings and love.
Therefore, Shelley successfully portrays the themes of alienation and responsibility through the elements of plot, setting, imagery, and characters. The author utilizes these literary devices to enable the reader to identify the themes of alienation and responsibility evident in society.
- Brännström, C. (2006). An analysis of the theme of alienation in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
- Shelley, M. W. (2022). Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus (1818). epubli.
- Shelley, M., & Bolton, G. (2018). Frankenstein. In Medicine and Literature (pp. 35-52). CRC Press.