The book follows Dr. Victor Frankenstein, a reclusive mad scientist, who seeks to create new life by sewing together the limbs and remains of several other dead bodies and reanimate them. Victor's childhood was geared very closely toward the pursuit of science, while he befriended his adopted sister Elizabeth and studied science with his father. After attending university, he decides to finally reanimate a dead body with life, assembling a rough body consisting of mismatched parts of ugly organs and limbs, bringing it to life. However, Victor thinks his work ugly, and escapes the room where he reanimated him, leaving the monster to escape.
After recovering from illness, Victor returns home to see that his brother, William, has been murdered - presumably by his own creation. Soon after, he goes into the mountains, where he meets the creature itself and finds that it is incredibly articulate and intelligent. The monster tells of his experiences watching a family in a nearby cottage and learning to read via books he found. However, the monster found himself shunned by the family and shot at by a man who sees him rescuing a young girl from drowning. He then explains that he killed William by accident when simply meaning to keep him quiet. After telling Victor all this, he demands that he make him a bride.
Victor agrees under threat of death to make a companion for him, and he starts his work. Eventually, however, he feels guilty and destroys the creature, making the monster vow revenge on Victor on his wedding night. Later, after marrying his adopted cousin Elizabeth and preparing for this fight, Victor finds that the monster has killed Elizabeth. Looking for revenge, he finds himself rescued by an old ship looking for the North Pole, where he tells his story. He dies shortly thereafter, at which point the captain of the ship finds the monster. The monster is not satisfied by Victor's death, and instead vows to die out in the ice.
The novel is set in the eighteenth century, taking place at varying points throughout in different locales, like the northern ice, Geneva, the Swiss Alps, England, Scotland, and more. The book itself encompasses entire lifetimes, as the book tells the story from Frankenstein's childhood to his death. We see locales and neighborhoods both rich and poor, from the Frankenstein estate to small cottages and sailing ships, showing the adventurous and dramatic landscape of Europe in the Victorian era.
The main character is Victor Frankenstein, a tortured genius who constantly wants to find ways to create life and surpass his own accomplishments. The lack of affection that Victor receives as a child is extended, as a consequence, to the monster; neither know how to love properly. While, on the surface, his parents were loving and affectionate, the writing implies that Victor is unhappy about that. By being his parents' "plaything and idol," they do not allow him to be an individual or a part of the family (Shelley, p. 33). Victor's childhood recollections are sarcastic and ill-considered; there is no way that "every hour of [his] infant life [he] received a lesson of patience, of charity, and of self-control" (p. 34). This is made particularly true when it is revealed that he does not have those qualities. Later, when Elizabeth is added to the family, Frankenstein considers her an object of infatuation, which borders on obsession. This prefaces the obsession that he will have with the monster.
The monster is his own unique and misunderstood character, acting as a beast but having purpose in his own right. The creature itself is very eloquent in its speech, and quite intelligent. In this way, it is only the fact that he is physically repugnant that drives him away from civilization - if he were in a normal body, he would be welcomed into society. However, it is because of his immediate rejection by Victor, and the subsequent search for revenge, that he becomes a true monster. The creation of the monster, once accomplished, results in Victor recoiling immediately from it: he runs away in disgust immediately because of its appearance, which he had nonetheless acknowledged while he was building him - "I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then" (p. 58).
Frankenstein helped to define the Gothic horror genre - this is indicated by horrific and grotesque stories that are supernatural in nature, or deal with the strangeness of science, taking place in the Victorian era. Elements of science fiction can be found with the creation of Frankenstein's monster, and his existence as a horror creature, but there are also tinges of human drama - revenge, for example, is a driving force for both main characters.
The primary conflict takes place between Victor and his monster, as they constantly search for both understanding and revenge for their various grievances against each other. There are a number of parent-child tensions in Frankenstein; the allegory between Victor Frankenstein and the monster being his 'son' are quite clear, as the man is figuratively borne of his invention. In essence, the book is about the inadequate way in which a parent can prepare their children for society, instead leaving them to retreat into themselves and forego civilization.
One primary theme of Frankenstein is misunderstanding and societal rejection, as that is one primary motivator for the monster's pain. The monster is initially rejected by its creator, and then proceeds to be shunned and chased away, as well as harmed, because of his abnormal nature. Toward that end, the book shows the monster to be misunderstood, as it only wants to belong in normal society when the rest of society recoils from it. The unwanted nature of its creation makes him a tragic figure, and shows the cruel human nature of rejecting all that which is different from us.
Point of View/Perspective
The book takes the point of view of several characters. First, there is Captain Walton, who is the person apparently writing this story. He then translates the stories told to him by Victor Frankenstein, who is the most direct source of narrative information; we learn from him the monster's motivations and desires. We see Victor's regret and tortured nature due to the retelling of his life story, and how he now understands the tragic story of the monster itself. The monster's own perspective is also outlined clearly in the book, as we get Walton's account of Victor's account of the monster's stories.