Study Guide

Frankenstein Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Mary Shelley

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Light and Fire

Oh, where to begin. Light is associated with goodness and knowledge. Fire is symbolic of both human progress as well as the dangers of human invention. Er, or possibly the dangers of nature as opposed to humans. You could argue either way.

There’s also the whole Prometheus thing. (The alternative title, remember?) Fire was the one thing that man wasn’t supposed to have because it belonged solely to the Gods. When Prometheus stole fire for man, it meant that man was trespassing on immortal territory. Which was a big no-no and resulted in Prometheus having his liver eaten out every night for the rest of eternity. OK, so Victor didn’t have an organ ripped violently from his lower torso every day. But he did suffer a similar form of prolonged torture (think of all his loved ones being singled out and killed). No, he wasn’t punished for stealing fire, but he was punished for trespassing on immortal territory by playing God.

All right, now we’re rolling. We think the monster quite succinctly summed up the rest when he said something about fire warming you up, but burning you, too. Some things, it seems, bite worse than their bark. Some things (fine, we’re thinking the monster and science in general) can be good or evil, depending on how much care you take in approaching them. And in Victor’s case, that would be no care at all.

Adam, Eden, Other Biblical Business

The monster is compared to Adam and the creation of man. OK, sure, this would mean Victor is also paralleled with the creator, possibly God, and as some claim, maybe even a Christ-figure given the self-sacrifice of his death. But then Shelley screws with us and compared the monster to the fallen angel, too (that would be Satan). What’s the point of confusing the hell out of us? This gets back to that duality business. The complex role of Christian allusions in the text steer the reader away from any one meaning, and remind us that, if we want to wrap up our analysis in a neat little package, we’d better think twice. These allusions establish the duality of both characters; no one is strictly good, and no one is strictly evil. Instead, these characters show a capacity for both good and evil, which, last time we checked, is sort of the human condition.

Exploration

The entire story of exploration for knowledge, as symbolized by Captain Walton’s quest for the North Pole, becomes a cautionary tale and allegory about the dangers of boundless science. The entire novel serves in part as a warning against the scientific revolution and its potential for destroying humanity. In contrast to this weird world of "science" (scary stuff) is the sublime world of nature, which is pure and uncorrupted by science.

"But wait," you say, "maybe the book argues for science." Sure. After all, the monster is harmless in nature to begin; it is just Victor’s shameless neglect that drives him to murder. Yes, this is an overreaction, but still, the problem isn’t science itself; it’s the people who abuse it. That sounds like a good counter-argument to us.