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Foreshadowing in Frankenstein

Foreshadowing Examples in Frankenstein:

Letter I

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" I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man. ..."   (Letter I)

Walton’s ardent curiosity mirrors Frankenstein’s own thirst for knowledge. Both characters desire to uncover mysteries never before accessible to humanity, and in doing so place themselves at great risk. Shelley’s narrative serves to show how a thirst for knowledge for knowledge’s sake can lead to dangerous discoveries and consequences.

"I desire the company of a man who could sympathise with me; whose eyes would reply to mine...."   (Letter II)

Walton desperately wants a friend who can understand him and empathize with him in regards to his ambitions; he wants a friend “whose tastes are like [his] own.” However, more importantly, Walton hopes for someone who has a “cultivated” and “capacious mind” to “approve or amend [his] plans.” He seems to feel slightly insecure about his self-educated background and wishes that a friend can “repair [his] faults.” This implies that he acknowledges human imperfection, especially in himself. Overall, Walton’s description of such a friend foreshadows his encounter with Victor Frankenstein.

"No incidents have hitherto befallen us that would make a figure in a letter..."   (Letter III)

Despite Walton's success, he doesn't have anything exciting to report to his sister, except for the fact that he has good feelings and good weather. A bit of foreshadowing here should prepare readers for Walton's future experiences which might have something to do with the mysterious creature that becomes the focus of Shelley's novel.

"Unhappy man! Do you share my madness?..."   (Letter IV)

Frankenstein immediately recognizes the path Walton is pursuing and tries to offer a warning. He blames his state of instability and ruin on the “madness” of pursuing knowledge. Such a warning provides readers with insights into Frankenstein’s past as well as an instance of foreshadowing, for the dangerous pursuit of knowledge is one of the novel’s core themes.

"I never saw a more interesting creature:..."   (Letter IV)

It is intriguing that Walton refers to Frankenstein as a “creature.” On one level, this characterization draws attention to Frankenstein’s desperate, ragged state as a result of his pursuit across the arctic. On another level, the word serves as a bit of foreshadowing, comparing Frankenstein to another character in the novel often called “creature.”

"we are unfashioned creatures, but half made up..."   (Letter IV)

This line refers to Victor’s philosophy towards life and reveals much about his pursuit to create his own form of life. Victor believes humans are unfashioned; that is, formless, without design. Additionally, his statement and his excessive desire for knowledge foreshadow the lengths he takes to actualize his philosophy and attempt to create life.

"SO STRANGE AN accident has happened to us..."   (Letter IV)

Walton’s encounter is so strange that he cannot wait to share its details with Margaret. This statement implies that Walton’s voyage is probably going to involve some supernatural elements. Moreover, describing the experience as a "strange" accident provokes a sense of urgency in readers.

"my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only...."   (Chapter I)

This final line in Chapter 1 echoes the Christian marriage ceremony that claims “till death do us part.” In suggesting that Elizabeth is his “more than sister” and alluding to the marriage ceremony, Frankenstein foreshadows his future relationship with Elizabeth.

"heaven-sent, and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features...."   (Chapter I)

Like many other romantics, Frankenstein characterizes Elizabeth as a supernatural or otherworldly divinity. Elizabeth embodies the literary trope in which a love object is elevated in order to align human feeling with sublime experiences beyond human capacity. This description demonstrates Victor’s and Elizabeth’s innocent, pre-fallen states, which will be destroyed as the novel goes on. Victor places Elizabeth on a pedestal from which she will fall.

"With this deep consciousness of what they owed towards the being to which they had given life, added to the active spirit of tenderness that animated both..."   (Chapter I)

In this first chapter, Frankenstein establishes the behaviors of good parents. He makes a point of illustrating parenthood as an obligation towards one’s child because one has brought this child into the world. Frankenstein seems to admire his parents’ devotion to him and his upbringing. As the story progresses, the reader will find that Frankenstein does not follow his own standards for good parenting with the creature he creates.

"she was to be mine only...."   (Chapter I)

Many scholars see the echo of the author, Mary Shelley, in this beginning narrative. Mary’s family often cared for the poor and passed that compassion on to Mary. Of course, one can’t deny the fact that both mothers also died during the birth of a female child. Also, it is not Victor, but the poor, adopted child Elizabeth who seems to become the focus here. Some call this an element of foreshadowing. For example, note that Victor talks about the depth of their relationship as if it was more than just one of brother and sister: “since till death she was to be mine only.”

"No word, no expression could body forth the kind of relation in which she stood to me—my more than sister, since till death ..."   (Chapter I)

Here is a bit of foreshadowing regarding the relationship between Victor and Elizabeth. Also note the depth of the relationship, so much so that words fail them to describe it.

"heroes of Roncesvalles, of the Round Table of King Arthur, and the chivalrous train who shed their blood to redeem the holy sepulchre from the hands of the infidels...."   (Chapter II)

Henry Clerval was fascinated by historical tales of heroism. He drew inspiration from a number of historical sources. These included soldiers of the Battle of Roncesvalles who sacrificed themselves for the salvation of their comrades. The knights of King Arthur’s Round Table also demonstrated legendary bravery in battle. Lastly, the holy sepulchre refers to Jesus Christ’s burial site, of which the crusaders attempted to recover from the Turks. All three of these historical references in some way or another exalt bravery and courage over cowardice and excessive pride. Their inclusion here may be seen as an ironic foreshadowing of Frankenstein’s fate.

"penetrate the secrets of nature..."   (Chapter II)

One of the definitions of “penetrate” is to see or show the way through something. It also implies a sense of violation or offense because “secrets” suggests that Nature does not condone Victor’s pursuit of understanding its elements and power. This choice of words foreshadow the consequences Victor will face for invading Nature’s “privacy.”

"The raising of ghosts or devils was a promise liberally accorded by my favourite authors, the fulfillment of which I most eagerly sought..."   (Chapter II)

Another element of foreshadowing here. Since religious incantations cannot reincarnate someone, Victor must turn to science and electricity.

"The labours of men of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage of mankind...."   (Chapter III)

This sentence, spoken by Frankenstein’s professor, Waldman, is ironic. Frankenstein is “erroneously directed,” since he pursues scientific advancement simply out of pride rather than a desire to better the world, but his accomplishments will not be helpful to the world at large. Instead, he creates a creature who despises him, and Frankenstein dies alone and unhappy, his research bringing nothing but anguish.

"They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers..."   (Chapter III)

Notice the vocabulary choice for describing modern chemists, who Waldman calls “philosophers.” Through research into the unknown, they have gained spectacular, godlike powers, the likes of which were unreachable to chemists’ precursors, the alchemists. Because of this speech, Frankenstein decides to re-devote himself to his studies and attempts to achieve his own godlike powers, though he finds himself ultimately limited by his creation.

"Excellent friend! how sincerely you did love me, and endeavour to elevate my mind until it was on a level with your own!..."   (Chapter VI)

Frankenstein’s emotional outbursts, such as this one, remind the audience that he is telling the story from a detached future perspective and knows what is going to happen. While the moment he narrates is serene or mundane, these outbursts foreshadow the danger, tragedy, and horror that is soon to come.

"Mont Blanc..."   (Chapter VII)

Mont Blanc is the highest mountain of the Swiss Alps and 11th highest in the world. It is significant the Victor notices Mt Blanc as he drives back from London, as this mountain will later form an integral setting for his confrontation with the creature.

"the first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts...."   (Chapter VIII)

These words foreshadow the coming tragedies throughout the rest of the novel. Though Justine and William are the first innocents dead at the hands of both Frankenstein and his creature, they will not be the last. Notice also how Frankenstein subtly shifts blame from himself to his creature—his “unhallowed art”—who he brought to life through dark processes. The word choice of “unhallowed,” meaning “unholy” or “profane,” shows that Frankenstein thinks of his creature in hellish terms.

"The rain was pouring in torrents, and thick mists hid the summits of the mountains, so that I even saw not the faces of those mighty friends. Still I would penetrate their misty veil, and seek them in their cloudy retreats. What were rain and storm to me..."   (Chapter X)

Very significant here (as in many other parts of this novel) that it is a storm that proclaims the coming of the creature.  Again, Shelley proves herself to be a master of the art of foreshadowing.

"Little did I then expect the calamity that was in a few moments to overwhelm me, and extinguish in horror and despair all fear of ignominy or death...."   (Chapter XX)

In this moment of suspenseful foreshadowing, Frankenstein reflects on how the next turn of events will shift his attention away from himself and his fears. The word “ignominy” means “dishonor,” suggesting that Frankenstein had been occupied by his near-death and his precarious social standing.

"Suddenly a heavy storm of rain descended...."   (Chapter XXIII)

Notice how the setting of these events foreshadows the terrible events to come. The joy of his wedding and wedding night are cast against a stormy night that suggests his honeymoon will not go as he expects it to.

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