Analysis Pages

Plot in Frankenstein

Plot Examples in Frankenstein:

Letter I


"Prometheus..."   (Letter I)

In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a Titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. Fire was forbidden to humans, and because of this crime, Zeus chained Prometheus to a mountaintop for eternal torture. Shelley subtitles her novel The Modern Prometheus because of Victor's thirst for forbidden knowledge, his eventual ability to create life, and his miserable consequences; in a sense, this makes him Shelley’s Prometheus.

"by some fatality the overthrow of these men disinclined me to pursue my accustomed studies...."   (Chapter II)

After witnessing lightning striking an oak tree and having the laws of electricity explained to him, Frankenstein immediately rejects the teachings of Agrippa, Paraclesus etc. in favor of the “secure” science of mathematics. This sudden change in belief demonstrates how Frankenstein is easily swayed from his own beliefs and thinking.

"I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead, and found a passage to life, aided only by one glimmering, and seemingly ineffectual, light...."   (Chapter IV)

This allusion refers to a story from the anthology of Arabian tales A Thousand and One Nights. In one particular tale, Sinbad escapes from his wife’s tomb, in which he had been interred by villains. This allusion to an Arabian tale, rather than a European one, serves as an important cross-cultural reference. Finding this “passage to life” serves as motivation for Frankenstein and, therefore, the plot of the novel. Romantics were often fascinated by Arabian stories and culture because they considered it exotic. That Shelley grounds the pivotal moments in this novel with allusions to Arabian tales supports the themes of romanticism throughout the tale.

"I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life..."   (Chapter IV)

Frankenstein simply tells Walton (and readers) that he discovered how to create life and leaves it at that. While he does tell Walton that such a secret will never be shared, this technique on Shelley’s part is intentional: the reasons behind how he came to understand this knowledge are not important; what is important, is that he does know this, which allows the plot to move forward.

"Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?..."   (Chapter IV)

By “principle,” Frankenstein means the source from which something originates—that is, an origin, a root, a source, etc. Having made such strides in his studies, Frankenstein reveals to Walton how he now began to actively pursue his interest in and experimentation with the creation of life.

"How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?..."   (Chapter V)

The word “catastrophe” accurately characterizes Frankenstein’s reaction to the creature’s coming to life. “Catastrophe” is a term with origins in ancient Greek theater, and refers to the final turn or event in a tragedy. The word gives Frankenstein’s scientific pursuit a dramatic shape, and implicitly suggests that his research is a tragic arc whose result is a disaster.

" a very valuable miniature that she possessed of your mother. ..."   (Chapter VII)

This miniature refers to a locket which held a picture of Frankenstein’s mother inside. Elizabeth had given this locket to William. When Elizabeth examines William’s body she notices his neck is bare, and thus assumes William’s murderer was a thief who stole the locket. This thinking causes Elizabeth great distress, as she feels guilty for giving William the locket that supposedly led to his death.

"“This day was passed in the same routine as that which preceded it. The young man was constantly employed out of doors, and the girl in various laborious occupations within. ..."   (Chapter XII)

The creature’s depiction of the De Lacey family shows them to be poor and belonging to the working-class. Felix and Agatha fulfil typical gender roles of the time, with the male leaving the house to find employment while the female remains home to perform domestic duties. The image of this family is the first introduction the creature has to what Shelley would have deemed “civilized” society.

"SOME TIME ELAPSED before I learned the history of my friends..."   (Chapter XIV)

This chapter contains the rich history of the De Lacey family through the eyes of the creature. In fact, it is about the De Lacey family’s fall from society (and give an apt reason for why the family seems unhappy in their state of life). When they lived in France, the De Lacey family was held in high esteem. They were of good social standing and also quite wealthy. Due to the family’s, and specifically Felix’s, compassion, the family has now lost both their standing and their wealth (as well as their country of residence). Felix felt compassion for Safie’s father (who, of course, is of Turkish descent) who was sentenced to death at the gallows. Felix (as well as Safie’s father) felt that the punishment to be inflicted was too harsh and a result of a faulty French justice system. Felix decides to come to Safie’s father’s aid in order to secure his release. Unfortunately, before the plot is hatched, the French government discovers the plan and stops its progress. Due to this unfortunate event, the entire De Lacey family (not just Felix) falls from grace in the eyes of France. Safie’s father manages to escape; however, as a result, France takes all of the De Lacey’s wealth due to their involvement in the matter. Safie’s father, himself, is ungrateful both to Felix and the entire De Lacey family which causes Safie’s father to lose all “honor.” Further, as we have already noted, Safie has only just been able to find the De Lacey family after quite an amount of time full of trial and tribulation (including the loss of her faithful servant).

"which shattered the flesh and bone. The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth...."   (Chapter XVI)

Here, the shot that shatters the creature’s flesh and bones also shatters his kindness and gentleness. This is the moment at which the creature fully relinquishes his benevolence.

"I learned from your papers that you were my father, my creator..."   (Chapter XVI)

Remember that when he fled, the creature clothed himself in one of Victor’s coats. In the coat, Victor had stashed notebooks explaining the scientific process he used to create his monster. These are the “papers” to which the creature refers. Since these papers are the creature's creation story, these notebooks can be seen as a type of Bible.


The creature flees from its hut in anger, all the while cursing his creator (Victor). In his rage, the creature decides to wreak havoc in nature and begins to destroy as much as it can of the natural world of the forest (until it exhausts itself). After being renewed by the same nature it tried to destroy, the creature decides that it was too “hasty” in judging the De Lacey family. The creature returns to its hut only to discover that the De Lacey family (and all of its members) have vacated the premises. The creature learns this by listening to a conversation between Felix and the landlord of the cottage. The De Lacey family has decided not to return because of “danger” and “horror.” The creature sets fire to the cottage and goes off on his own. It isn’t long before the creature decides to seek its own “father” (its own “creator”). In his wanderings toward Geneva (that he learned geography from Safie and acquired a map somehow), the creature sees a little girl slip and fall into a raging, icy river. The creature immediately jumps up to save the girl, only to be shot and wounded by her caregiver. The creature continues to wander to where it hopes its creator’s country might be. Soon it comes upon a little boy and it decides to grab this innocent child and convince him that the creature is good and friendly. The little boy struggles so very much and calls the creature so many names and throws the creature so many threats that, only in its attempt to silence the boy, the creature kills the boy. The little boy was William Frankenstein: Victor’s brother. Again, here, the reader learns the truth:  just how Justine comes in contact with the locket.  During the night she always admitted to passing in the barn waiting for the gates to open, the creatures slips in and puts the locket in her clothing. It is at this point that the creature comes upon Victor in the snow. It is at this point that the creature’s story and Victor’s story become one and the same. And it is at this point that the creature makes his request/demand for a wife, or in its own words “a companion” that “must be of the same species.”

"and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror...."   (Chapter XX)

As Frankenstein surveys the possible consequences of building a second monster, the scale of his predicament ascends to new heights. The threat, as he sees it, is existential: to create a female monster would allow for a “race of devils” to replace humanity.

"“Are you then safe—and Elizabeth—and Ernest?”..."   (Chapter XXI)

This inquiry suggests that Frankenstein believes that his creature has already attacked his family. He may have sunk into such madness because he thought his family dead when he saw Henry.

"I WAS SOON introduced into the presence of the magistrate, an old benevolent man, with calm and mild manners..."   (Chapter XXI)

A dead man has washed up upon the shore and the crowd wonders who it is as they stare at the dark marks around his  neck (the usual markings of the creature's murders).  It is the body of Henry Clerval.  Victor is sick in both heart and body and takes him months to recover enough to even go further in the investigation.  Victor is being held in the prison in the meantime.  During the trial, it is proved that Victor did not commit the crime (directly at least) because he was in his lab.  Victor is released to go home.

"sometimes he himself, who feared that if I lost all trace of him I should despair and die, left some mark to guide me...."   (Chapter XXIV)

Frankenstein and his creature are bound together by their mutual hatred of one another. The creature wants Frankenstein to pursue him endlessly so that Victor can know the same pain and torment as the creature. Frankenstein fails to realize that this is intentional on the creature’s part and convinces himself that hunting down and exacting revenge on the creature is his destiny.

"I am satisfied: miserable wretch! you have determined to live, and I am satisfied...."   (Chapter XXIV)

The creature’s statement here indicates that its plans for revenge are complete. Frankenstein has decided to continue living in order to pursue the creature. This makes Frankenstein as isolated and tormented as the creature itself, which was its plan for revenge all along.

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