English & EAL

How to nail a Frankenstein essay

Kevin Yu

September 7, 2017

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Whether you consider yourself a Frankenstein expert, or someone who is a bit taken back by the density of the novel and Shelley’s writing, do not fret! Below I will outline 3 tips which, will hopefully give you a clearer perspective on how to approach writing on Frankenstein! Let’s get started!

 

1. ALWAYS TRY TO TALK ABOUT SHELLEY’S CONCERNS

Since the book was set during the Age of Enlightenment and the Romantic era, Shelley essentially used Frankenstein as a vessel to criticise and warn readers against many of the values upheld during her era. It’s therefore crucial that you address this!

The late 18th century and the first decades of the 19th century were exciting times for science and exploration. Shelley’s two main protagonists, Walton and Frankenstein, both passionately sough to discover what had previously been hidden. Walton wanted to be the first to find a passage through the Arctic Circle; Frankenstein wanted to be the first to create manmade life, to uncover the mysteries of Nature.  Both men claimed to be desirous of benefitting humankind but both wanted glory more. This obsession to win accolades for their discoveries will destroy Victor, and turn Walton for a while into a hard taskmaster over his crew.

Juxtaposed against these two characters is Henry Clerval. Clerval, too, has an inquiring mind but he also cares about humanity, family and friends. He represents the balanced human being who is sociable, compassionate, intelligent and loyal to his friends. Victor’s ability to reanimate the dead, to bring to life his gigantic Creature using the newly discovered electricity, makes him a genius but also a monster. In his inexperience he botches the work producing a hideous and terrifying creature with, ironically, initially all the virtues of the ideal man of he world. Repulsed by his amateurish handiwork, Victor abandons his creation, setting in place the vengeance that will unfold later.

Try to ground any response to Shelley’s text in the enormous enthusiasm for new discoveries and new geographic phenomena that attracted lavish praise for those who went where others feared to tread. It was this praise that drove Walton and Frankenstein to exceed reasonable expectations becoming reckless and careless of the consequences of their actions.

 

2. ALWAYS TRY TO DRAWS LINKS AND CONTRAST DIFFERENT CHARACTERS AND THEMES!

Walton, Frankenstein and the Creature are interconnected in so many ways – whether it be their isolation, ambition, desire for companionship, desire for vengeance or the Romantic values they share. I’ve also noted that it is also really easy to connect themes in Frankenstein as the tragic story-arc of the novel is built upon many different causes. What I mean by this is that there is a clearly define relationship between isolation, ambition and vengeance (and ultimately tragedy) in the sense that isolation is what led to the brewing of unchecked ambition which essentially causes the resultant tragedy.

Take Frankenstein for example: having left his loving family and friends, who provided him with love and companionship for Ingolstadt, there was no one to hold him back from his natural tendencies towards unchecked ambitions, leading him to creating the monster who out of spite towards society kills all of Frankenstein’s loved ones, leading them towards the desire for mutual destruction. Being able to see these links and draw them together will not only add depth to your writing but it also arms you with the ability to be able to deal with a wider array of prompts.

3. ALWAYS TRY TO LOOK FOR MORE NUANCED EXAMPLES AND DISCUSSIONS!

While Walton, Frankenstein and the Creature can be discussed incredibly thoroughly (and by all means go ahead and do it), but it is also very important to consider the novel as a whole and talk about, if not more thoroughly, on the minor characters. While characters such as the De Laceys, villagers and the rustic in the forest can be used to highlight the injustices brought upon the creature and people’s natural instincts of self preservation and prejudice, innocent characters such as Elizabeth and Justine can be used to emphasise the injustice of society and the consequences of unchecked ambition and isolation.

 

Henry Clerval (like previously mentioned) can be contrasted against Walton and his best friend Frankenstein to show that as long as we have a balanced lifestyle and companionship, ambition will not lead us to ruin. Characters such as the Turkish merchant can also have parallels drawn with Frankenstein in telling how our selfish desire and actions, born out of inconsideration for their consequences, can backfire with great intensity. Lastly the character of Safie (someone I used a lot in my discussions) can be compared and contrasted with the Creature to show the different treatment they receive despite both being “outsiders” to the De Laceys due to their starkly different appearances.

Mentioning these characters and utilising these contrasts can be monumental in showing your understanding of the novel and by extension, your English analytical ability.

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