Shelley’s Gothic

The Gothic novel capitalizes on bringing to life the horror of the fallen world. It relies heavily on setting and characters to demonstrate the total depravity of man. By taking a close look at the text, it can be explained how Mary Shelley, through an uncanny feeling of self-awareness, developed her famous Gothic novel. 

Mary Shelley uses the imagery of ruin in Frankenstein to parallel literal ruins with personal demise. The trail of destruction the monster leaves is a manifestation of his misery– a misery that, through its existence, causes an echo of mystery in Victor Frankenstein. The kind, cozy home of the De Lacey’s becomes in image of hate and rejection to the monster and he so destroys it with fire, leaving in his wake the skeletal remains of the deserted house. This image is later seen again in a metaphorical way. Shelley’s final return to the image of ruins is almost a verbatim repeat of the image of the burnt down De Lacey cottage. When the monster weeps over the corpse of his creator, Frankenstein, Walton rebukes his twisted lamentations by saying that the monster “threw a torch into a pile of buildings, and when they were consumed [he] sat among the ruins, and laments the fall” (Shelley 272). Setting in this way mimics circumstance to create full circle Gothic imagery.

The characters and their qualities and fatal flaws also help to define the Gothic novel as a genre. These characters are men and women who, through issues of pride or naivety, suppose they can control matters far too large for man. Victor Frankenstein’s genius and relentless pursuit of knowledge leads him to the discovery of the secrets of creating life. His insatiable curiosity concerning his findings leads him to quite literally take on the role of God– creating a being and bestowing upon it human life. As expected when imperfect man attempts to play a perfect God, everything goes wrong and the creator (Frankenstein) fears and detests the created (the Monster). The monster is left to lament, “I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed” (Shelley 114). Frankenstein, although not suited to fulfill the responsibilities of a creator, creates a being with the natural tendencies of a something created. The monster, like man, needs to feel the love of his maker. Frankenstein, due to the monster’s grotesqueness, cannot bestow that love and wishes never to see the life he made. The monster, having never been taught morals or shown decency, responds the only way he feels he can get a reaction from his maker, and slowly destroys Frankenstein’s life.

Beginning and ending with the exchanges between Margaret Saville and her brother, Robert Walton, the novel is epistolary in nature. The account of an onlooker, Walton, adheres the readers to his intake, while also still inducing sympathy for Frankenstein and the monster. With imagery of grief and decay Shelley fills and also concludes her Gothic novel, Frankenstein. 

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2004. Print.

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