Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Theory of Love in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

On the back of the Dover Publications edition of Frankenstein the publisher states that the novel is “acclaimed as both the first modern horror novel and the first science-fiction novel”. Within the first few pages of the book it quickly becomes apparent that along with the themes of horror and science fiction, Frankenstein also includes motifs concerning the attributes of human nature, the evolution of technology, and the capacities of human intellect. However, another important concept that is essential to the story yet arguably less methodical than theoretical matters about science and technology is the theme of love. In fact, it can be argued that subject of love in Frankenstein is, upon further analysis, the most influential theme of the book.
This standpoint about the significance of love in Frankenstein can be asserted because all of the major characters are searching for love of some kind, including the familial, domestic, and brotherly. Specifically, this pursuit of love is exemplified by arguably the most notable character in the book, Frankenstein’s monster. Since the moment of his creation, the monster faces isolation, rejection, and condemnation from both his creator and from society. Because of this, and despite the incongruities that define his very nature, the monster yearns for a feeling and sentiment that is fundamentally and universally human: love. A passage that encapsulates this aspect of the book can be found in the tenth chapter when the monster confronts Victor Frankenstein. This includes the monster making allusions to the Bible, stating “Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom though drivest from joy for no misdeed” (Shelley 107). These statements made by the monster make reference to the fact that the notion of God’s love is the crux of Christianity. This is epitomized by John 3:16 which famously states, “For God so loved the world the He gave his only begotten Son”. Therefore, in this instance the monster is comparing Frankenstein, his creator, to Christian dogma’s version of God, which is based heavily on the concept of God loving his creations. Thus, this passage solidifies to the reader that the monster’s ultimate goal is to attain some kind of understanding and experience with love.
Additionally, the monster goes on to say “Believe me, Frankenstein: I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity: but am I not alone, miserably alone? You, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow-creatures, who owe me nothing? They spurn and hate me” (Shelley 107). Upon reading this passage it is clear that the presence of human interaction, which in essence requires some type of love, is so significant to a person that it is the lack of it which truly makes Frankenstein’s monster a monster, and not the fact that he is the product of bizarre, inhumane science. Therefore, Shelley is putting forward the theory that the implementation of love is vital for the benevolence of people, and can only be found through human connections.
In conclusion, because of the monster’s biblical references and statements considering how the lack of love and acceptance in his life has doomed his existence, it can me interpreted that another aspect of the theory of love that the book thus far is trying to present is that love is the great equalizer among even the darkest aspects of the human consciousness, including the most monstrous as demonstrated by Frankenstein’s monster. Thus in the case of Shelley’s book it is the lack of love that the main characters feel which makes love such a prominent theme. Because of this it is important as readers to remember that it is the inclusion, or rather the exclusion, of love that brings depth to the novel. Without it the characters would be seen purely as stereotypical versions of themselves, making their choices as though everything is black or white. In short, the theme of love in Frankenstein allows for shades of gray without the plot, which is especially interesting when one considers that the novel is overcast with moroseness, and is, at its core, an example of horror fiction.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publication, Inc, 2009. Print.


  1. Everything you said is interesting and relevant to the theme of love in Frankenstein, but I'd like to elaborate. I think your idea that "the implementation of love is vital for the benevolence of people" is a very astute observation, but needs to be expanded. In your post, you concentrated on the relationship between Frankenstein and his monster, which is arguably the most important relationship in the novel, but there are other interesting relationships and loves to be examined.
    The most interesting to me, is the relationship of the monster to the DeLacys. So far as we have read, he has not confronted them or exposed his existence to them, but yet he feels a great connection and affection for them. This, then, is where i feel there is a hole in your theory. You say that love "can only be found through human connections". While it is true the monster longs for a deeper relationship with the DeLacys through human contact, he does not need this contact to love them, repeatedly referring to them as “my friends”.
    This contact may be needed for reciprocated love, but for love at its most elementary level, this human interaction is not necessarily needed. Indeed, the monster felt love and affection for the DeLacys before he could even decipher their language. This type of love is also evident in the DeLacy's love of Safie, for she did not speak their language when she came to them, and only spoke to Felix before through an interpreter.
    The relationships of Victor to his family and friends is also up front and obvious in the novel. In all the letters to which the reader is privy, the language is rich and affectionate. “My dearest cousin” (61), “My dear Victor,” (70), and “your affectionate…father” (73), are all common occurrences in these correspondences and these phrases also permeate the characters’ speech. Perhaps Shelley is setting up the overly affectionate life of Victor Frankenstein in an attempt to further juxtapose him with the monster, and also provide a source of confusion and lack of understanding for the monster’s emotional distress.

  2. I'm excited to see you focus on love; I am less excited to see you do a bait-and-switch, by indicating in the title that you have a "theory" of love, but immediately switching to a "theme" of love: they are very different things!

    You make the bold claim that all the characters in the novel are searching for love. Then you only talk about the monster!

    I actually very much like the idea that we can get some kind of theory of love out of the monster himself. Is it a theory of love based on how parental love should work, and what happens in its absence? Is it a theory about natural love, in the absence of ordinary human contact? Is it about God's love (not an easy argument, but I actually believe, without easily being able to prove, that the novel owes at least a small debt to the Gospel of John - so I'm not opposed to the argument)?

    By generalizing your claims about the monster and love to other characters, though, you only get yourself into trouble. Does Victor seek love? That's a tough argument to make about him (and in fact, could be the source of a devastating attack upon him). Walton arguably seeks love - but doesn't he want fame more, or at least first?

    I think you would have been better served, first, by focusing on the monster, then, having done so, actually figured out what *theory* of love one could get out of thinking through the details of the monster's character (including, dangerously but temptingly, your idea about the gospel of John - a high risk / high reward approach), rather than chickening out and writing about a more obvious and less interesting "theme" about love which doesn't even hold true for all characters.

    Erika's parellel point that you could focus on the monster's relationship with the De Lacey's is correct, and a fine approach in its own right - it also should make clear that you had more than enough to tackle by clearly focusing on and arguing about the monster himself.