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Monday, April 02, 2007

Frankenstein-Discussion Questions

-- bracketed numbers are for the 1818 text as reprinted in the Longman anthology
-- numbers in parenthesesThree Gothic Novels edition are for the Penguin

1. Who was Prometheus? Why is the novel subtitled "the Modern Prometheus"

2. Why is the novel initially set aboard a ship? Can you think of any other famous works which are set aboard ships? Why did Mary Shelley choose to use that particular setting here? Does it mean anything beyond the immediately apparent physical setting?

3. Note the various narrative "frames" Mary Shelley employs in her novel. What is the purpose of these various frames? What, specifically, does she wish to accomplish by employing these multiple frames?

4. What sort of man is Walton? Does he serve any thematic function in the novel, or is he included largely as a "storyteller"--that is, is he included simply as a mechanical narrative device?

5. In what ways do Walton's letters prepare us for the tale he tells? What difference (if any) do these letters make in the way we react to the rest of the novel? Note that in the 1818 edition the letters (pp. 269-87) [pp. 815-23] appear before the headline announcing "Chapter 1" (p. 289) [p. 823]. What is the effect of thus "bracketing" the letters?

6. Work out a character sketch of Victor Frankenstein, concentrating on his values and psychological makeup. What does he value? What motivates him? What appear to be his "moral standards"?

7. The first three chapters tell us about Victor Frankenstein's childhood and youth; the fourth, about his "discovery" of the principle of life. For movie fans these chapters may seem irrelevant: after all, we want to see the Creature being created and--amid bursts of smoke and flashes of lightning--"born." Why, then, does Mary Shelley devote so much space to Victor's childhood environment and his education? See (pp.295) [pp. 824ff.], for instance. Why do we need this stuff, anyway?

8. Volume I, Chapter iv (Chapter 5): the Creature is created. Where is the focus in this section? On the process of creation? On the Creature? Somewhere else?

9. Why does Victor work so diligently to bring the Creature to life and then become so abhorrent when he succeeds? Is Mary Shelley working with any "prototype" or "pattern" here? Has this sort of experience or behavior occurred anywhere else that you can think of, in literature, art, or elsewhere?

10. Chapters II, ii through II, ix (chapters 10-17): the Creature tells his story. Notice the place Victor Frankenstein meets his Creature. Why is this setting particularly appropriate? The novel now begins to zero in on its major themes {see (pp. 363-66) [pp. 857-60], for instance}. Of what does the Creature accuse Victor?

11. What do pages (367-402) [860-79] (Chapters II, iii - II, vii; Chapters 11-15) reveal about the Creature's "natural instincts"? What gives him pleasure? What dos he value? (Consider, for instance, how he describes the DeLaceys and their cottage.) Of what does the Creature's education consist?

12. Volume II, Chapter viii (Chapter 16): What does the Creature finally decide he must do, and why?

13. Volume II, Chapter ix: (Chapter 17): (pp. 412-15) [pp. 883-85]: What argument does the Creature offer in support of his demand? Why? Is it a reasonable argument?

14. Volume III, Chapter iii (Chapter 20) (pp. 435 ff.) [pp. 895 ff.]: Why does Victor Frankenstein decide to discontinue his efforts to create a "bride" for the Creature?

15. On (p. 439) [p. 897] we begin to see most clearly in Frankenstein's isolation from his fellow creatures a parallel to the Creature's own situation {see also (pp. 448, 456) [pp. 901-02, 905]}. In what other ways are Victor and the Creature beginning to be strikingly similar? Have you encountered this sort of "parallel-making" anywhere else in literature or the arts? If so, where? Does the device have a formal name?

16. Book III, Chapter vii (Chapter 24): Note the surrealistic environment of the "chase" scenes. Are we getting into a different sort of novel than we were originally led to expect? If so, what is the nature of the difference?

17. (Pp. 484-85, 490-91) [pp. 920, 923-24]: Victor Frankenstein's final words--any significance? What about the Creature's final words (pp. 492-97) [pp. 925-27]?

18. Who is the novel's protagonist? Antagonist? "Hero"?

19. In an influential essay, the Romantic scholar and critic Harold Bloom wrote that the reader's sympathy lies with the Creature, but in his book The Romantic Conflict (1963) Allan Rodway says the reader's sympathy lies with Victor Frankenstein. Who is right?

20. Most modern editions change Mary Shelley's spelling of an important word. Near the top of page 493 of the Penguin (Three Gothic Novels) edition and p. 925 of the Longman anthology edition are these words: "'And do you dream?' said the daemon." In many other editions (especially editions aimed at the "mass market" audience), the end of the line reads: "said the demon." What is the difference between daemon and demon, and can you see any reason why Mary Shelley used the former word in her own text, rather than the latter?

21. What is a "monster"?

Prometheus Unbound-Discussion Questions

  1. What is the relationship between Prometheus and Jupiter at the beginning of the poem? How does it change over the course of the first Act. What do you make of the way in which Prometheus “recalls” (I, 59) his curse. Why do you think the Phantasm of Jupiter appears in order to speak the words with which Prometheus cursed Jupiter? After he hears the curse, Prometheus responds, “It doth repent me” (I, 303). What, specifically, are the effects of Prometheus’ repentance, and how does his response have those effects? You may want to compare “The struggling world, which slaves and tyrants win” (I, 577) to the Spirit of the Hour’s speech in Act III, Scene 4, 98-204.

  2. When Asia and Panthea encounter Demogorgon in his cave, they ask him several questions, to which Demogorgon responds, “God” (II.4, 9, 11, 18). But when Asia asks him, “who made terror, madness, crime, remorse” (II.4, 19), Demogorgon responds, “He reigns” (II.4, 28, 31). Why? What does this mean?

  3. One of the most famous lines of the poem is Demogorgon’s assertion that “the deep truth is imageless” (II.4, 116). Demogorgon himself is described as “a mighty darkness / ... ungazed upon and shapeless” (II.4, 2-5). Later Demogorgon describes himself to Jupiter as “Eternity,” and adds, “Demand no direr name” (III.1, 52). What is Demogorgon, and why does he, not Prometheus, tear Jupiter from his throne? Think about the image, one of Shelley’s favorites, of the vulture and the snake “twisted in inextricable fight” (III.1, 73).

  4. Act IV presents a lyric vision of renovation. What has become renovated, and how? What, in this act, is the relationship between lyric song and all the things that the fall of Jupiter together with the reunion of Prometheus and Asia have renovated?

  5. According to a famous anecdote about the early days of the French Revolution, clocks throughout Paris were found to have been riddled with bullets. Apparently, without any prearrangement, various people in different parts of the city felt compelled to shoot their rifles at public clocks. Shelley’s poem too is deeply concerned with the nature of time, from the “wingless, crawling hours” (I, 48) of Act I to the “spectres ... / Of the dead Hours” (IV, 12-13) of Act IV. What is the relationship between the “plot” of this lyric drama and the change that occurs to time itself?

  6. What do you think of the “spells” that Demogorgon provides “by which to reassume / An empire o’er the disentangled doom” (IV, 568-69)? If Eternity “should free / The serpent” (IV, 566-57), will these spells work?