Prompt 2: The Purpose of Place in Frankenstein
Few stories use the environment of the narrative as effectively as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Throughout the novel, setting is used to mirror and enhance the emotions of the stories characters.
Right from the first pages of the book we see the setting play a huge role in the story. Dr. Walton describes the frosty winds of London and the frigid weather on his journey to the North Pole. Shelly is already foreshadowing the cold, loneliness of the characters and the misery that is yet to come throughout the story. In Walton’s final letter to Mrs. Saville, he writes, “Last Monday we were nearly surrounded by ice, which closed in the ship on all sides… our situation was somewhat dangerous, especially as we were compassed round by a very thick fog.” (Shelly, 58) Through this description of the setting, Shelly is using the ship as a metaphor for Walton. He is alone in his cold thoughts and the future does not look promising on finding someone to share his experiences with. This also foreshadows one of the main themes of the story, the wanting of a companion, which the monster exhibits later in the story. However, after finding Frankenstein and growing found of him, he cites the beauty of the stars and the other beauties of his surroundings. This is a key link in showing that the environment the characters describe is reflective of the character’s current state.
When Dr. Frankenstein begins telling his story, the setting of his childhood is far different from that of the scene on the ship. Shelly carefully uses words that paint Frankenstein’s childhood as warm and loving. For example, she describes Elizabeth as “gay and playful as a summer insect.” (Shelly 66) There is never a mention of the cold, snow, or ice. Setting this warm tone is important to the story because as the story progresses, Frankenstein’s actions are partially motivated by the need to get back the warm loving care he used to be accustomed to.
At the start of chapter four, Shelly immediately uses the setting to foreshadow the eventual creation of the monster by describing the scene as a “Dreary night of November.” She depicts the darkness at one in the morning and the consistent fall of rain that is signaling the event that will lead both the monster and Frankenstein to lives of misery.
It is only fitting that when Frankenstein and the monsters meet each other on the peak of Montanvert that it is a snowy isolated area. Shelly continues to depict the cold isolation both men feel by depicting ice a league deep with the surface “rising like waves of a troubled sea.” (Shelly 117) Shelly also shows strong symbolism by making the monster tell Frankenstein his story in a cave. In the cave they are completely alone, just as the monster and Frankenstein are.
Throughout Frankenstein Shelly does a masterful job of using the stories setting to describe the characters. By doing this she invokes feelings that are more powerful than just describing the feelings of the characters. Her method allows the reader to better feel, and connect with what the characters are going through.