Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Analyzed

The 1994 Hollywood recreation of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein has some major differences from the novel that affect the mood of the story.  One that really stands out is the relationship between Victor and Elizabeth in the movie as compared to the novel.  In the movie the two are depicted as a couple madly in love with each other which changes the viewer’s attitude towards the story.  This change is demonstrative of the difference between reading the novel as a work of romanticism or a cautionary tale of the dangers of the advancement of science and knowledge.
Mary Shelley published her book in 1818 in Europe.  At this time the views towards women were of arranged marriages and duties in the household.  Corresponding to the time, the novel involved the engagement of Elizabeth and Victor as his mother’s last wish before her death.  She tells the two of them “my firmest hopes of future happiness were placed on the prospect of your union.” (Shelley). Contrary to that, the movie released in 1994 in the United States shows them as a couple in love who want to get married.  Victor actually proposes to her before he leaves for Ingolstadt to attend the university.  This change demonstrates the difference of the time eras the two were released in but also expands the concept of love in the story.  The novel treats Elizabeth as a gift to Victor from his mother, as if she has no choice but to stay with the Frankenstein family and marry Victor.  In the movie, she is treated as an orphan brought home to be Victor’s friend and sister, there is no mention of her being forced to marry him or be with him in the future. 
Later in the movie and the novel, when the monster demands a companion, the book and the movie separate once again.  The monster does kill Elizabeth in both versions but for different reasons in each.  In the movie he kills her on their wedding night because Victor had barely started work on creating the second monster.  In the novel however Victor questions his responsibility of creating a new race of monsters while he is working on the new creation in England. After some debate, tells the monster he will not make him a companion.  The monster then proceeds to kill Elizabeth on the night of her wedding to Victor.  After Elizabeth’s death the stories change drastically.  Victor is so in love with Elizabeth in the movie that he rushes her lifeless body to his lab and reanimates her into a form similar to that of the monster.  He displays pitiful attempts to dance with her and love her even though she is completely hideous.  Then the monster arrives and demands that she be his companion but Victor will not give her up.  Elizabeth the monster then proceeds to kill herself and Victor pledges to kill the monster out of revenge.  In the book, Victor’s father dies upon hearing about Elizabeth’s death and Victor pledges to seek out and destroy his creation in revenge for all the evil it had bestowed on his life, not just to avenge Elizabeth.
These changes are important not only to the flow of the story but to the viewers of the movie at the time of its release.  In the 1990s major advancements were being made in all fields of science.  Computers were being more developed, medicine was improving, and research was getting better (Goel).  To appeal to viewers and tell a strong cautionary tale about the advancement of science the screenwriters expanded the relationship between Victor and Elizabeth into real love.  If love, sometimes considered to be the strongest emotion, could be shown being destroyed by a creation of science, the cautionary side of the story could really come forth and heed warning to the viewers.   If the movie had followed the novel strictly, the arranged marriage and seemingly forced love of Victor and Elizabeth would not have made her death appear as devastating as it did in the movie’s version of the story.
As for Victor reanimating Elizabeth after her death in the movie, this again appeals to the cautionary part of the tale.  The scene expresses Victor’s love for her as stronger then death but at the same time develops the idea in the viewers that death is inevitable.  He brings his lovely wife back to life and though she is grotesque, he loves her regardless.  When the monster tries to claim her for himself the viewer gets the feeling that nothing can save a person from the consequences of their actions, not even love.  When the monster Elizabeth commits suicide the viewer is able to realize how horrendous Victor’s creations really are and that love is not even capable of soothing the reality of what his work had done.
Victor meddled with life and death and in the end he suffered the wrath of his creation.  The movie made a point to express this explicitly as compared to the novel.  Although the novel could have been read as a cautionary tale it was also a definitive work of romanticism.  Without expanding and changing the relationship between Victor and Elizabeth in the movie, the warning of science’s advancements would not have been as prominent to the viewer.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Lynd Ward. Frankenstein: The Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.

Goel, Tarun. Technological Advances of the 90s. Bright Hub. October 26, 2012. Accessed January 21, 2014. Available:

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. 1994. DVD.


Shane Bombara said...


As someone who also chose to compare the novel to a movie adaptation I found that you made some interesting differentiations throughout. The first body paragraph was a subtle way to really open your paper by explaining the significant difference between 18th-19th century literature/style of writing compared to our modern views and ideals we hold today. I think that was important for setting the tone for when you mention themes like Romanticism and love. I did find it a bit harder to grasp why Elizabeth’s death and the subsequent request for her to be the monster’s bride as important in regards to the effects of the cautionary tale/love story by the viewer until I read the following paragraph. I think it’s a bit muddled but could be reworked to clarify your points more smoothly. I believe it was a good job at discerning the ultimate effects that a slight change from the novel to the movie can really make an impact on the viewers perceptions.

Adam said...

What I like about your introduction is that it both introduces a difference and offers an initial thought on what that difference means. Good.

2nd paragraph: You are certainly reasonable and very likely correct in giving this straightforward historical explanation of the differences in the two Elizabeths, although maybe you could do more with the discomfort/anxiety/dread surrounding the idea of arranged marriage here.

The 3rd paragraph more summarizes than analyzes. That's not the end of the world - some of the material here is certainly important to what you're doing - but I would have liked to see the summarization reduced and focused more clearly upon your argument about romanticism vs. a cautionary tale.

"When the monster tries to claim her for himself the viewer gets the feeling that nothing can save a person from the consequences of their actions, not even love.  When the monster Elizabeth commits suicide the viewer is able to realize how horrendous Victor’s creations really are and that love is not even capable of soothing the reality of what his work had done." - this is an interesting and smart take on what the movie does. I would like to see the structure of that paragraph and the previous paragraph altered in such a way that the summarization is reduced while the particular claims/interpretations you make in the passage I quote are more directly defended. In other words I think your approach is very workable, but not (yet) correctly organized.

The conclusion was a little sudden for me, I guess because I don't think your argument about the film-as-cautionary tale is yet fully developed. I have no complains about either your idea or your reading/viewing - you could have done a little better showing *how* you arrive at your ideas through the details of your reading & viewing, though.