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Climax of Frankenstein: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' presents one of the most iconic horror stories of all time. But the novel's powerful climax reveals that this is far more than a simple scary story: it is a meditation on the universal human emotions of ambition and revenge.

A Cold and Desolate Heart: Frankenstein's Arctic Ending

In her 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley presents one of the most unforgettable sci-fi horror stories of all time, the tragic tale of Victor Frankenstein and his monstrous creation. It is a story that has captured audiences' imaginations for two centuries, but the novel is far more than a blood-curdling good time. Frankenstein's incredible Arctic ending reveals what has lain at the heart of the novel all along: the corruptions of ambition and the complexities of revenge.

Mary Shelley
Shelley

The Beginning of the End: The Climax of Frankenstein

Frankenstein ends where it began: in the Arctic Circle, aboard Robert Walton's ship. Victor has been rescued by Walton, a sea captain obsessed with discovering a northern passage to the Atlantic, no matter the cost. Victor recognizes in Walton the same foolhardy ambition that destroyed his own life and he tells Walton his story to spare Walton a similar fate.

Overcome with despair, sickness, and exhaustion, Victor dies once his story is finished. Shortly after Victor dies, the monster, who apparently has been monitoring his creator all along, boards Walton's ship.

Victor had described the monster as a fiend, a demon, the scourge, or divine punishment, for Victor's ambition and hubris, or excessive pride. But we see in this final scene a different image of the monster. Yes, he is diabolical. His lust for revenge against the man who made and then abandoned him is as disproportionate as his massive size.

And yet Walton describes the shocking gentleness with which the creature takes up Victor's body. The monster speaks and acts as a grieving son would. He claims the right of a child to perform his final duties toward a lost parent. This is not the inhuman monster of Victor's narrative. This is a wronged and foolish child trying one last time to do what Victor, when he was alive, did not permit the creature to do: to be a part of a family, to behave as sons should.

The monster disappears into the Arctic wastelands with Victor's body, and neither are ever seen again. Walton then makes up his mind for good. He turns his ship around and heads home with his crew. The monster has shown him the other side of ambition, and he finds that the glory is not worth the pain; the thrill is not worth the terror.

The monster awakens
Frankenstein

The Epistolary Frame Narrative

Frankenstein is a frame narrative, in which the story begins and ends in roughly the same time and place, with most of the real action having occurred in the past. The novel is also an epistolary novel, meaning that it is told in the form of fictional letters from Walton to his sister.

As a frame narrative, the novel begins and ends with the same question: should Walton pursue his reckless ambition to discover a northern passage to the Atlantic, even if he must risk his life and the lives of his crew in the process?

Thus, the frame structure turns the novel into a meditation on a question, a question with which many human beings grapple at some point: how far do I go for the sake of my ambition?

And with that comes a whole host of other questions: what and whom do I sacrifice to get what I want? How far do I go to pursue my dreams? When is the cost too dear?

This also relates in important ways to the epistolary form: the novel begins with Walton expressing his desire for a friend who understands him, and it ends with his decision to return home to the family who loves him.

It all boils down to relationships. Even the letter form suggests that we have no story, there can be no tale, without someone to tell it to. This is not a story spoken into the wind, a narrative written on dead paper. It is a series of letters written to the sister Walton returns to in the end.

The Frozen Wasteland

It's no coincidence that the novel ends on the barren ice of the Arctic. Victor's ambition has led him to a cold and desolate nothingness. Victor pursued his ambition with a blind fervor, a foolish single-mindedness that blocked out everything else--that is, until it was too late.

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