Figurative Language in Frankenstein

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  • 0:00 What Is Figurative Language?
  • 0:23 Personification
  • 1:27 Symbolism
  • 3:04 Simile and Metaphor
  • 5:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
'Frankenstein', the iconic novel by Mary Shelley, offers the reader many different examples of figurative language. In this lesson, we will explore some examples of this and learn about their significance.

What Is Figurative Language?

Figurative language conveys meaning beyond the literal words used. It helps the reader form a clearer understanding of elements in a story, often in interesting and imaginative ways. Mary Shelley uses figurative language in her novel Frankenstein in the form of personification, symbolism, simile, and metaphor.


Personification means giving human characteristics to an inhuman or inanimate object. This creates a more relatable picture in your mind for something that might otherwise be too abstract or difficult to comprehend. Here's a good example from Frankenstein:

'He had partially unveiled the face of Nature, but her immortal lineaments were still a wonder and a mystery.'

What's being personified here? Nature itself is given the human characteristic of a face. Not only that, but a face being unveiled, the way a groom lifts the veil off the face of his bride. Does nature have a face? No. What Shelley is doing here is making an artful comparison to help the reader understand what Victor Frankenstein is thinking and feeling. He is contemplating how the ancient physicians he studied as a child tried and failed to discover the mysteries of nature in order to bring the dead back to life. However, the way Shelley describes it is much more powerful and interesting.


Symbolism is using a person, place, or thing to represent a larger, more complex idea. For example, the heart is a concrete object with a definite function, but it is often used to symbolize the abstract idea of love. Symbolism helps communicate complicated ideas in a simpler, more tangible way.

In Frankenstein, one of the themes is the idea of exploration, which was a very big deal in the early 1800s, when the novel was written. And though exploration is an abstract idea, Shelley ingeniously uses Captain Walton's trip to symbolize the idea of it and its inherent quest for glory.

Polar exploration was a dangerous business, but it brought fame to those who were successful. Captain Walton journeys to the Arctic in search of that fame. He states that '...I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path,' which shows that he, like Victor, has a desire for immortal greatness.

Shelley uses Captain Walton's quest for glory as a symbol for the danger of scientific exploration, such as Victor's quest to create life. Where Captain Walton journeys into unknown, dangerous geographic territory, which he is not able to navigate successfully, so too, Victor journeys into dangerous scientific territory he doesn't fully understand. Captain Walton's outer quest symbolizes the danger of Victor's scientific one.

Simile and Metaphor

Similes are comparisons of two unlike things, using 'like' or 'as.' They make text more beautiful and descriptive and offer a more interesting way for the reader to visualize the image. Here's an example from Frankenstein:

'Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth.'

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