Frankenstein Chapter 4 Summary

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

Victor attends to his studies at the University of Ingolstadt, but he neglects everything else: his family, his social life, and even his health. Though he has made great progress, the real test of his studies is about to come as Victor embarks on a journey to create life.

Chapter 4 of Frankenstein

In chapter 4 of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein's obsessions with science and with overcoming death finally culminate as he finishes his studies and starts his life's work. This lesson will focus on the summary of chapter 4.


In the introduction, through his letters to his sister, we met the explorer Walton, who is trying to reach the North Pole. Out on the ice, Walton picks up a strange traveler. In chapter 1, we learn that this man is Victor Frankenstein, and he begins to tell Walton the story of his life. In chapter 2, Shelley shows us the interests the teenage Victor has, and sets him on the path to his scientific work. In chapter 3, tragedy strikes Victor when his mother dies, and hope returns when he heads off to the University of Ingolstadt to begin his study with Professor Waldman.

Victor's Obsession and Studies

Two years pass while Victor Frankenstein studies at the University of Ingolstadt. His love of scientific knowledge grows into an obsession. He continues to study with the two professors he was first introduced to at the University, Professor Krempe and Professor Waldman.

Professor Krempe becomes a source of good information to Victor, though Frankenstein still doesn't like the man. The professor makes fun of Victor and his background every chance he gets. Professor Waldman, on the other hand, has become a true friend to Victor. He has 'smoothed the path of knowledge' and is thrilled at the progress his pupil is making.

Victor has made rapid progress at the university, but he has let all else go in favor of his obsession with knowledge and learning. Though he has improved some scientific instruments and gained admiration at school, Victor hasn't written often or visited his home at all. He has focused his attention on the human form and stopping the process of death and decay.

Now, though, Victor believes he has learned all he can from the university and plans to head home to Geneva.

Frankenstein works on his creation
Frankenstein works on his creation

Victor's Discovery and Plan

Victor's plans change when he discovers what he calls the secret of life. Through his years of study, Victor has discovered how to bring things to life, though the reader is never enlightened as to exactly what he has discovered. Now Victor believes he has the ability to reanimate dead things. The explorer Walton excitedly asks him what it is. Victor breaks the frame of the story when he refuses to tell him. Victor is worried Walton will make the same mistakes he did.

But though, as readers, we never know what the secret is, or how it works, we do learn about Victor's excitement. This is what he has been trying to do since watching the tree explode as a teenager. He has conquered death! In a way, perhaps, he can bring his mother back, or at least stop others from dying. He feels he has harnessed science, and so he makes a plan. He needs a body to animate.

Victor decides to make a superhuman. In fact, he plans to eventually make a whole race of these super creatures. They would venerate Victor as the founder of their race. In fact, Victor reasons, if he can create life, one day he may be able to stop death. He plans that these supermen will be eight feet tall and stronger, kinder, and smarter than the humans that exist in Victor's world.

So he begins to build the first man out of pieces he gets from charnel houses and graveyards.

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