Loneliness in Frankenstein

Instructor: Clayton Tarr

Clayton has taught college English and has a PhD in literature.

In this lesson, we will explore the theme of loneliness in Mary Shelley's ''Frankenstein.'' The theme of loneliness in the novel is expressed not only through the actions and emotions of the characters, but also reflects and foreshadows the loneliness in Shelley's own life.

Robert Walton's Loneliness in Exploration

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was first published in 1818. The novel deals with, among many other things, the theme of loneliness and its effects on the human psyche. The first character we meet is named Robert Walton. Through letters addressed to his sister Margaret Saville, we learn that Walton has traveled to Northern Europe and has hired a boat and crew to find passage through the North Pole to North America. Walton details some aspects of his childhood and education so that we may learn that he is a restless wanderer, upset at being unfit to be a true poet. The exploration he undertakes is, in some sense, a replacement for his failures. If he succeeds, it will bring him purpose. However, the journey proves to be full of dangerous obstacles.

Shelley quite clearly borrowed from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' to express the loneliness of a seafaring man. (In fact, Shelley directly refers to 'Ancient Mariner' in the 1831 edition of the novel.) Walton loses control over his crew and is very much isolated aboard the ship. Ultimately, he meets and rescues Victor Frankenstein. They form a fast friendship, based on mutual ambitions, and Walton attentively transcribes Victor's story. After Victor's death, however, we remain unsure of Walton's fate, and never know whether he succeeds in his endeavor or whether he makes it back home at all.

Samuel Taylor

Victor Frankenstein's Lonely Experiment

The beginning of Victor Frankenstein's story details his upbringing and his education, the latter of which shows him becoming increasingly isolated from his friends and family. He is initially inspired by the theory of galvanism, the use of electricity to stimulate matter. Although he becomes briefly disenchanted with the natural sciences, he is reinvigorated while studying at university. There he loses contact with his loved ones, and especially with his Elizabeth, whom he is betrothed to marry. At the height of his obsession, Victor basks in his self-appointed loneliness. He believes his creation will be his only friend. This is not the case. Victor abandons the creature and falls deathly ill. With the aid of his childhood friend Henry Clerval, Victor recovers, but he never regains the full ability to be sociable--especially when he and his family are being hunted by the creature. Eventually, all of Victor's loved ones die, and he is completely isolated. This feeling of irreversible loneliness drives his vengeance against the creature.

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