Formal Devices and Theme in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Frankenstein and his creation

Authors often link formal device to a larger theme in their writing. If done correctly, this can greatly enhance the quality and meaning of a novel. Mary Shelley masterfully relates formal devices to the larger theme in her 1818 novel, Frankenstein. The stories structure ties in with the overall theme of the importance of communication and language.  All three characters doing the narrating have something blocking their ability to communicate their feelings through the use of language.

The story of Frankenstein is presented in the form of a narrative, but a narrative with multiple layers. As the layers get deeper, so does the importance of communication and language. The story first begins with the ex-poet-now explorer, Walton. The narration of Walton is gathered through a series of letters he is writing to his sister back in England. Walton is a man striving for glory and fame, a man of ideas, but cannot seem to make friends with any of the men on his ship. Walton writes “I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me; whose eyes world replay to mine” (8). Walton is having trouble communicating his feelings to other people, he feels trapped within himself. When Victor Frankenstein is saved from the icy waters, Walton is fascinated by him; Walton describes Frankenstein as a man “broken by misery”(15). Frankenstein appears to be the man Walton could communicate with, a man he could relate to. The second layer presented to the reader is the narration of Victor’s life to Walton. Victor Frankenstein is indeed broken by misery; he created a creature that eventually kills everyone close to him. After the death of Victor’s little brother Thomas, the entire city blames Justine, the family’s servant, when Victor knows his creature is responsible. There is no way for him to communicate his grief; he has no evidence to back up his claims, and no one would believe him. Frankenstein is trapped within himself, he relates: “The tortures of the accused did not equal mine; she was sustained by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore my bosom, and would not forego their hold” (64). When Frankenstein explores some mountains close to his native town, he comes into contact with the creature he created. From here the story goes into its deepest layer; the narration of the creature.  The creature begins by explaining his experience of learning the basic workings of the world, then extensively talks about his experience of learning language. He is fascinated by it; the creature learns fast and becomes very eloquent and evocative. The creature however, cannot use his language, he is an outcast of society; he is a hideous creature of great stature.  He has no one to communicate with but his creator (who despises him). Similarly to Walton and Frankenstein, the creature is trapped within his head, alone. All three characters suffer from the inability to express themselves. Walton cannot express his feelings or emotions to anyone aboard his ship, Frankenstein cannot reveal his secret that is tearing him up inside, and the curious, pure creature cannot communicate with anyone other than Frankenstein. The story is set up in such a way that the reader can see the theme of inability to communicate through language, woven into the story itself.

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