Monday, September 26, 2016

Oakridge's 5th Period Sophomore English Class Discusses Theme in Chapters 5-8 of Vol. 1 of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Oakridge Sophomore Period 5’s Motion to Show Abandonment & Loyalty as the Main Theme of Chapters 5-8, Vol. 1, of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Opening Argument:

When we finished Volume One of Mary Shelley’s novel, one word came to mind: abandonment. In Chapters 5 through 8, the section begins and ends with characters being abandoned by the ones they need the most. The Creature’s maker deserts him at the moment of his “birth,” and Justine is betrayed by the overzealous community she grew up in.


Henry Clerval serves as a contrary example to the idea outlined above, for he refuses to abandon his friend, Victor Frankenstein, when Victor undergoes hardship by becoming ill. Unlike our protagonist, Henry does not ignore his obligation to a friend for purposes of pursuing his studies. Instead, he puts friendship before his quest for knowledge.

Evidence of Abandonment as a main theme:

“I ought to be thy Adam...” - Victor Reacts to His Creation by Garret K, Will G, Mack N, Dylan W, & Yates B

The completion of Victor’s project sparks a negative reaction within him such that Victor’s response to the animation of the monster was not one of excitement and pride, but of regretful revulsion and disappointment. Like Alphonse or Walton’s father, we observe another example of a father’s disappointment, but not because of books this time. Before the monster exhaled the breath of life, Victor seemed to view his creation’s physical characteristics favorably, complimenting his “in proportioned limbs”, “teeth of pearly whiteness”, and “lustrous black” hair (58). However, after Victor dreams of Elizabeth and his mother, he only gazes at the monster in horror to the extent that his heart could no longer “endure the aspect of the being“ he “had created” (50). Why was Victor’s reaction to the animation of the Monster so hostile and exaggerated after being so invested in the project for nearly 2 years? What does Victor’s reaction to his creation reveal about his character? Perhaps his reaction reveals something about how he views himself; it could be a manifestation of his disgust for his own actions due to decisions such as robbing corpses, ignoring his family, skipping classes, etc. His reaction to the Monster’s coming to life definitely shows a tendency to react extremely to events that occur in his life. Victor may have felt abandoned emotionally when his father called his childhood interests “sad trash,” which could have left a psychic scar in Victor’s mind, leading him to treat his monster with the same apathy. With this in mind, abandonment seems to breed more abandonment in this novel, and the most obvious and most important instance (in terms of plot) is Victor abandoning the monster.

Has Absence Made the Heart Grow Fonder? - More on Victor and Elizabeth by Faith D, Berkley B, Janae P, Rachel C, Sheridan D

In previous chapters, Victor demonstrated a deep love for Elizabeth. His feelings for his family, however, were not as affectionate. Perhaps this is because he may have felt ostracised by his father, or because his mother died when he was young. We understand that Victor may have been able to leave his family for the university because he was not as emotionally close to them. We don’t quite understand why leaving Elizabeth for the university was so easy. Frankenstein soon replaces his family with the obsession of obtaining and manipulating the secrets of nature, in specific, the reversal of death. He labors over the creation of a “being” for many months, neglecting his own needs and health for that of his creation until it is brought to life. Victor immediately regrets his actions and in a dream he has on the night of the birth of his creation, he dreams of Elizabeth as “a bloom of health,” and being with her (59). After kissing Elizabeth, he draws away from her, and as he does so, the face of Elizabeth changes into the face of his deceased mother, “livid with the hue of death” (59). Perhaps the dream is Victor’s subconscious telling him that he harbors deep resentment towards Elizabeth, since the death of Victor’s mother resulted from her time spent caring for Elizabeth when she was ridden with scarlet fever. Maybe the dream caused Victor to realize that his feelings for Elizabeth have changed, or maybe his feelings are simply not as strong as they once were. Victor seems to emotionally abandon Elizabeth, disregarding her feelings and only thinking of his best interest.

Evidence of Loyalty as a main theme:

Abandonment’s Opposite: the Friendship of Henry Clerval by Mason H., Megan M., Mia M., Garrett S., Tushar K.

While there are many examples of abandonment in this section, Shelley makes it a point to present us with an opposite example of which there is but one—Henry Clerval, and his unwavering loyalty to Victor. This loyalty of Clerval is present despite the fact that Victor never writes to him, let alone even thinks of him. This loyalty is further emphasized when Clerval spends the entirety of the winter after the monster is created “consumed in [Victor’s] sick room,” “instead of being spent in study,” to nurse Victor back to health, after the nervous illness Victor contracts due to his horrific experience of animating life (63). Victor receives Henry with much enthusiasm, whereas his neglect towards Elizabeth continued at least until her letter: “Nothing could equal my delight on seeing Clerval … I grasped his hand, and in a moment forgot my horror and misfortune; I felt suddenly, and for the first time during many months, calm and serene joy” (61). Victor’s absence (as a friend) highlights Henry’s loyalty all the more; it highlights Victor’s continued self-willed isolation from the rest of his family as well. Shelley carefully constructs this juxtaposition to extol Henry’s loyalty, but more importantly to further expose the flaws of Victor (60). Reintroducing Henry into the story is a way to reintroduce loyalty as well as the need for companionship and community. Clerval exclaimed, “how glad I am to see you!”, which demonstrates that despite the absence, perhaps even aloofness, of Victor, Henry still thinks about, and concerns himself with, his friend (60). Indeed, it almost seems as though Henry is loyal to a fault; after all, is Victor using him, or at least not reciprocating the same kind of devotion? Clerval serves not so much as an accurate portrayal of a best friend, but functions more as a flat character, a simple vehicle through which Shelley can reveal more about Victor’s character. Also, Victor and Henry could not be more different; while the former is seemingly in a perpetual state of despair, depression, fear, and anguish, the latter is always in a good mood, full of vivacity, energy, and zest for life. Victor states, “[Henry] exerted himself to amuse me, while he expressed the sensations that filled his soul” (71). Shelley is perhaps intimating that the quality of loyalty leads to happiness, and is the facilitator through which relationships can be maintained, and, as in Victor’s with Elizabeth, even resuscitated. Ultimately, Clerval helps us as readers better understand Victor’s complex personality, showing Victor to be someone who can treat those dearest to him more like possessions, which can easily be put on a shelf to be neglected and to collect dust, only to be dusted off and used again when it suits Victor’s needs. While this speaks volumes about Victor, we wonder: Will Victor’s proclivity towards abandoning others further affect the lives of others that are closest to him? Will he learn his lesson about this before we meet him in the ice somewhere near the north pole?

Evidence of Abandonment & Loyalty as the main themes:

No Justice for Justine by Eric P.,James B.,Brad G.,Thomas W.

Justine’s court case is the death of justice in the book; it’s the moment that the Genevan society loses its innocence in the eyes of the reader. Even though Justine was adopted and of the working class, she was still considered a member of the Frankenstein Family and was greatly cared for by both Victor and Elizabeth. Before the incident, Justine’s appearance evoked kindness in all who gazed upon her (85). However, after she is falsely accused of the murder of William Frankenstein, “the kindness which her beauty might otherwise have excited was obliterated in the minds of the spectators” and the jury “viewed her unequivocally as evil” (85). This specifically shows the romantic idea that humanity’s natural innocence is robbed by social experience, just like the court, the church, and the surrounding community robbed Justine of her innocence. Justine was abandoned by her friends, whom she had known for a long time, due to the horrid crime that she was accused of and, as a result,  received no true defense of character or action from them. Even though Victor was convinced of her innocence, he ended up betraying her in his silence. The only one to truly stand for her was Elizabeth, who tried to convince the court of her innocence, but was ignored, perhaps because she is female. Although there was no definitive evidence of  Justine committing the murder, this was ignored, and the trial continued based on circumstantial factors at best. Justine, therefore, was abandoned by the law that was supposed to protect her. Her world was revealed to be one based on a broken, corrupted social contract. Victor was the only person who could convince those arround her of Justine's innocence, but he abstained because he would be labeled a madman if he spilled his unnatural tale. Justine was later abandoned by her religion when the priest pressured her to admit to committing the crime, claiming that it was the only way to receive absolution. Everyone in the courtroom, including most of her adopted family members, abandoned her “due to the fact that they might be associated with someone that is labeled as guilty”(85), but Justine’s episode did demonstrate one example to the contrary: the unwavering loyalty of Elizabeth.

Closing Argument & Question:

Chapters 5-8 of Volume 1 present episodes that demonstrate examples of both abandonment and loyalty by way of Victor’s creation, his illness, and the trial of Justine, but we’re left with the following question: If isolation is shown to have its dangers, can’t we say the same about living within a community when we consider the case of Justine? What is Shelley saying about the challenges of living in a community?

Colley's 5th Period Honors Survey of British Literature Class
The Oakridge School
Sept. 26, 2016


  1. It is strange that Justine is forgotten almost by the Frankenstein Family, and left to die by execution, perhaps it shows that the Frankenstein's only care about people that are convenient

  2. I think we're being unfair to Elizabeth (if we consider her part of the Frankenstein family). She spoke up for Justine, but no one listened. Is it because Elizabeth (as a female) has no role/voice in the public sphere of court proceedings?