Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein is a landmark in English literature. In many ways, it can be considered as the first science fiction novel, combining elements of the Romantic movement with Gothic horror, spawning an entire genre of literature. Shelley’s story tells of a man who, seeking to understand and control life itself, creates a monster and is ultimately destroyed by it.
One of the most important themes in Frankenstein is that of knowledge, its power and danger. Victor Frankenstein is, in many ways, characteristic of the scientific revolution of the 18th century. He seeks to expand human understanding and control life and death itself. This endless pursuit of knowledge drives Victor to his doom.
A second theme in Frankenstein is that of nature. The Romantics, of which Mary Shelley’s husband Percy Bysshe Shelley is an ideal example, embraced nature as the epitome of sublime existence. Nature was where one could rejuvenate oneself. In Frankenstein, nature serves to affect the mood of the characters, and when Victor finally understands that he can never be free of the creature, flees to the most inhospitable environment, the Arctic.
A third theme is that of monstrosity. Victor’s creation is an abomination of nature, and universally rejected by society. However, Victor himself becomes a monster, in the drive and secrecy with which he created this thing, and the way his hatred of it drives his obsessions.