Everybody's heard of Frankenstein, but very few know who he actually is. Now you can teach who he is.
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Need we question its literary merit? Teachers may want to focus on the following issues when teaching Frankenstein:
The dangers of science and technology: Can science go too far?
Stem cell research and human cloning: Are there some things humans should just leave be?
Obsession: How can obsession ruin one's life?
Love: How does love motivate one's actions?
Beauty: What role does outward beauty play in how one is judged? What role does inner beauty play?
Romanticism: How does the novel encompass the ideals of Romanticism (the literary movement)?
Adaptations: How has the novel been adapted into American culture (for example: movies, Halloween masks, children's books)?
Nature: How does nature soothe one's nerves? What responsibility do we have to preserve the Earth's natural beauty?
Friendship: How important is it to have friends?
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Teachers may want to focus on the following literary devices when teaching Frankenstein (check out the Frankenstein Study Guide for more information):
Setting: Scenes depicting Dr. Frankenstein at work occur at night; nature brings peace and contentment; the monster shows up when it's stormy.
Tragedy: the novel follows aspects of tragedy, including Dr. Frankenstein in the role of tragic hero.
Frame story: the story within a story, within a story, within a story accentuates the lack of importance in society and Dr. Frankenstein ascribes to the monster, which, incidentally, has no name.
Suspense: It's a can't put down type of novel.
Dramatic Irony: Because the narrator tells the story looking back, he is fully aware of what is going on. So is the reader.
Conflict: Man vs. Monster; Man vs. Supernatural; Individual vs. society
Allusion: Allusions to other literary works, historical figures, and famous people abound.
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Appropriateness and Readability
Mary Shelley uses an elevated writing style, including many Latin and Greek based words with which students may not be familiar. Teaching Greek and Latin Roots as well as independent reading strategies will make the novel more enjoyable.
Frankenstein is best suited for an honors class, being a popular novel on Advance Placement Exams, the ACT and the SAT. There are some gruesome scenes; however, they lack the graphicness of today's shock culture. Average readers will struggle with the novel's complex style and language. Attempting to teach it to a non-honors class may be detrimental to your sanity.
If you decide to teach it, read Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Shelley alludes to it frequently. Both works have the same structure, frame story. Both deal with the same theme: love conquers all. Both contain supernatural elements. Both are scary.