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Describe the importance of the family in Volume I (including Walton's letters) of Frankenstein. What is Mary Shelly telling us in stressing this theme?

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Introduction

Describe the importance of the family in Volume I (including Walton's letters) of Frankenstein. What is Mary Shelly telling us in stressing this theme? This chapter is primarily concerned with the theme of family and kinship. The absolute necessity of human contact and emotional ties is stressed here: the elder Frankenstein goes through great trouble to visit his impoverished friend, and Caroline, too, is selflessly concerned with the needs of others (her father, her family, and the poor). It is important to note that Beaufort's ruin is itself connected to his decision to cut himself off from his former friends and live in absolute isolation; it is his isolation, more than his poverty, which leads to his death. Because Victor speaks in first person, the other characters are presented as they relate to him ("my father, my mother, my sister"). ...read more.

Middle

Shelley subtly argues that there is nothing more wretched than an orphan: one must care for one's children, since one is responsible for bringing them into the world. This idea will become extremely important with the introduction of the monster, in that Victor's refusal to care for his own creature will say a great deal about the morality of his experiment. Elizabeth is positioned here, quite literally, as a "saint." It is her gentle, feminine influence that saves Victor from his obsession during his time at Geneva. The influence of women, and of femininity, is thus presented as offering hope of salvation it inspires one to temperance and kindness. Caroline's decision to nurse Elizabeth even though it means losing her own life serves to indicate both Caroline's own selflessness and the high value placed on self-sacrifice in the book as a whole. ...read more.

Conclusion

At the moment of his birth, the creature is entirely benevolent: he affectionately reaches out to Frankenstein, only to have the latter violently abandon him. Despite his frightful appearance, he is as innocent as a newly-born child which, in a sense, is precisely what he is. Victor's cruel treatment of the creature stands in stark contrast to both his parents' devotion and Clerval's selfless care: he renounces his child at the moment of its birth. With Elizabeth's letter, we realize how utterly Victor has been cut off from the outside world. His narration of his first two years at Ingolstadt mentions few proper names, and concerns itself not at all with anyone else. The reader realizes how much time has passed, and how much has changed in faraway reader. We learn the names of Victor's brothers, and of the existence of Justine. Elizabeth's relation to Justine is much like Caroline's relation to Elizabeth: she cares for the less fortunate girl and heaps praise upon her, calling her "gentle, clever, and extremely pretty." ...read more.

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