Tompkins County Public Library

101 E. Green St.
Ithaca, NY 14850

Library Home Page
Frankenstein Home Page

Penetrating the 
Secrets of Nature
  Discussion Questions
By Betty T. Bennett
Literature Consultant, Frankenstein Traveling Exhibition Project
  1. Frankenstein has its roots in the popular Gothic genre, which generally tells harrowing stories involving an innocent girl, a sinister castle, an even more sinister authority figure, and frightening supernatural beings.

    In what ways did Mary Shelley transform the Gothic novel to focus on the influence of circumstances, education, and values in shaping the conduct of individuals and society?

  2. How does Mary Shelley repeatedly illustrate that it is not science per se, but Victor Frankenstein's narcissism and hunger for self-aggrandizement - the results of class and chivalric values of power - that are central problems of Frankenstein and society?

  3. How are Victor Frankenstein's view of and practice of science a metaphoric model for the need for social change? Who is the actual monster in Frankenstein?

  4. How does Frankenstein emphasize liberal arts education?

    Consider Victor Frankenstein's and the Creature's educations, e.g., Victor Frankenstein's father's offhand dismissal of his son's misdirection in reading Agrippa, compared with the Creature's reading of Milton (Paradise Lost), Plutarch (Lives), Volney (Ruins of Empire), Goethe (Sorrows of Werter), and Victor Frankenstein's scientific notes.

  5. Compare the differences in motivation between the mythological Prometheus in giving humanity light (knowledge), and Victor Frankenstein in creating, and then abandoning, his creature?

  6. How does Frankenstein depict the role of women in a world controlled by men? In what ways can the women in the novel be metaphoric for all those disenfranchised by the social system?

  7. In what ways was Frankenstein a story for its time? How/why has it become a story for ours? Might this tie into the fact that Mary Shelley does not actually depict the Creature's death in the book?


Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature was developed by the National Library of Medicine in collaboration with the American Library Association.

It has been made possible by major grants from The National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, D.C., and the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Md. The traveling exhibition is based upon a major exhibition produced by the National Library of Medicine in 1997-1998.

American Library Association National Endowment for the Humanities National Library of Medicine

Local program support has been generously provided by Cornell University, M&T Bank, and Borders Bookstore.

Cornell University Logo M & T Bank Logo Borders Bookstore Logo

We have also benefited from many local partnerships with community groups including the members of the Discovery Trail.

Frankenstein image from:

Library Home Page
Last Revised September 7, 2002