suggested Frankenstein study questions for the Cornell Freshmen Reading
- There is an implicit assumption in our
society that discovery=progress=good. Similarly, there is an implicit
assumption that vision (literal, as in sight, and symbolic, as in creative,
visionary thinking) is a good thing.
Does this novel challenge or support those
assumptions, and how?
- In William Safire’s article “The Crimson
Birthmark,” enclosed, he refers to a 2002 panel of scientists assembled
by the National Academy of Sciences, deliberating cloning.
According to him, their “unanimous, unequivocal
conclusion was that the cloning of cells to reproduce a human being
was ‘dangerous and likely to fail’ and should be outlawed by Congress.
At the same time, the scientists found no such risk in the cloning of
cells in a dish, never to be implanted in a woman, for ‘developing new
medical therapies to treat life-threatening diseases and advancing our
fundamental biomedical knowledge.’”
Does your reading of the novel Frankenstein
support or challenge this decision?
- In this novel, as in many Romantic
texts, unspoiled nature provides the major uplifting counterpart to
the troubled world of humanity. Currently, though, the scientific question
about altering life forms through genetic engineering is focused on
nature more than on humans: though cloning and related technologies
are being debated, large percentages of agricultural crops are already
How does this novel enable or encourage us
to think about these issues?
- It has been said that this novel is
about two monsters, or two victims: Victor Frankenstein and his hideous
What are the similarities or parallels between
What are the differences?
- Some critics argue that the text offers
no strong female roles. Do you agree?
Does it offer any strong male roles?
Which ones, and how?
(Note: this question may lead you to investigate
the term “strong” in this context.)
- Although it might invite discussion
of social and scientific questions, this novel tells a story rather
than posing those questions or expounding upon them.
What are the advantages and disadvantages
to our discussion created by the novel’s form?
Could a piece of non-fiction engage the same
kinds of questions in the same way?
- If Frankenstein’s monster were less
horrifying to behold, would the plot lose its terrifying force?
That is, what elements are truly horrible
here: the fact of recklessly created, unnatural life, or the fact of its
hideous appearance and acts?
- This novel is a set of nested narratives;
it consists of people telling other people stories.
How does that structure affect our relationship
to the novel?
Can we trust these stories w are told?
Do we have a choice about whether or not
What is the role of imagination here?
Penetrating the Secrets of Nature was developed by the National
Library of Medicine in collaboration with the American
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.
support has been generously provided by Cornell
University, M&T Bank,
We have also benefited from many local partnerships with community groups
including the members of the Discovery
image from: http://www.creativescreenwriting.com/articles/essman12_99.html