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Penetrating the 
Secrets of Nature
  Study Questions
Some suggested Frankenstein study questions for the Cornell Freshmen Reading Project.
  1. 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. 

  2. Does this novel challenge or support those assumptions, and how?

  3. 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. 

  4. 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? 

  5.  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 genetically engineered. 

  6. How does this novel enable or encourage us to think about these issues? 

  7. It has been said that this novel is about two monsters, or two victims: Victor Frankenstein and his hideous creation. 

  8. What are the similarities or parallels between the two? 
    What are the differences?

  9. Some critics argue that the text offers no strong female roles.  Do you agree? 

  10. 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.)

  11. Although it might invite discussion of social and scientific questions, this novel tells a story rather than posing those questions or expounding upon them. 

  12. 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?

  13. If Frankenstein’s monster were less horrifying to behold, would the plot lose its terrifying force? 

  14. That is, what elements are truly horrible here: the fact of recklessly created, unnatural life, or the fact of its hideous appearance and acts?
  15. This novel is a set of nested narratives; it consists of people telling other people stories. 

  16. 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 to trust? 
    What is the role of imagination here?


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:

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Last Revised September 7, 2002