Reading questions for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818)

Please note: These reading questions are merely intended to help you focus your reading and thinking about the text. You do not need to answer any of them in writing, but please read and consider them as you make your way through Shelley’s 1818 novel. It would also help tremendously in class discussion next week if you could mark some passages in the novel that seem especially important for discussing the close reading questions (see further below).


1. What could be done online to elucidate, enrich, visualize, invigorate, such a classic text as Mary Shelley’s Wollstonecraft?

2. How could we have readers INTERACT with this text and with each other is social ways that help them better understand the novel and /or develop a richer play context for it? How could we “globalize” the novel—is that even possible, in your view? How or why (not)?

3. How could we bring the following information into a website?

  • Historical contexts—which ones?
  • What kinds of visuals, audio, video should the world’s best website on Frankenstein include?

4.  Literary theory has developed many different kinds of schools that offer different, sometimes contentious, approaches to interpreting the novel, among them the following. What would any of these probably highlight or be interested in in this novel, in your estimation?

  • Psychoanalytical interpretations, Freudian Id, Ego, Superego, Father complex, etc.
  • Marxist interpretations: Frankenstein as a member of the exploitative bourgeoisie; the creature amongst rural farmers vs in an urban environment, etc.
  • Queer studies interpretations, the novel as a tale of homophobic self-hatred, coming out, etc.


  1. Notice the interesting set-up at the very beginning of the novel: an exchange of letters between Walton and his sister Margaret, neither of whom are major protagonists in the novel proper, so to speak—they just provide a framework, but an important. Then, in chapters 5 and 6, we find more letters. Rather than telling the story directly, through the central narrator, the letters tell the story indirectly and often in hindsight. What is the effect of switching between “regular” narrative and these personal letters—what do you think Shelley was trying to achieve by this epistolary novel method?
  2. In the first five chapters of the novel, we learn a lot about Victor Frankenstein’s background and personality.       What kind of a character is he—what are his aspirations, loves, and concerns in life, but also his conceits or weaknesses? How do these chapters help us see Frankenstein’s personal development, the path that leads him to his creation of the monster?
  3. Why and how are two other protagonists important in this novel: Elizabeth and Henry? How do function as foils (indirect points of comparison) to Victor Frankenstein?
  4. Scholars have said that this novel pus forward many crucial existential themes, especially the question of human innocence versus sin and guilt, the allure and dangers of science, the grappling with our own mortality, the desire to conquer and master nature, etc. What are some fundamental questions that the novel brings up for you as a reader today?
  5. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is centrally concerned with the question what it means to be human. What features qualify as “human” in this novel—and how does the novel develop that theme as a central problem regarding the Creature? In this context, what central role does Frankenstein’s Creature play? Why is “it” important for the question of what it means to be human?
  6. Note the many religious metaphors, language, and imagery in this novel (often Biblical, but sometimes more generally religious).
  7. Shelley’s famous horror tale is subtitled as the story of a “Modern Prometheus.” What reasons can you see for this—how can Frankenstein be understood as a story of a “modern” Prometheus, what could Frankenstein and Prometheus have in common, in your opinion?
  8. How does Walton compare to Frankenstein?       In hindsight, why do you think Shelley framed her narrative with (and had Frankenstein’s tale told by) Walton?
  9. For you as a reader, is there a central moral to this story at the end?





open book

“Literature and Social Online Learning” is a new course for undergraduate and graduate students at Stanford University in Fall 2014. It will be offered through three different departments: Comparative Literature, English, and Computer Science. The class is open to anyone with an interest in the intersections between literature and literary study and the online medium, and may also be taken as an elective for Stanford’s new CS+X joint majors initiative, which is dedicated to integrating  Humanities and Computer Science. This is the first time this course is being offered. Taught by co-instructors Petra Dierkes-Thrun (Comparative Literature) and Sebastian Thrun (Computer Science), this is a project course in which students will work in interdisciplinary teams to investigate and build new ways to study, teach, enjoy and connect with literature and literary study through social media and online learning.