Quite often authors give readers hints as to a character's true motivations through character description and action. This technique is closely tied to tone and the graphic organizer students use in this lesson is meant to help them think about the way connotation and denotation reflect tone which in turn, gives us clues as to the character's motives.
I begin class by looking closely at several key passages from chapter four. In particular we look at paragraphs six through eight and paragraphs ten and eleven.
I ask students to consider what kind of tone Victor uses to describe himself as he begins to create the monster. We notice that he is hesitant at the beginning of the project, using language like "doubted","inconceivable","baffled", and "impracticability". However, by the end of the paragraph there is a shift in his tone as he "resolved, contrary to my first intention to make the being of gigantic stature, that is to say about eight feet in height..." I ask my students to consider what this tone shift tells us about Victor as a character. We discuss the difference between arrogance and confidence. Some of the students think that grief for his mother's death has changed his character and that he is acting out of love. Indeed some argue that based on this chapter, he creates the monster out of love.
However, as the chapter progresses the tone shifts to a more defensive stance. By paragraph ten Frankenstein has taken on a moralizing tone in an attempt to justify what he has done. I point out the line, "But I forget that I am moralizing.." I ask the students, "Is Victor consciously aware of the image he is presenting to Walton as he tells his story?" We discuss whether or not Victor is a reliable narrator, or if he is trying to make himself look better than he is.
"When reading a complex narrative like Frankenstein, it's important to consider 'why' a character acts and speaks the way he does, but also 'how' they reveal themselves. Are we meant to feel sympathy for Frankenstein here, or based on his previous actions and behaviors, should we condemn him?"
Many of the students feel that Frankenstein is arrogant and should not have created the monster in the first place. Again, there are some students who think his motivations are out of love, but that his obsession and isolation drive him to push the boundaries.
I put students in groups and have them answer these questions from the Glencoe study guide for Frankenstein:
1. What can you infer about Frankenstein’s character from his close personal relationships?
His scientific project? In your opinion, is he an appealing person?
2. Do you think that Frankenstein went too far in his quest for knowledge? Did he have a
good motive for his project? Did he have adequate knowledge to begin his project? Did he
consider possible consequences of his actions?
3. How is Frankenstein affected by what happens after he abandons the creature? Why does
he call himself the “true murderer” of William?
I instruct students to take turns answering the questions and turn in their answers on a single sheet of paper.
Students use the rest of the class period to answer the questions.