Frankenstein on Trial

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SWBAT analyze character motives

Big Idea

How does a character develop throughout a novel?


This lesson is part of a two to three day lesson on character analysis and literary argumentation.  Students will look at the body of evidence in the text to determine who is guilty of the multiple murders throughout the book. 

Student objectives are:


  • Develop a clear convincing argument as to the guilt or innocence of Victor Frankenstein or his creature. 
  • Use textual evidence to support your claim for guilt
  • Propose charges using formal argumentative process


Guilty or Not?

20 minutes

Students are very lively and opinionated as we discuss whether or not Victor Frankenstein is guilty of the crimes of murder, or whether it is the creature.  I encourage students to debate with one another, bringing questions in when the discussion looks like it's going off-topic or stop being productive.  

Students get stuck on certain definitions such as creator vs. parent.  And we look up definitions in the dictionary. This leads to discussion about nature versus nurture and whether Victor would have had a positive impact on the creature had he accepted him and taught him. 

We discuss the fantastic way the creature gains his education and why this education seemed to help him justify his actions. 

Some of the students begin to shift their ideas about what exactly Victor and the creature should be charged with and who is guilty. 


Writing an Argument of Inquiry

20 minutes

Next I explain to students what an argument of inquiry entails.  This is not a trial, by which Victor or the creature are proven guilty or innocent, instead this is an argument to determine if there is sufficient evidence for a trial.

I teaching them arguing to inquire from The Aims of Argument: A Rhetoric and Reader  by Timothy W. Crusius and Carolyn E. Channell. In their chapter on arguing to inquire the process is laid out

  • as a form of argument whose objective is the truth; 
  • whose primary audience is the inquirer and fellow inquirers concerned with the same issues;
  •  the main medium is dialog; 
  • inquiry begins from asking the right questions to determine the best answers;

I explain to my students that the objective of this paper is create a sense that Victor and/or the creature should go to trial. The best way to do this is to start formulating questions that would lead to that answer.  

Then I instruct the students to go back to the text and look for examples of character dialog that support their ideas. I encourage them to write their papers in the form of a dialog, using their own voice in conjunction with that of the characters.

Finally I remind them that the language of the paper should be such that there is little doubt that the charges would hold up in a court and lead to the conviction of the defendant.  

Gathering Evidence

10 minutes

Students begin pouring over the chapters of Frankenstein which deal mostly with the murders of William, Clerval and Elizabeth.  Some students decide to focus on Victor's creation of the monster and whether or not that was a crime. Other focus on Victor's abandonment of the creature as akin to negligence. 

I encourage students to look for quotes in which the characters make justifications for their actions and behaviors. Particularly chapters 10 - 16 and chapters 21-25. 


Student Presentations

120 minutes
  1. Students take turns presenting their arguments for charges against Victor or the creature.  Overall the presentations are good and students seem much more comfortable standing up and presenting that before.  I still have three students who need to sit in their chairs to give their presentations.  

    I encourage students to adapt their papers into three main points, and not simply read the paper to their classmates.  I also encourage them to use direct language geared specifically to their classmates, rather than the larger audience presented in the paper. 

    The night before they were to practice their speeches before delivering them today in class. I remind them I will give them points for good posture, correct use of gestures, eye contact and message attuned to audience.  I also agree to give them a little time for Q&A.