In this lesson I use lecture and class discussion to introduce analyzing character motives in Frankenstein. Students then practice analyzing character motives through a series of guiding questions.
We begin class with the question: How do we learn? It's a huge question and not one that students are going to answer in one sitting or even by the end of the year. Students are willing to tackle the question, and we have a lively discussion about learning by experience, learning by example, imitation, etc. Very few of the students mention learning through abstraction: i.e. reading, theory, etc. Almost no one mentions a teacher, which I think is interesting. I move the discussion toward the creature: How much does curiosity and desire to know more play into our learning?
The conversation dies down a little, as curiosity is a little more difficult to talk about. Some subjects and topics are easier to learn about than others because they are connected to our experiences: replacing an alternator with dad or watching the ferrier shoe a horse, or learning how to cast a fly reel. Some subjects, like reading Frankenstein are a lot more abstract (read: boring) harder to connect to, and therefore, enjoy learning.
What about the creature? I ask. He was curious from the beginning, just like a baby or child. He observed the world around him, but then what?
"He saw people, and wanted to be around them," said one student. "And then when he saw what people had, he wanted that too. And that's when his life got all messed up."
We look briefly at two paragraphs from chapter 12, on page 98 where the monster describes seeing the cottagers for the first time. We look at the tone of the passage, paying close attention to the words the monster uses to describe the cottagers: pleasure, astonishment, longed, endeavor.
These words alert us to the idea that monster felt positively toward the cottagers and that he wanted to imitate them.
When he discovers that Felix is reading from a book, he understands that abstract symbols could hold the key to more learning, beyond what he could observe.
When, in Chapter 15, the monster discovers a small library of essential Romanticist readings, and then teaches himself to read, I ask the class if it's believable? Some think it is, and some think not.
Finally we discuss if the creature was human because of his education and observation of the cottagers, or if he had been human all along.
In groups the students worked to answer these questions, from the McGraw Hill study guide to Frankenstein:
1. In what ways is the creature like any human being? In what ways is he different?
2. What does he want most in life? Why does his goal seem so unattainable?
3. How have the creature's experiences shaped his opinion of himself?
4. Does he have the potential for good as well as evil?
5. To whom does he compare himself and why?