Frankenstein

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Light Symbol Analysis

Light Symbol Icon
Light symbolizes enlightenment in Frankenstein. Walton expects to find the secrets of the universe unveiled in the North Pole, which he describes as "a country of eternal light." Light also accompanies nearly all of Victor's epiphanies. When he first discovers natural philosophy, he says, "A new light seemed to dawn upon my mind." When he discovers the secret to creating life, he describes his feelings as if "a sudden light broke in upon me." He envisions pouring a "torrent of light into our dark world" through the creation of a new species. Yet light that's too bright is also blinding, and both Victor and Walton fail to see or consider the dangerous consequences of their quests for enlightenment.

Light Quotes in Frankenstein

The Frankenstein quotes below all refer to the symbol of Light. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the W. W. Norton & Company edition of Frankenstein published in 2012.
Chapter 4 Quotes
Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 4, Victor describes how he pursues his scientific studies under Waldman's tutelage and discovers the "cause of generation and life." He decides to put this knowledge to use and build a new, gigantic human being. Here, Victor is still describing his unflagging enthusiasm to Walton: he has not yet made the Monster and come to regret it.

Shelley highlights Victor's arrogance and ambition in this section, and the obvious absurdity of his goal, by using the verb "appeared." Only in retrospect does Victor understand that life and death are vast, complicated concepts that cannot simply be manipulated by science. But at the time, in his ambition and belief in the primacy of knowledge, Victor ironically lacks the wisdom to see these deeper truths. The symbol of Light plays into this relationship between enlightenment and blindness.For instance, a "flash of lightning" illuminates the Monster in Chapter 7.Victor wants to bring light (i.e. scientific knowledge) into the world, and yet he cannot control its radiance and the light becomes terrifying, dangerous. Put another way: the "light" Victor seeks is so bright that it blinds him to the consequences of his actions.In this way, Victor is indeed the "Modern Prometheus," following in the footsteps of the Classical Greek Titan who first gave humans fire, and in so doing disobeyed the Gods and was terribly punished.

Finally, Shelley shows us here that Victor has the violent impulses (as shown by the words "break" and "torrent") and lofty dreams that are typical of a Romantic hero. He refuses to abide by conventions and exists outside society, tormented by a heightened understanding of the world. Interestingly, the Monster will go on to exhibit many of these same traits.

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Chapter 7 Quotes
[A] flash of lightning illuminated the object and discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy demon to whom I had given life.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker), The Monster
Related Symbols: Light
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of Chapter 7, Victor learns that William, his brother, has been strangled in a cemetery. He makes immediate plans to return to Geneva, where he will console his family. Entering the city at night as a thunderstorm breaks out overheard, he heads first to the cemetery in question. He sees the Monster's shape as a bolt of lightning floods the landscape, and understands that his own creation has murdered his brother.

Again, Shelley depicts Victor's disgust for the Monster: though Victor has only seen the Monster (and not spoken with him) at this point, he already looks upon him with hatred. The words "demon," "hideous," and "wretch" betray his prejudice. He doesn't acknowledge that the Monster's appearance might not correspond to its emotional or intellectual state.

Light, too, plays a crucial role in this section. Many of the novel's important scenes involve bright, blinding lights, both literal (as in this case) or metaphorical. Light can stand for scientific discovery, on the one hand, but also the harsh reality of lost innocence — as the lightning shows Victor the horrible truth of the situation.

Chapter 20 Quotes
You can blast my other passions, but revenge remainsrevenge, henceforth dearer than light of food! I may die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery.
Related Characters: The Monster (speaker), Victor Frankenstein
Related Symbols: Light
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of Chapter 20, Victor toils in his laboratory, creating a female companion for the Monster. However, as he considers the Monster's many crimes, he concludes that a female companion might exacerbate rather than solve the problem. He destroys his work and the Monster eventually confronts him, vowing revenge.

Victor has eliminated the possibility of companionship and love in the Monster's life once and for all: in consequence, revenge becomes the Monster's only motivating desire. (The repetition of "revenge" and the exclamation mark indicate that this is a pivotal moment, in which the stakes are high.) The Monster has watched humans (notably the De Lacey family) reject him, and has now seen Victor destroy the very creature that could have secured his happiness.

Light appears again in this section, bearing its telltale ambiguous significance. Here, the sun seems particularly foreboding (prompting a curse from Victor) and the quote itself is a threat, an assurance of miseries still to come.

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Light Symbol Timeline in Frankenstein

The timeline below shows where the symbol Light appears in Frankenstein. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Letter 1
Romanticism and Nature Theme Icon
...at sea to reach the North Pole, which he considers a region of warmth, "eternal light," and unparalleled beauty. (full context)
Chapter 7
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Romanticism and Nature Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
...they arrive. Victor visits the spot where his brother died. On the way he sees lightning playing over the peaks of the mountain Mont Blanc. (full context)