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Lost Innocence Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Romanticism and Nature Theme Icon
Revenge Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Frankenstein, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Lost Innocence Theme Icon

Frankenstein presents many examples of the corruption of youthful innocence. The most obvious case of lost innocence involves Victor. A young man on the cusp of adulthood, Victor leaves for university with high hopes and lofty ambitions. He aims to explore "unknown powers" and enlighten all of humanity to the deepest "mysteries of creation," but his success and his pride brings an end to his innocence. He creates a monster that reflects back to him the many flaws inherent in his own species (an unquenchable thirst for love, a tendency toward violence, and a bloodthirsty need for justice and revenge) and in himself (prejudice based on appearance). And, in turn, Victor's cruel "un-innocent" behavior also destroys the monster's innocence.

Victor and the monster's losses of innocence ultimately lead to the deaths of William, Justine, Elizabeth, and Clerval, four characters whom the novel portrays as uniquely gentle, kind, and, above all, innocent. Through these murders, Shelley suggests that innocence is fleeting, and will always be either lost or destroyed by the harsh reality of human nature.

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Lost Innocence Quotes in Frankenstein

Below you will find the important quotes in Frankenstein related to the theme of Lost Innocence.
Letter 4 Quotes
You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker), Robert Walton
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Victor Frankenstein prepares to tell Walton his story, a story driven by Frankenstein's own brush with maddening ambition. Once again Mary Shelley draws the reader's attention to parallels between Victor and Walton: the men are both well-educated, adventurous, and hungry for glory. Here, though, Victor speaks of his own goals in the past tense, and the reader can infer that he has suffered a dismal reversal of fortune, that his quest for glory and knowledge has ended in despair.

Victor's mention of a metaphorical "serpent" in this section is one of the novel's many allusions to the Bible and John Milton's Paradise Lost, an epic poem that dramatizes Satan's rebellion against God and his subsequent role in Adam and Eve's banishment from the Garden of Eden. Once an angel, Satan led an unsuccessful rebellion against God, who cast him from Heaven. He later appears in Eden as a snake and corrupts Adam and Eve, encouraging them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (This transgression, in which Adam and Eve disobeyed God's laws and gained corrupting knowledge, matches Victor's transgression in creating the monster, which was a perversion of natural laws.) Many Romantic writers (including Mary Shelley) actually saw Satan as a sympathetic character, awesome in his ambition and intellect. Victor and the Monster have much in common with Milton's Satan: they lead isolated lives, they have sinned against mankind, and they usually act with passion. In this quote, Victor describes the Monster as the "serpent," a manifestation of Satan himself—though it is certainly possible to argue that Victor is misguided in identifying the Monster, rather than his own ambition, as being the serpent.


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Chapter 4 Quotes
Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker), Robert Walton
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Victor begs Walton to reconsider his own ambition and look for fulfillment and satisfaction not in discovery but in daily life. Shelley shows us again that the two men share several qualities, including an obsession with knowledge and glory. She makes it clear that ambitious men are doomed, using the words "dangerous" and "allow."

In this sentence, Victor establishes a distinction between two types of men: one who "believes his native town to be the world" and one who "aspires to become greater than his nature will allow." The first is a happy member of society because he is "native" to the world — he considers his fellow men to be his peers and does not reject them in favor of scientific discovery. The second, on the other hand, resembles a Romantic hero in his isolation, ambition, and misery. He has no "native town," no real domestic comforts, and in trying to become great cuts himself off from the rest of the world. Victor's mastery of life and death made him such a person, and Walton risks becoming one if he does not abandon his plans.

Chapter 5 Quotes
For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker), The Monster
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Victor has finally accomplished his goal: he has brought the Monster to life. However, he is immediately disgusted by his creation, such as the Monster's pale eyes and taut skin. In this section, he explains to Walton how his scientific enthusiasm suddenly morphed into repulsion.

This is an essential moment in the novel, as it marks the beginning of Victor's disillusionment, a progressive loss of innocence. While his innocence is certainly beautiful, Shelley shows us that it is necessarily fleeting — the noun "dream" implies that reality and innocence are at odds with each other. They cannot coexist, and not one of the novel's characters escapes unscathed, unharmed by human ambition or injustice.

Here, Shelley also introduces us to the Monster's unfortunate appearance, one that elicits "horror and disgust" in Victor. The creature will face such visceral reactions and intolerance from everyone he meets throughout the novel. Yet Shelley depicts the Monster as a complex, intelligent, and sympathetic figure, asking us to think about prejudice and empathy as we form our own opinions of him.

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 10 Quotes
All men hate the wretched; how then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us.
Related Characters: The Monster (speaker), Victor Frankenstein
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

Victor travels to Chamounix, an Alpine village, following the death of his brother and the execution of Justine. He finds solace in the "sublime" mountains and spectacular views, all of which soothe his troubled mind. However, as Victor crosses a glacier one day, the Monster confronts him for the first time.

The Monster makes an impassioned speech, accusing Victor of intolerance, and yet also aligning himself with his creator. Shelley makes it clear that both figures are "miserable," physically and psychologically isolated: both are Romantic heroes, tormented by guilt and loneliness. Not only are the words "creature" and "creator" similar, but they remind us of Satan's relationship to God in Paradise Lost. Satan, too, is God's "creature," cast from the heavenly realm and sentenced to a miserable existence.

Victor has treated the Monster with fear and disgust up until this point — and in the conversation following this quote, the Monster describes this injustice and his first painful months in the world. Shelley does not dismiss or caricature the Monster. Yet this quote foreshadows the inevitable mortal conflict between the two characters, as only "annihilation" can break the ties that bind them.

Chapter 13 Quotes
When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, a monster, a blot upon the earth from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?
Related Characters: The Monster (speaker)
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

The Monster has taught himself to speak and read by careful observation of the cottage dwellers. Their discussions become increasingly complex with Safie's appearance and, as they discuss man's nature, the Monster questions his own identity, his unusual origins and appearance.

This heightened awareness and new knowledge are crucial to the Monster's development, yet also dangerous and disturbing — he longs for a state of innocence, a wordless "native wood." The Monster feels a justified anger, but this anger comes only from a newfound knowledge of his own abnormality.

Shelley does not mock or scorn his isolation: instead, it is a horrible thing, devastating to the Monster and readers alike. A life at the fringes of society is not always an admirable one, and Shelley does not glamorize or idealize the novel's Romantic heroes, solitary and conflicted figures. Prejudice will indeed push men to run from the Monster, and prejudice will deny him the chance at a happy, domestic life.

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.

Walton, in continuation Quotes
Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker)
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

These are Victor's final words to Walton, as he breathes his last aboard the ship. It is a final, explicit statement of advice that both Walton and the reader have already inferred from earlier conversations (including Victor's statement "Learn from me [...] how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge" in Chapter 4). Shelley writes these statements as commands (in the imperative), lending them even more weight and solemnity.

Not only does Victor tell Walton that he should "avoid ambition," but the dying man goes on to condemn "science and discoveries" in particular. Scientific ambition is only "apparently innocent:" it appears noble and worthwhile, yet leads to the same misery and arrogance. Tranquility, then, is of the utmost importance, and Shelley seems to support this point of view. The Romantic heroes in the novel (e.g. the Monster, Victor, Walton) have either endured a solitary, abnormal life or sought out such an existence. Ambition leads to isolation; isolation, in turn, leads to misery and anger.

Victor does not die a fully reformed man, however. In the sentences leading up to this quote, he asks Walton to take on his burden and exact revenge against the Monster. We see that he remains conflicted until his final breath, wavering between revenge and forgiveness, ambition and tranquility.

The fallen angel becomes the malignant devil. Yet even the enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.
Related Characters: The Monster (speaker)
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

Victor has just died: as Walton mourns his friend, the Monster comes onboard the ship and tells Walton of his lonely existence, the months spent wishing for friendship and love and finding nothing but disgust and fear in men.

Here, the Monster compares himself to Satan and then concludes that he is even more wretched than the Devil, who has a community even in Hell. The Monster alludes again to Paradise Lost, one of his favorite literary works: in Milton's version of the story, Satan is cast from Heaven but lives among other demons and devils in Hell. Like Satan, the Monster once believed in virtue and goodness, only to become violent and cruel following his disillusionment and loss of innocence. Here, the Monster's anguish is striking; not only does he see himself as more wretched than literature's most wretched character, but he ends the sentence with the simple words "I am alone." This brevity is uncharacteristic, proof that Victor's death has had an effect on the Monster, who has reached new depths of despair.

Was there no injustice in this? Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me?
Related Characters: The Monster (speaker)
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

The Monster utters these words mere moments before he abandons the ship, promising Walton and Victor's corpse that he will seek death and soon throw himself onto a funeral pyre. In the first rhetorical question, the word "this" refers to the scorn and cruelty that the Monster has suffered at the hands of men.

The Monster's final speech is a rousing one, and we cannot help but feel sympathy for the tormented figure. Neither question demands an answer, and yet Shelley makes it clear that men's prejudice was indeed an injustice, and that all prejudiced men are sinners. The inconsistencies in the human worldview are laid bare, here: men who claim to be good and virtuous are blind to their own intolerance.

Again, the Monster's loneliness has pushed him to commit his many crimes. He only became cruel and vengeful following the De Lacey family's betrayal and Victor's destruction of the female creature. Shelley indicates that isolation, be it the isolation of intellectual ambition or the isolation borne of prejudice, is an important root cause of evil.