Frankenstein

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Romanticism and Nature 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.
Romanticism and Nature Theme Icon

Romantic writers portrayed nature as the greatest and most perfect force in the universe. They used words like "sublime" (as Mary Shelley herself does in describing Mont Blanc in Frankenstein) to convey the unfathomable power and flawlessness of the natural world. In contrast, Victor describes people as "half made up." The implication is clear: human beings, weighed down by petty concerns and countless flaws such as vanity and prejudice, pale in comparison to nature's perfection.

It should come as no surprise, then, that crises and suffering result when, in Frankenstein, imperfect men disturb nature's perfection. Victor in his pride attempts to discover the "mysteries of creation," to "pioneer a new way" by penetrating the "citadel of nature." But just as a wave will take down even the strongest swimmer, nature prevails in the end and Victor is destroyed for his misguided attempt to manipulate its power.

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Romanticism and Nature Quotes in Frankenstein

Below you will find the important quotes in Frankenstein related to the theme of Romanticism and Nature.
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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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.