Archetypes in Frankenstein

In this article you will learn about the archetypes in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the classic gothic horror novel containing various archetypes commonly seen in literature throughout the ages.

What are the Archetypes in Frankenstein?

The central character of Victor Frankenstein embodies both the archetypal mad scientist, obsessed with knowledge and achieving his ends through scientific means oblivious to the potential cost, and also the archetypal tragic hero, who’s fatal flaw (his arrogant obsession with creation through science) ultimately leads to his own tragic downfall and that of those around him.

Victor possesses heroic qualities but his flaws mean he is unable to put these to good use and ends up causing tragedy. Victor’s story is of the archetypal fight of good vs evil (creator vs monster) ultimately leading to the fall and tragedy of the central hero of the story.

In Elizabeth Laverna Shelley creates the archetypal innocent damsel in distress, the embodiment of beauty, truthfulness and purity who is doomed because of the actions of the man she loves and trusts.

The monster is an archetypal villain and outcast, shunned by society because of his differences who, motivated by resentment and anger, sets out to achieve vengeance through evil means despite being good at heart and desperate to be loved.

In Henry Clerval we see the archetypal sidekick, one who brings humour and joy into Victor’s life through his light-hearted approach and love of life. He brings light into the darkness of the story through his love of beauty and viewing of the world as wondrous.

In Alphonse Shelley combines the archetypal father and mother figures into one, providing both a mentoring and guiding father figure alongside a nurturing and practical mother figure who nurses Victor back to health when he is sick.

Frankenstein Book Summary

  • Robert Walton tells the reader of meeting Victor Frankenstein in the Arctic, having earlier witnessed a strange giant figure crossing the landscape.
  • Victor tells Walton of his childhood, his mother’s death and his love for Elizabeth Lavenza.
  • While at University Victor, already interested in science, becomes obsessed.
  • Fuelled by his mother’s death, he creates a monster using parts of dead bodies and gives it life but, disgusted by his creation, immediately abandons it.
  • Victor’s brother William is murdered and the family servant Justine is executed for the crime despite her innocence.
  • Victor believes his creation, the Monster, to blame having seen him at the scene.
  • He meets the monster, who tells him how he has spent his time surviving and becoming educated.
  • The Monster asks Victor to admit responsibility for the things he has done, to show him sympathy and create him a female companion so he is not so alone. Victor agrees.
  • Victor begins construction in the Orkneys but destroys his creation part way through, realising the consequences of what he is doing.
  • The Monster has followed Victor and is furious, killing Victor’s best friend Henry in revenge.
  • Victor marries Elizabeth but the Monster kills her too.
  • Victor vows to kill the Monster but dies tracking him down in the Arctic.
  • The Monster, still miserable about his condition and the death of his creator, disappears and it is assumed he dies.

Frankenstein Archetype Examples

  • Tragic hero
  • Mad Scientist
  • Innocent
  • Damsel in distress
  • Villain
  • Outcast
  • Sidekick
  • Father figure
  • Mother figure
  • Good vs Evil
  • The fall
  • The tragedy

Want more literary archetypes?

Go check out our extensive list of archetypes in literature to find out more about the characters seen in literature throughout the ages.

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