The Psychology of “Frankenstein”

A psycho-analysis of the classic novel by Mary Shelley.

One of the main reasons authors write is to filter emotion and expression through their work.  Many use it as almost a therapy for what has happened to them in life, which helps the writer in dealing with whatever problems he or she had.  Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was very young, at nineteen, but still death and sadness was all around her.  Mary’s mother died just eleven days after she was born, and then later in life all four of Mary’s pregnancies were miscarried or died young, resulting in a very significant and lasting effect on her mental well being.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the amalgamation of repressed feelings and memories presented on paper to help Mary herself deal with them when one takes the context and psychological state of mind when she wrote it into account.

            The first idea to be familiar with in order to notice how Mary incorporated her feelings and experiences into Frankenstein is the manner in which she wrote it.  As history states it of course, Mary, her husband, and Lord Byron told ghost stories one night in 1816, but one detail that is overlooked very often was the fact that Mary first had a dream about the story the day before she began to write it.  Though some may question the true accuracy of this event, it’s extremely plausible because of the curious nature of dreams.  Much of Sigmund Freud’s research supported the theory that dreams and their meanings have deep roots in the subconscious mind of the individual.  Due to the vividness and easily found connections in Mary’s dream, the story she wrote about it contains many issues that plagued her in life, whether she entirely meant to do this or not.  Thus, Mary’s alleged dream that inspired the story may have more truth to it than just a fabled myth of how the novel began.

            The death of Mary’s mother so early in her life is one of the key factors in the dense psychological undertone present in Frankenstein.  With this event, Shelley was stripped of a proper mother or womanly figure to base herself off of, and was instead raised with a stepmother that was jealous of the affection she had for her father and treated her not with the encouragement and love a mother provides, but instead presented the opposite expected from a mother.  The inevitable distance Mary had from a motherly figure contributes a lot to the dark and morbid style in which Frankenstein was written, as shown through this excerpt, “The poor victim, who on the morrow was to pass the awful boundary between life and death, felt not, as I did, such deep and bitter agony.  I gnashed my teeth and ground them together, uttering a groan that came from my inmost soul.” (Shelley)  As Mary matured more, she most definitely went through stages of reflection on whether it was her fault that her mother died so early on.  Such heavy feelings of guilt and self-blame can really wear on the condition of one’s mind, and it was no surprise that Mary included subjects of such an extreme desolate nature in her novel.

            Undoubtedly, the single-most important element of Mary’s life that weaves itself into Frankenstein perfectly was the four children she lost during and soon after each of her pregnancies.  To start, the creation of life is a central theme to Frankenstein, with the obvious example being that of Victor creating the monster.  The actual act of the creation of the monster is an important aspect of the plot that brings into mind the idea of childbirth. This sets the stage for what Shelley wishes to express: her negativity and troubles dealing with childbirth in the past.  Just as Victor feels great remorse for his creation and the lives that had been taken because of it, Mary has always felt that she was to blame for the deaths of her children.  Therefore, with this thought in mind, Mary metaphorically becomes the monster in Frankenstein, the one who takes the lives of others, is hated by all, and doesn’t have as much worth as a true human being.  The deep sorrow that the monster had for his actions is parallel with the same feelings that Mary had concerning her lost children.

            Overall, I believe that Frankenstein is best viewed as a cryptic means by which the author released her repressed feelings due to the events in her life.  From the meaningful dream she had to inspire the novel, to the task of growing up without her true mother, and finally the irreversible psychological damage brought on by her children’s deaths, Frankenstein embodies a great deal of what Shelley kept buried in her subconscious.  Ultimately, whether Mary Shelley knew it or not, the novel acts as the medium with which she is able to express those feelings that had affected her so deeply.  

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  1. Posted December 24, 2008 at 8:46 am

    I found this to be really interesting. I’ve read Frankenstein several times but knew nothing about Mary Shelley’s background (other than being married to Lord Byron). There’s so much locked away inside the mind and it takes great skill to be able to open that up and express it in a readable way … Thanks for the background information!

  2. Posted December 24, 2008 at 9:01 am

    thank you for reading sir, this was a paper for my honors english class at school, and i got an A on it!

  3. B
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Nice article! I’m compiling a binder of stuff related to Mary Shelley, and I just wanted to put your article in there. I’ll put your name as the author of the article. Hope that’s alright with you.

  4. Zee
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 4:30 am

    No wasn’t she married to Percy Bysshe-Shelley?

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