Symbols in Frankenstein: Unraveling the Meanings Behind Mary Shelley’s Classic

Symbols in Frankenstein: Unraveling the Meanings Behind Mary Shelley's Classic

Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley, is a literary masterpiece that utilizes various symbols and elements to convey deep themes and meanings. This gothic novel explores the consequences of scientific neglect, the pursuit of knowledge, and the dangerous power of creation. Shelley’s use of symbols, such as lightening, fire, and letters, adds layers of complexity to the narrative and provides a rich backdrop for the events that unfold.

One of the most prominent symbols in Frankenstein is the creature itself, often referred to as “Adam” or the “Frankenstein’s monster”. The creature symbolizes the consequences of neglect and isolation, as Victor Frankenstein abandons it immediately after creating it. This parallels the biblical story of Adam and how he becomes alone in the world. The creature’s knowledge of its abandonment and inability to fit into society leads it to horrifying actions, highlighting the importance of human connection and compassion.

Fire and lightening are recurring symbols throughout the novel, representing both creation and destruction. Victor uses the power of electricity, symbolized by lightening, to bring his creation to life. However, this act also sets a destructive chain of events in motion. Fire is also a prominent symbol, often representing the destructive and transformative power held by the characters. Whether it is the fire that destroys the Frankenstein family’s home or the fire that the creature uses to burn Victor’s possessions, fire signifies the uncontrollable nature of creation and the consequences that arise from it.

This novel is not just a collection of symbols, but rather a complex web of interconnected themes and ideas. By incorporating symbols such as letters, fire, and Adam, Shelley brings purpose and depth to her storytelling. The careful use of symbolism allows readers to fully immerse themselves in the text and uncover the profound messages hidden within. Through these symbols, Shelley invites readers to question what it means to be human and explore the boundaries of scientific knowledge.

Symbols in Frankenstein

In Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, various symbols are used to convey deeper meanings and themes throughout the story. These symbols offer insight into the characters, their actions, and the overall message of the novel.

Fire and lightning: Fire and lightning are powerful symbols in Frankenstein. Fire symbolizes both destruction and creation. It represents the destructive power of Victor Frankenstein’s knowledge and ambition, as well as the potential for positive creation. Lightning, on the other hand, symbolizes a divine or supernatural power that is used to bring Frankenstein’s monster to life. These symbols highlight the dangerous and terrifying consequences of Victor’s actions.

Adam and Satan: In the novel, Victor Frankenstein frequently references Adam from the Bible and compares himself to him. This highlights Victor’s desire to be a creator, just like Adam. However, Victor also sees parallels between himself and Satan, as he feels isolated and tormented by his own creation. These biblical allusions serve to underscore Victor’s godlike aspirations and the inherent dangers of playing god.

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Letters and books: Letters and books are prominent symbols in Frankenstein. The letters exchanged between the characters provide a means of communication and connection, while the books symbolize knowledge and education. However, they also represent the dangers of unchecked curiosity and ambition, as Victor’s exploration and pursuit of knowledge lead to disastrous consequences.

Victor Frankenstein: Victor Frankenstein, the titular character, represents the dangers of unchecked ambition and the pursuit of knowledge at all costs. His single-minded pursuit of scientific discovery without considering the ethical implications leads to his downfall and the suffering of those around him. Victor serves as a cautionary figure and a symbol of the perils of pushing the boundaries of humanity.

Robert Walton: Robert Walton, the narrator of the novel, serves as a parallel to Victor Frankenstein. He is an explorer searching for knowledge and discovery in a similar manner to Victor. However, he ultimately realizes the dangers of his ambitions and chooses to turn back. Walton’s character emphasizes the importance of balance and understanding the potential consequences of one’s actions.

Love and humanity: Throughout the novel, the theme of love and humanity is explored. Mary Shelley puts forth the idea that love and companionship are essential for the well-being and happiness of all individuals. The absence of love and connection leads to isolation and suffering, as seen through the experiences of both Victor Frankenstein and his monster.

The concept of the creator: The concept of the creator, or the “Prometheus” figure, is a prevalent theme in Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein can be seen as a modern Prometheus, challenging the laws of nature and trying to steal the power of creation from the gods. This literary device serves to question the purpose and limits of human ambition and the role of humanity in the grand scheme of things.

Isolation: Isolation is a recurring theme in the novel, symbolizing the detrimental effects of being cut off from society. Both Victor Frankenstein and his creation experience profound loneliness and isolation, which leads to their destructive actions. The motif of isolation highlights the detrimental effects of alienation from others and the importance of human connection.

Symbols in Frankenstein are used to convey a range of complex ideas and themes. They provide insight into the characters, their motivations, and the consequences of their actions. Through the use of symbolism, Mary Shelley crafts a rich and thought-provoking narrative that explores the nature of humanity and the perils of unchecked ambition.

Unraveling the Meanings

Shelley’s use of the sublime, a concept often associated with nature and the awe-inspiring, also adds to the symbolism in the novel. The setting, particularly in Victor Frankenstein’s exploration of the Arctic, reflects the isolation and overwhelming power of nature. The novel portrays a parallel between the pursuit of knowledge and the exploration of forbidden territories, much like Adam and Eve’s expulsion from paradise in the Bible.

Another symbol in the novel is the creature itself, often referred to as the “monster” or “Frankenstein’s monster”. The creature represents society’s fear of the unknown and the “other”, as well as the consequences of unchecked scientific progress. Through his creation, Victor Frankenstein brings to life a being that is physically monstrous but seeks love and acceptance, highlighting the theme of alienation and the importance of compassion.

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The creature’s desire for companionship and love also alludes to the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Like Adam, the creature is the first of his kind and longs for a partner. This parallel between the creature and Adam suggests that even though the creature is horrifying in appearance, he is still capable of feeling and longing for human connection.

The use of first-person narrative through letters and the framing device of Robert Walton’s exploration adds depth to the symbolism in the novel. The letters, written by Walton, serve as a search for knowledge and truth, a theme echoed throughout the book. By presenting the story in this format, Shelley puts the reader in the position of both observer and participant, forcing them to grapple with the ethical and moral implications of scientific progress.

In addition to the symbols mentioned above, the novel also contains allusions to John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, further enriching the layers of meaning in the text. These literary references explore themes of ambition, knowledge, and the consequences of pursuing forbidden knowledge.

Mary Shelley’s Classic – Paradise Lost

One of the most prominent symbols in both Frankenstein and Paradise Lost is the idea of knowledge. In Milton’s epic, Adam and Eve gain knowledge by eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Similarly, Victor Frankenstein gains knowledge through his pursuit of science and the creation of his monster.

Another symbol that links the two texts is fire. In Paradise Lost, fire symbolizes both destruction and the power to create. This symbolism is reflected in Frankenstein when Victor Frankenstein uses lightning, which can be seen as a form of fire, to bring his creation to life.

The setting of both Frankenstein and Paradise Lost also plays a significant role in the novels. In Paradise Lost, the Garden of Eden is described as a beautiful and idyllic place. In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein’s pursuit of knowledge and the creation of his monster lead him to isolation and a loss of connection with the natural world.

Furthermore, the character of Victor Frankenstein can be seen as a modern-day Adam. Like Adam, Victor is punished for his pursuit of forbidden knowledge and creation. Both characters are full of ambition and curiosity, but they ultimately suffer the consequences of their actions.

The theme of isolation is also found in both Frankenstein and Paradise Lost. Victor Frankenstein isolates himself from society as a result of his obsession with his creation, while Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden and are left to navigate a world without the companionship of God.

Overall, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein draws heavily from the biblical and literary influences of Paradise Lost. Through the use of symbols and themes found in Milton’s epic, Shelley explores the repercussions of the pursuit of knowledge and the consequences of playing God. By examining these elements, readers can come to a deeper understanding of the novel and the important questions it raises.


The theme of isolation is illuminated through the use of different symbols in the book. For example, the recurring motif of fire 🔥 symbolizes both the destructive power of the knowledge Victor gains in his exploration of scientific methods and the burning desire for revenge that consumes the monster. Another symbol that highlights the theme of isolation is the ice ❄️, representing the cold and unforgiving nature of society and the lack of empathy shown towards those who are different.

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Another important symbol in “Frankenstein” is the biblical allusion to the story of Adam and the parallel between Victor Frankenstein and God. The first-person narrator, Robert Walton, calls Victor Frankenstein a “modern Prometheus.” This allusion brings to light the god-like ambitions that Victor possesses, as well as his desire to create and control life without fully understanding the consequences of his actions. In a similar vein, the monster can also be seen as a parallel to Adam, as he realizes his own existence and the neglect he faced from his “father” Victor Frankenstein.

The novel also incorporates epistolary elements, mainly through Walton’s letters, to emphasize the importance of communication and the dangers of isolation. Through the use of letters, the reader gains insight into the characters’ thoughts and experiences, as well as the symbolism embedded in their stories. The symbolism of lightning ⚡️ and nature 🌿 further emphasizes the themes of creation and the power of the natural world, as well as the consequences that arise when humans try to manipulate and control it.

Prominent Symbols in “Frankenstein”
1. The Monster
2. Fire 🔥
3. Ice ❄️
4. Adam and God parallel
5. Lightning ⚡️ and Nature 🌿


What are the symbols in Frankenstein?

There are several symbols in Frankenstein, including light and fire, which represent knowledge and enlightenment, and the monster itself, which symbolizes the consequences of unchecked scientific ambition.

What does nature symbolize in Frankenstein?

Nature in Frankenstein symbolizes both beauty and power. It is depicted as a source of solace and comfort for characters like Victor and the monster, but also as a force that can be dangerous and uncontrollable.

How does Shelley use the idea of the sublime in Frankenstein?

Shelley uses the idea of the sublime in Frankenstein to evoke feelings of awe and terror in the reader. The sublime is often associated with nature and is used to convey the immense power and danger that Victor’s scientific pursuits unleash.

What does the monster symbolize in Frankenstein?

The monster in Frankenstein symbolizes the consequences of unchecked scientific ambition and the dangers of playing god. It also serves as a reflection of Victor’s own inner turmoil and isolation.

How does the use of symbols contribute to the overall meaning of Frankenstein?

The use of symbols in Frankenstein helps to deepen the themes and messages of the novel. By using symbols like light and nature, Shelley is able to explore the dangers of scientific ambition and the importance of responsibility in the face of power.

What are some of the symbols in Frankenstein?

Some of the symbols in Frankenstein include the monster itself, which symbolizes the consequences of scientific ambition and the dangers of playing god; fire, which symbolizes both creation and destruction; and the natural elements of the sublime, such as mountains and storms, which symbolize the awe-inspiring power of nature.

How does the monster symbolize the consequences of scientific ambition?

The monster in Frankenstein symbolizes the consequences of scientific ambition through his creation and subsequent isolation from society. Victor Frankenstein’s ambition to create life leads to the creation of the monster, who is rejected by society due to his physical appearance. This symbolizes the dangers of unchecked scientific ambition and the potential consequences of playing god.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.