'Frankenstein' Quotes Explained

The following Frankenstein quotes address the novel's key themes, including the pursuit of knowledge, the power of nature, and human nature. Discover the meaning of these important passages, as well as how each quote connects to the novel's broader themes.

Quotes About Knowledge

"It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world." (Chapter 2)

This statement is made by Victor Frankenstein at the start of the novel as he recounts his childhood to Captain Walton. The passage is significant for outlining the main obsession Frankenstein's life: achieving intellectual enlightenment. This ambition, combined with a desire for glory, is Frankenstein's driving force, motivating him to excel in his studies at university and later to create the monster.

Yet, we later learn, the fruits of this labor are rotten. Frankenstein is horrified by his creation, and in turn the monster kills everyone that Frankenstein loves. Thus, Shelley seems to be asking whether such an ambition is a worthwhile goal, and whether such knowledge is truly enlightening.

The “secrets” mentioned in this passage continue to appear throughout the novel. In fact, much of Frankenstein revolves around the secrets of life—things that are hard or impossible to understand. While Frankenstein discovers the physical and metaphysical secrets, his creation is obsessed with more philosophical "secrets" of life: what is the meaning of life? What is the purpose? Who are we? The answers to these questions are left unsolved.

"So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein — more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation." (Chapter 3)

In this quote, Frankenstein describes his experience at university. He personifies his soul—“the soul of Frankenstein”—and claims that his soul told him he would discover the secrets of the world. This quote plainly lays out Frankenstein's ambition, his hubris, and his ultimate downfall. Frankenstein seems to suggest that his desire to be the greatest pioneer of science is an innate characteristic and a predetermined fate, thus removing any responsibility over his actions.

Frankenstein's desire to push beyond the limits of humanity is a flawed goal that sets him on a path of misery. As soon as the creature is completed, Frankenstein's beautiful dream turns into a deformed, hideous reality. Frankenstein's achievement is so disturbing that he runs away from it immediately.

"The die is cast; I have consented to return if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision; I come back ignorant and disappointed. It requires more philosophy than I possess to bear this injustice with patience." (Chapter 24)

Captain Walton writes these lines in a letter to his sister at the close of the novel. After listening to Frankenstein’s tale, and faced with an unrelenting storm, he decides to return home from his expedition.

This conclusion demonstrates that Walton has learned from Frankenstein's story. Walton was once an ambitious man in search of glory like Frankenstein. Yet through Frankenstein’s tale, Walton realizes the sacrifices that come with discovery, and he decides to prioritize his own life and the lives of his crew members over his mission. Although he says that he is filled with “cowardice” and that he comes back “disappointed” and “ignorant,” this ignorance is what saves his life. This passage returns to the theme of enlightenment, reiterating that the singleminded search for enlightenment makes a peaceful life impossible.

Quotes About Nature

"I remembered the effect that the view of the tremendous and ever-moving glacier had produced upon my mind when I first saw it. It had then filled me with a sublime ecstasy, that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy. The sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed always the effect of solemnizing my mind and causing me to forget the passing cares of life. I determined to go without a guide, for I was well acquainted with the path, and the presence of another would destroy the solitary grandeur of the scene." (Chapter 10)

In this quote, Frankenstein details his solitary trip to Montanvert to grieve the death of his brother William. The “sublime” experience of being alone in the harsh beauty of the glaciers calms Frankenstein. His love for nature and the perspective it provides is invoked throughout the novel. Nature reminds him that he is just a man, and therefore powerless to the great forces of the world.

This “sublime ecstasy” gives Frankenstein a kind of enlightenment wholly different from the scientific knowledge he sought through chemistry and philosophy. HIs experiences in nature are not intellectual, but rather emotional and even religions, allowing his soul to “soar from the obscure world to light and joy.” He is reminded here of nature’s ultimate power. The “tremendous and ever-moving glacier” is more permanent than humankind will ever be; this reminder calms Frankenstein's anxiety and grief. Nature allows him to experience the transcendence he hoped he would find in his search for true knowledge.

Quotes About Humanity

"These thoughts exhilarated me and led me to apply with fresh ardour to the acquiring the art of language. My organs were indeed harsh, but supple; and although my voice was very unlike the soft music of their tones, yet I pronounced such words as I understood with tolerable ease. It was as the ass and the lap-dog; yet surely the gentle ass whose intentions were affectionate, although his manners were rude, deserved better treatment than blows and execration." (Chapter 12)

In this quote, the creature relays part of his story to Frankenstein. The creature compares his experience in the De Lacey cottage to the fable of the ass and the lap-dog, in which the ass pretends to be a lap dog and gets beaten for his behavior. While living in the De Lacey cottage, strove to gain acceptance from the family despite his "harsh" appearance. However, the De Lacey family did not treat him with acceptance; instead, they attacked him.

The creature sympathizes with the "affectionate intentions" of the ass and argues that the violent treatment of the "gentle ass" is reprehensible. The creature clearly sees a parallel to his own story. He understands that he is different from others, but his intentions are good, and he desires acceptance and approval. Tragically, he never receives the approval he yearns for, and his alienation turns him into a violent monster.

This passage points to one of the novel's essential points: the idea that judgment based on external appearances is unjust, but is nevertheless a tendency of human nature. The quote also raises the question of ultimate responsibility for the murders committed by the creature. Should we blame only the creature, or do those who were cruel to give him a chance to prove his humanity deserve some of the blame?

"I was dependent on none and related to none. The path of my departure was free, and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them." (Chapter 15)

In this quote, the creature asks the fundamental questions of life, death, and identity. At this point in the novel, the creature has only recently come to life, but by reading Paradise Lost and other works of literature, he has found a way to question and reflect on his life and its meaning.

Unlike Frankenstein, who searches for the scientific secrets of human life, the creature asks philosophical questions about human nature. By bringing the creature to life, Frankenstein succeeds in his inquiry, but that form of scientific “enlightenment” cannot answer the creature's existential questions. This passage suggests that science can only go so far in helping us understand the world, as it cannot answer our existential and moral questions.

"Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred." (Chapter 15)

In this quote, the creature compares himself to Adam and Frankenstein to God. According to the creature, Adam is “beautiful” and “alluring" in the image of the almighty, but Frankenstein’s creation is “filthy” and “horrid.” This contrast demonstrates the stark difference between the abilities of God and the abilities of Frankenstein. Frankenstein's work has been a crude attempt to wield the power of creation, and according to the creature, his hubris is rewarded with wretchedness, ugliness, and loneliness. Furthermore, Frankenstein will not take responsibility for his creation by taking the creature under his wing; thus, the creature considers himself even more "solitary and abhorred" than Satan. By pointing out Frankenstein's folly, the creature again points out the dangers of attempting to go beyond one's own humanity by seeking God-like glory.

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Pearson, Julia. "'Frankenstein' Quotes Explained." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2021, thoughtco.com/frankenstein-quotes-4582659. Pearson, Julia. (2021, September 8). 'Frankenstein' Quotes Explained. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/frankenstein-quotes-4582659 Pearson, Julia. "'Frankenstein' Quotes Explained." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/frankenstein-quotes-4582659 (accessed March 24, 2023).