Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein offers a wealth of thought-provoking topics to explore as a class, in small groups, or through Socratic seminar. These Frankenstein discussion questions will get students sharing, analyzing, debating, and evaluating.
I have divided the questions into four sets that align to my reading schedule, but peruse, select, and modify to suit your needs. At the end of this post, I address the essential questions of Frankenstein as a whole.
For pre-reading discussions, check out my Frankenstein Anticipation Guide. Students respond to statements on revenge, ambition, scientific advancement, responsibility, appearances, and more. This is a great way to prepare students for the key themes of the novel.
Frankenstein Discussion Questions: Set 1
Letter 1 – Chapter 5
- What type of person is Captain Walton? What motivates him in his dangerous endeavor?
- What is Walton’s impression of his new friend, Victor Frankenstein?
- What is Victor like as a child? How is he different from the other children? What clues are there about his future?
- Why do you think young Victor is so interested in unlocking the secrets of nature?
- Why does Dr. Frankenstein’s view on his creation change so suddenly and severely?
- How might Dr. Frankenstein handle the situation differently?
- Why doesn’t the doctor explain the secrets of his discoveries?
- Is Frankenstein’s mistake due to fate or his own choices? How culpable (guilty) is he?
- Why do you think Shelley chose to frame the story of Dr. Frankenstein within the story of Captain Walton?
- How would you describe Shelley’s writing style? Use examples in your answer.
- How does Shelley create anticipation and tension for the story?
- Why do you think Shelley includes a poem in Chapter 5?
- Why does Shelley include multiple references to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”?
Frankenstein Discussion Questions: Set 2
- Why do you think Victor feels “tormented” by discussions of science and his accomplishments? What is the root of this anguish?
- What is Victor’s relationship to the natural world?
- What are some instances where Dr. Frankenstein is irresponsible?
- Why does Victor hesitate to return to his hometown when his journey is nearing its end? (See Chapter 7.)
- How does Shelley describe the appearance of the monster? Why does she give us such a vague picture?
- What reasons does Dr. Frankenstein offer for keeping the truth of William’s murder to himself? Do you believe his reasons?
- In what ways does Victor accept responsibility? In what ways does he deny responsibility.
- Can we believe everything the doctor says? What should we question?
- Based on the novel so far, what does Shelley think of the justice system?
- Choose an excerpt that demonstrates Shelly’s word choice (figurative language, imagery, mood, etc.) and analyze it.
- How does Shelley use descriptions of natural scenes in the novel?
- Describe the personality of the creature. Is he what you expected? Use examples from the novel in your response.
- Based on Frankenstein alone, what does Mary Shelley think of humanity? Use examples from the text in your answer.
- What are Dr. Frankenstein’s key personality traits?
Frankenstein Discussion Questions: Set 3
- How would you describe the personality of the creature?
- What experiences mold the monster’s personality?
- How might the creature have turned out differently under different circumstances?
- Which excerpt gives the best example of Shelley’s use of imagery?
- In what ways does the story of the De Lacey family fit with the clichés of Romantic literature?
- Why does Shelley explore the books found by the creature? Are they important?
- What insight does the creature gain from Plutarch’s Lives?
- What insight does the creature gain from The Sorrows of Werter?
- What insight does the creature gain from Milton’s Paradise Lost?
- Which of the three books makes the greatest impression on the creature? Explain.
- In your opinion, how does the creature perform in his attempt to introduce himself?
- Why does Shelley include the incident with the drowning girl?
- Why do you think the murdering of William (Chapter 16) thrills the creature so?
- What reason does the monster give for “punishing” Justine? What is his logic?
- How does the creature persuade the doctor to create a companion?
- How does Clerval compare to Dr. Frankenstein?
- How is Shelley using allusions to Paradise Lost?
Frankenstein Discussion Questions: Set 4 (end)
- Do you find the doctor’s thoughts and actions frustrating? Explain.
- Why does the doctor decide to destroy his second creature?
- Do you believe that the doctor really fell asleep in the sailboat? Explain.
- Is there anything incredible (hard to believe) about where the monster leaves Clerval’s body?
- Romantic authors often include extreme cases of coincidence. Choose one from the novel to examine.
- In what way(s) is the doctor courageous? In what way(s) is he cowardly?
- How does Shelley build suspense leading up to Elizabeth’s murder?
- Why doesn’t the doctor protect Elizabeth on their wedding night?
- Analyze one reference to The Bible used in Frankenstein.
- How does the magistrate respond to the doctor’s request for help?
- In what ways do the doctor and the creature mirror one another?
- What evidence is there that the doctor is insane? Could it all be his fantasy?
- How does the creature aid the doctor in his pursuit? Why does he do this?
- Who suffers more, the doctor or the creature? Explain.
- Did you find the resolution of Frankenstein satisfactory? Why or why not?
- Does the doctor take responsibility for his actions? Explain.
- Does the captain make the right choice in cancelling the voyage? Explain.
- Explain the relevance of Shelley’s full title, Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus.
- What is the most important theme (message about life) of Frankenstein?
Essential Questions for Frankenstein
These overarching questions relate to Shelley’s key themes in the novel.
How dangerous is ambition?
Dr. Frankenstein warns Captain Walton about thoughtless ambition. Yet, when it seems the voyage will be aborted, Dr. Frankenstein is furious. Despite his experiences, the doctor cannot help but admire and support pursuits of greatness and discovery.
Should scientific advancement be feared?
The Romantics questioned the value of scientific advancement and industrialization. After learning of experiments in Galvanism, Shelley wondered what results might follow. As a cautionary tale focused on scientific advancement, Frankenstein is considered the first modern science fiction.
What can be gained through revenge?
The creature and his creator become wholly obsessed with revenge. The monster has succeeded in making the doctor as wretched and violent as himself. Both die in the end but neither gains any satisfaction.
Can humans ever go beyond appearances and conceptions of beauty?
Shelley uses the monster to show that appearances are misleading. The doctor, despite his rational mind, cannot see past the creature’s deformity. For her part, Shelley is also unable to see beyond the appeal of beauty; characters like Elizabeth and Justine possess beauty as an outward expression virtue.
Do experiences determine personality?
The theories of Locke and Rousseau influenced Shelley’s views on personality development. The creature begins life as a tabula rasa or “blank slate.” He demonstrates the inherent goodness posited by Rousseau. The creature’s experiences mold him into a sociopathic murderer.
How important is companionship to well-being?
The doctor makes himself miserable by undertaking unwholesome pursuits in isolation. The creature believes that a single companion would ensure his happiness. The lack of companionship is more than unpleasant, it is unnatural and harmful. Shelley explores the theme subject of isolation through various settings and symbolic elements.
What is the nature of evil?
Shelley’s allusions to the Garden of Eden and Paradise Lost are instructive here. What made Lucifer defy God? Why do Adam and Eve disobey? Is evil a byproduct of human existence or part of a divine design? What is the source of evil in our world?
Can we feel pity for the murderous monster? The creature commits horrible acts because he is cast out by society and his own creator. Is the doctor’s dereliction to blame? Is the doctor evil or merely thoughtless?
Does destiny rule our lives?
The doctor vacillates between blaming himself and blaming fate. He reflects upon the turning points in his life and the influence of “the angel of destruction.” Is he a victim of fate or is his wretchedness a result of his choices?
Regarding the destiny of the creature, one cannot help but imagine that his attempt to befriend De Lacey might have been successful if not for the unexpected interruption. A twist of fate led to his irreparable misery.
Related post: Frankenstein Reading Schedule
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I hope you have found something in these Frankenstein discussion questions and essential questions that you can use in your teaching. Whether you are using small groups, whole class, or Socratic seminar, getting students to engage in thoughtful discussions is time well spent.