The Unexpected Twist That Makes Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein A Bold, Experimental Work Far Ahead of Its Time

Victor Frankenstein’s ambitions lead to a creation, one he immediately regrets.

The creation, a reanimated corpse, escapes. It goes on a murderous rampage. We think we are reading a horror story about a terrifying monster on the loose and then…

Then Mary Shelley flips the script and tells us the story from the creature’s perspective.

Frankenstein the novel is many things. It is the invention of the science fiction novel. It is an examination of humanity’s evolving relationship with nature. It is an exploration of ambition, secrecy, and depression.

And when we get to the point in the novel when Shelley turns over narration to the creature, it is an exercise in compassion.

Half-way through Frankenstein, Mary Shelley decides to leave Victor’s point of view and enter the creature’s head. It’s an inspired choice. It halts the story we thought we were reading and reorients it into something much larger. It is the kind of bold and brilliant twist that turns an already compelling novel into one for the ages.

We thought the creature was a murderous monster. We thought it was something hideous and horrible to be feared.

Now we see that we only knew one side of the story. Now we see that our vision of who the creature is and what it represents were skewed because we only saw this world through Victor’s eyes.

It turns out the creature is a rational being with thoughts and feelings. It is an innocent who was reborn into the world lonely and confused. It is a striver who taught itself to read and then devoured some of the greatest works in Western literature.

Everything about the way Shelley structured this novel forces the reader to exercise his own sense of compassion. The first half of the novel makes us think we know who the creature is, and when we find out we were wrong, we are left wondering who else we might have misjudged.

We are left wondering if we’ve created horrible monsters out of other innocent people, simply because we’ve never tried to view the world through their eyes.

On Medium I write about great thinkers and big ideas with a focus on classic literature.

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