An (Incomplete) List of Themes and Issues in Frankenstein

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Top: Frankenstein at MIA’s “At Home with Monsters” exhibit (source: author photo) Bottom: “Frankenstein: Playing with Fire” (source: guthrietheater.org)

I am obsessed with Frankenstein. This is not new. I first read the book in middle school and, though I didn’t understand a lot of it, I fell deep into the rabbit hole of loving Victor Frankenstein’s tragic story and the Creature’s isolation and outsider view. I watched the Universal film from 1931 and its sequel (though both films are nothing like the book). I read a series of books for teens based off the Universal films. I watched Young Frankenstein most Halloweens (and saw the musical adaptation when it toured here). I kept rereading the book. I wrote my own modern adaptation that I self-published as an e-book (please don’t find it; it’s terrible). I grew jealous of everyone who was able to see the Benedict Cumberbatch/ Johnny Lee Miller adaption in the UK (directed by Danny Boyle – I’m finally seeing this November when a live taping is encored by the MSP Film Society at St Anthony Main theater). I’ve read about Mary Shelley and her famous mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, in the book Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon. Some of my favorite creative types also love Frankenstein (notably, Guillermo Del Toro, who I am likewise obsessed with).

In short, I am a huge Frankenstein nerd and I am very vocal about this. So when the Guthrie announced that they would be doing a production of Frankenstein: Playing with Fire in their 2018-2019 season, I was intrigued and a little worried. I love the story but I’ve seen bad adaptations that haunt me (looking at you, Fringe). But I love the production at the Guthrie, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of the play being written and the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication itself. In fact, it’s probably my favorite show that I’ve seen at the G (and by this weekend, will hold the record of the most times I’ve seen the same production of a show). Because (for all transparent reasons) I work in the Guthrie box office, I won’t review the show. But I have been thinking about the story a great deal and, after rereading the book and spending some time with Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about the importance of Shelley’s writing that I wanted to share. Without further ado:

An (Incomplete) List of Themes and Issues in “Frankenstein”

  • playing with fire/ myth of Prometheus/ playing God
  • pseudoscience versus real science
  • environmentalism/ respect for the forces of nature and scientific laws
  • nature versus nurture in the raising of children
  • healthcare (why does Victor leap to the conclusion that the answer to avoiding death is to avoid birthing humans and create life from the dead rather than working to better healthcare? Especially central to the way the play adapts the book where Victor’s mother dies in childbirth)
  • ways in which the Creature reflects what living with mental illness is like (anxiety and depression makes those who live with it feel monstrous, like outsiders, etc.)
  • who really is a monster – what is actually horrific in this story
  • skepticism versus wonder and how they get convoluted
  • overlooking objective truth in order something you want to be true possible
  • having more questions than answers in life
  • education and how we learn/who we teach
  • our lack of understanding around what makes us human/sentient/ personality/ the belief in a soul
  • desire/hunger for knowledge
  • technology and how its advancement is outpacing in our ability to deal with and grapple with it
  • consequences of actions/shame/guilt
  • questions around morality and what is moral

All in all, I really love this story. If you get the chance to see the Guthrie production or the Danny Boyle screening at St Anthony Main, due. And why not pick up the book over Halloween? (I want to get my hands on the 1818 edition myself – I hear it’s better than the more populous 1833 edition.)

Thank you for entertaining my passion surrounding Frankenstein. I’ll be here all October with all of your gothic horror story needs.

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