The themes of motherhood and fatherhood in Mary Shelley’s novel and in Kenneth Branagh’s film Frankenstein

Gothic novel and cinema


The themes of motherhood and fatherhood in Mary Shelley’s novel and in Kenneth Branagh’s film. Differences in the treatment of these themes in the novel and in the film




Considering the nineteenth century parenting techniques used in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the story focuses on the creator’s poor “parenting” of his “child” leading him to an unjust life. The fatherhood in the novel is dually examined through Victor’s father Alphonse and through Victor himself. In both cases the reader becomes a witness of the failure of the paternal function. Regarding the motherhood, the loss of the mother in the beginning of the novel leads to consequences that will destroy later the whole family. All these unfortunate events voice the idea of the importance of these two significant factors, whose absence in different aspects creates a world full of sorrow and redemption.

The motif of motherhood has a very important role in the rising of the children and unites the dwellers of the house. The mother’s death shakes the foundations of the family and put in Victor’s mind the idea of creating artificial life. This explains the sorrow of the son about the death of his mother for which he blames his father. He has the desire to become better than his father because of who he led a life that was burdened with high expectations that he set for him. The failure of the father Victor and the failure of the father Alphonse are different in the novel. But their incapability of satisfying the expectations of being fathers leads to their punishment. 

There is a reference in the story of Shelley’s mother, who has died due to complications from her birth. She first hands the experience of the loss of the parent, because she was raised without her mother. So the female, and especially, the mother, is seen as the wellspring of compassion even today not only in the 19th century. The role of the father is not as important as the role of the mother. She is the one who raises the child and teaches them the morality and goodness. This is expressed vividly in the screenplay of Kenneth Branagh’s film when the father brings the orphan Elizabeth in their home: “MOTHER: You must think of her as your own sister. You must look after her. And be kind to her.” (Lady S. & Hart V. J.) She teaches Victor to be compassioned and polite, thus putting the foundations of his moral behavior. The colors before her death in the film are bright, there is much more lights and everybody is happy. In the night of her death the atmosphere changes rapidly with the bad weather. There is a storm which somehow predicts for something bad to happen. The destroying of the tree by the lightning is very symbolical: “VICTOR:  As a boy, I stood at this window and watched God destroy our tree.” (Lady S. & Hart V. J.) In this scene the tree of the family is annihilated and probably the mother dies at the same time. It is a very strong moment in the film. After the mother’s death Victor builds a monument for her, in honor of her. The future absence of the mother is a strife that Victor experiences in his development.

The failure in the “fatherhood” of Victor is his creation and his refusal to take responsibility for the life he has created. Like Prometheus he rebels against the laws of nature and as a result is punished by his creation. They both are punished for their actions, when Victor, in a way, steals the secret of creation from God and the Titan steals fire from heaven to give to the man. The fire is equivalent to the Revolution and the French Revolution – the great utopian promises of the 18th century, but nobody including Victor didn’t think of the consequences. In both cases the creation rebels against the creator. Shelley expresses the view that the creator is at fault, not the creation .That is how the book can be seen as a criticism not only of scientists who are unconcerned by the potential consequences of their work, but also of fathers who don’t take responsibility for their children. Victor rejects the creation when it seeks him out and he abandons it, which directly leads to his personal downfall. The absence of parenting and guidance until Frankenstein encountered society which add that moral failings that are also due to the lack of a parent’s love.  Victor fears the creature’s desire to destroy him by killing everyone most dear to him, which is a part of his punishment. There is an irony in the name of Victor, his name suggests victory, but his creation of new life brings only defeat and death. The failure of the father of Victor is his incapability to save his wife, even though he is the best recognized doctor and respected by all who knew him for his integrity. His punishment is the murder of his little son, killed by Frankenstein, for which Alphonse dies from grief. He is not directly punished by his son, but it is a result of Victor’s deeds.

The role of the mother and the father as creators and teachers is very important to Shelley’s creature. The failing of Victor to parent his “son” creates a “monster” that later revenges for his abandonment, and his punishment is not only for his creator but also for his whole family. And the reason for all this comes from the death of the mother, whose absence provokes some actions of his son that for good or bad destroy are being punished by God and destroy the whole family. Here Shelley gives utterance to the importance and the role of the motherhood and the fatherhood. The story implies an idea that Margaret Mead states very well, but namely that “Motherhood is a biological fact, while fatherhood is a social invention.” 

I declare that the work  is my own, except where appropriately referenced and acknowledged. 

I am aware of the policies on plagiarism and academic misconduct.


Type of Entry

In-Text Citation Form

Works Cited Form

Film Screenplay. Two authors.

(Lady S. & Hart V. J.)

Frankenstein (1994) by Steph Lady & James V. Hart.
Revised draft by Frank Darabont.
From the novel by Mary W. Shelley.
2nd revised draft, February 8, 1993


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