The thought of writing the AP English Lit essay can be a daunting one, but if you know the texts and understand the themes, there is nothing to worry about.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein deals with many themes that we will go over in this article, and we will explore how the themes and issues can be adapted to suit the question. You’ll often find that the themes in text run parallel with each other, so it can be easier to understand the novel when all the themes run into each other.
We will look at the AP English Literature free response questions from previous years, so you can get a better idea of how to answer them and any future free response questions.
Frankenstein AP English Lit Essay Themes
There are a number of themes in Frankenstein that can be applied to your AP English Lit essay. Nature, knowledge, technology, science, supernatural, secrecy, and the fear of the unknown are all evident in the novel.
Some of the themes run parallel with each other and help to develop other issues in the text, such as science and technology being directly related to knowledge. With the Industrial Revolution sparking new technological developments, these themes of science, technology and knowledge go hand-in-hand.
Frankenstein is a Romantic Gothic novel and during the Romantic period, nature played an important role in art and literature. Natural surroundings are significant to Frankenstein and can be seen through Shelley’s descriptions of the landscape. Shelley also uses nature as devices to create messages, for example, when the monster writes messages for Frankenstein on the trees and stones.
The theme of the supernatural runs throughout the novel, which was significant in Gothic and Romantic literature. Writers and artists were making use of their imaginations, giving light to new ways of looking at the world, and this can be seen through the character of the monster.
Secrecy is an important theme in the novel, as Frankenstein is so secretive about his work and science that it kills his loved ones and eventually himself. The monster is created in secret, and Frankenstein then continues to keep him secret, leading to the events that unfold.
How to use Frankenstein for the 2016 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
“Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.”
Frankenstein is a good choice to use for answering free response questions that deal with deception, as deception features prominently in the text. The character of Victor Frankenstein is where we see the most deception.
The novel focuses on Victor’s attempts to keep the monster a secret. The fact that Victor has created a monster is kept secret until the end, when he confesses everything to Walton just before he dies. Victor spends most of the novel trying to kill the monster that he created, but he keeps this ambition hidden from everyone.
Victor is deceiving those around him by keeping the monster’s existence to himself. Victor’s creation is responsible for the death of his younger brother. Justine, the innocent young girl in the Frankenstein family, gets blamed for the murder of Victor’s brother and is executed as a result.
Victor loses two younger members of his family as a direct result of the creation of his monster. The monster then goes on to kill Victor’s friend, Henry, before killing his new wife, Elizabeth. If Victor had informed someone of the existence of his creation, he might have avoided losing his loved ones.
Victor deceives others to protect his scientific discovery and his own knowledge. It is this deception by Victor that is the reason for his demise. By deceiving people he suffers extreme guilt, which leads him to become obsessed with trying to stop the monster.
This obsession with trying to eliminate the monster consumes Victor. His life revolves around his trying to correct the mistake he made by creating the monster in the first place. Keeping his creation of the monster a secret, he has to deal with the consequences alone. The theme of secrecy is reflected through Victor and through his deception of others.
By keeping such a secret, Victor’s mental health deteriorates from guilt, as it is he who is responsible for the death of his loved ones. The secrecy is important to the plot of Frankenstein and contributes to the other aspects of the novel, such as the quest for knowledge and science, as well as the fear of the unknown.
How to use Frankenstein for the 2015 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
“Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.”
For free response questions that ask you to analyze cruelty in a text, Frankenstein is an ideal choice. The novel features various acts of cruelty that can link back to the question.
With Frankenstein’s creation of the monster he is ultimately unleashing cruelty into his society. The character of Justine suffers cruelty when she is blamed for the murder of Frankenstein’s brother, causing her to be executed. She has to endure the grief of losing a loved one before she is wrongly convicted of William’s murder.
With the monster murdering William, Henry, and Elizabeth, these are clearly cruel acts. However, it is Frankenstein who then has to suffer the grief of losing his loved ones and the guilt over what his creation has done.
We learn at the end of the novel that Frankenstein’s monster has also suffered. When Frankenstein created the monster, he didn’t factor in the consequences that could arise as a result. He created a life without any consideration for its feelings and he brought it into a world that was not accepting of it.
The monster has intelligence and emotions, and the cruelty he suffers is the reason for his behavior. Society has excluded him because Frankenstein has kept his science secret, and the monster is seen as hideous and terrifying, due to his appearance. Frankenstein also immediately regrets making the monster, fueling the monster’s anger and prompting him to seek revenge.
We can see that there are a range of cruel acts that can be investigated in the novel, and from different vantage points. The cruelty that is suffered by both the monster and Frankenstein helps to shape the novel and reflect the themes of secrecy and the supernatural, as well as the dangers of knowledge and science.
How to use Frankenstein for the 2014 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
“Select a character that has deliberately sacrificed, surrendered, or forfeited something in a way that highlights that character’s values. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how the particular sacrifice illuminates the character’s values and provides a deeper understanding of the meaning of the work as a whole.”
For free response questions that deal with sacrifice, Frankenstein is an ideal text to use. The original publication of Mary Shelley’s novel was Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus was a god from Greek mythology who is said to have created humanity and gifted them fire after stealing it from Mount Olympus, sacrificing himself to be doomed to eternal punishment by Zeus.
In understanding the original title of the novel you can see that Shelley wanted the reader to think of Victor Frankenstein as a Prometheus character and for us to draw parallels between them. While Victor Frankenstein didn’t create humanity, he did create a supernatural being that was human-like in appearance and, as we discover at the end, also has human-like emotions.
Victor Frankenstein ultimately sacrifices his own life and his family’s for the sake of science. Scientific discoveries and the quest for knowledge are important to Victor. In his attempt to create life, he endangers the lives of his family members and suffers himself as a consequence, just as Prometheus did.
Frankenstein’s brother, friend and wife are all murdered by the monster he has created. The young Justine is blamed for the murder of Frankenstein’s brother and is executed after a trial. Lives are lost because of Frankenstein’s creation and his secrecy surrounding it. Even Frankenstein is sent to prison for the death of his friend, Henry, when it was the monster who physically murdered him.
With the deaths of his loved ones, Frankenstein is suffering from grief and guilt, but it is at his own hands, as he is the one responsible for the monster being alive in the first place. Frankenstein had dedicated his life to science, but he then dedicates himself to eliminating the monster.
He succeeded in creating a life, although it was not as he had expected, but the sacrifice of his life and his family’s lives had already been made when Frankenstein first decided to create the monster. Keeping his science secret seems to be more important to Frankenstein than his own life, which is ironic since it is the secret to life that he is trying to keep.
Frankenstein sacrificing lives highlights one of the main themes in the novel, which is the growth of science and knowledge and the dangers that it can bring.
How to use Frankenstein for the 2013 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
“Select a single pivotal moment in the psychological or moral development of the protagonist of a bildungsroman. Then write a well-organized essay that analyzes how that single moment shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.”
For free response questions that ask you to analyze a bildungsroman, Frankenstein is not the best book to use. Other texts you could use for this question are Emma or Great Expectations.
How to use Frankenstein for the 2012 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
“Choose a novel or play in which cultural, physical, or geographical surroundings shape psychological or moral traits in a character. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how surroundings affect this character and illuminate the meaning of the work as a whole.”
For free response questions that require an analysis of surroundings, Frankenstein works well.
The monster is affected by his surroundings, and it is his experiences in these surroundings that cause him to seek revenge on Frankenstein. The environment into which Frankenstein brings the monster is not prepared for him. Frankenstein’s society is unprepared for the science behind the monster’s creation, leading the people to react in fear and highlighting the theme of fear of the unknown.
The monster learns language and how to communicate from observing the peasants. He makes further use of his surroundings by using his newly learned language skills to write words and messages on trees and rocks.
When Frankenstein creates a female version of the monster, he destroys it. Being excluded from society, the monster sees this female version as his only hope to have a companion and when it was destroyed by Frankenstein this further fueled his feelings of abandonment and loneliness.
By being different from the rest of society, the monster’s personality is shaped by the suffering he experiences, causing him to become even further cast out from society. When the reader learns that the monster has suffered a cruel life, it reinforces the theme of science and that perhaps it shouldn’t be practiced without full knowledge of the consequences.
After reading the past free response questions you should have a better understanding of how to approach writing your AP English Lit essay. It’s a good idea to study the themes of Frankenstein when you re-read the novel, as you will often find additional aspects of the text that weren’t obvious on your first reading.
You can always find additional study resources on Albert.io, including practice exam questions and links to past exam papers. You also might find it helpful to read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and The Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs for extra advice on the exam.
Looking for AP English Literature practice?
Kickstart your AP English Literature prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.
‘Originally conceived as a ghost story, Frankenstein is far more – it is a story of alienation.’ Examine Shelley’s portrayal of the Creature in the light of this comment.
The novel was written in answer to a challenge, by Lord Byron, to write a ghost story, when he, Polidori, PB Shelley and Mary Shelley were staying near Lake Geneva in the Swiss Alps. Mary Shelley determined to write a story that would ‘curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart’. However, the novel became more than a ghost story. It does not deal with ghosts; Shelley argues that real horror does not derive from the supernatural, real horror arises from reality – the reality of the dangers of modern science. For Shelley, modern science caused alienation and in turn destruction. The novel deals with many issues of the day, one of which being alienation.
The Creature was alienated from the beginning. He was rejected by his creator and then rejected by society due to his appearance. Alienation is the cause of the Creature’s unhappiness. Because he was created unnaturally, by man, he was set apart. He was not created out of love between a man and a woman, and conceived in the womb, but in a ‘workshop of filthy creation’, the result of Victor Frankenstein’s obsessive ambition to create life himself.
The Creature is alienated from his creator, when Victor rejects and abandons him as soon as he has given him life, just because of how he looks, ‘unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room.’ Later on in the novel, the Creature realises this, when he reads Victor’s journal, which describes Victor’s repulsion for his creature, so he is alienated by hatred for his appearance. Victor is clearly representative of society in that he is shallow and judges people by physical appearance.
Through her depiction of the Creature’s alienation, Shelley shows an outraged awareness of injustice. Like the French peasants in France in 1789, the Creature is alienated and oppressed and like the French peasants he rebels. In her presentation of the Creature’s alienation, Shelley is warning against state oppression. Shelley’s original readers would be aware of this especially when considering the Luddites, who were also similar to the Creature in their oppression and alienation. Alienation caused them to rebel. The Creature was born benevolent but as Jean Jacques Rousseau acknowledged ‘man is born good but corrupted by society’. The horrific treatment endured by the Creature caused him to be alienated and this, as stated, caused him to turn evil and rebel against the society from which he is alienated.
When the novel was written a scientific revolution was taking place. Advances in electricity and biology were causing some concern as people were actually discussing the possibility of bringing the dead back to life. Shelley was aware of Galvani’s experiments and through her depiction of the alienation of the Creature, she is warning against the dangers of the obsessive, reckless pursuit of science. The creature is the product of science. Science therefore causes alienation, as the Creature is hideously disfigured he is rejected, and therefore this alienation causes the Creature to rebel against society and commit murder. This can be related to the 21st century as people who are disabled are still shunned by some people and this therefore causes alienation and therefore unhappiness.
The Creature is also alienated from women, as he begins his life with no mother, and is later denied his wish for a female companion, again by his creator, when Victor destroys the female he is making for him. ‘The wretch saw me destroy the creature on whose future existence he depended for happiness’, which also denied him the opportunity of maybe being part of a family.
The Creature’s very appearance sets him apart from society, which sets so much store on looks. This can be seen by the reaction of the villagers when they see him – they stone him, he saves a child from drowning but the father shoots him. The De Lacey’s drive him out of their home when they see him and William, the younger brother of Victor, although young, has already learned the prejudices of society against things that are not considered normal. All this served to alienate the Creature still further from the ‘natural’ world.
Even so, the Creature finds pleasure in nature. ‘I even raised my humid eyes with thankfulness towards the blessed sun, which bestowed such joys on me.’ But it was nature which revealed his appearance to him, when he looked in the pool and ‘became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am’, as he saw his reflection. Now the Creature had more understanding of why he had no friends, and why he would have no family. This episode is a clear parody of Eve who, in Paradise Lost, saw the pool reflect beauty. She was created naturally so perhaps the Creature’s hideous appearance could reflect his unnatural origins. Eve had a companion but the Creature did not. His appearance is the sole cause of his alienation and ultimate unhappiness.
The Creature’s alienation leads him to live in the forests, and sneak around during the night so he can keep out of sight. Alienation has caused him to be an outsider; he realises how different he is to everybody else; ‘when I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me’. As he says ‘all men hate the wretched’ and this hatred causes alienation.
When the creature takes refuge in a hovel, next to the DeLacey’s cottage, he begins to learn about people. He also learns to speak, and hopes to win them over by the ‘beauty of his soul’. His alienation does not stop him dreaming of being accepted by humans. He sees Safie, also an alien, being accepted, but she is beautiful, not a hideous monster. The Creature is doomed to be excluded from society, and devotes himself to the destruction of it, especially Victor’s family, because he will never have any of these things.
The Creature first compares himself to Adam, after reading Paradise Lost. Like Adam he was ‘apparently linked by no other human being in existence’ but Adam was cared for by his creator. Then, because of his turning evil, the Creature compares himself to Satan, ‘the fallen angel’. So he was alienated even more from his creator by acts of rebellion and revenge. He says that he was turned into a monster due to his exclusion from Paradise (the love and care of his creator) and became wretched and alone.
In conclusion the plight of the Creature is a warning against man playing God, and setting himself apart from women and society. The theme of alienation is a Romantic one, set amongst the remote scenery of the Gothic tradition. This mixture works well because it points out the frightening prospects of these events actually happening, not being brought about by the supernatural and magic, but through science. It also shows that anything unnatural will be alienated from the world, because of society’s attitude to anything ‘abnormal’.