Tragic wanderers, ominous atmosphere, symbolism, and themes: these are elements of a Gothic novel. Though Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, written in the early 19th century, certainly contains many components of a Gothic novel, can it be correctly grouped under that genre?
A definition of a Gothic novel; according to Tracy, is a description of a fallen world. We experience this fallen world though the aspects of a novel: plot, setting, characterization, and theme (De Vore, Domenic, Kwan and Reidy). As well, early Gothic novels have characterized themselves through the use of moral commitment and exotic atmosphere in their themes (Lowry 32). Stock characters that were typically present in Gothic literature were the social outcast, the misfit, the guilt haunted wanderer, and the solitary eccentric. However, earlier Gothic literature was considered primitive and mechanical – trite and clichéd by our standards. An example of early Gothic literature was Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, being a dramatic affair with haunting prophecies, knights, castles, dynasties, and typical Gothic settings. Its plot, which consists of a heir being told by a prophecy that tells the demise of his family and heir, and dying from being randomly crushed by an enormous iron helmet, later on with the use of sexual perversion, violence, and typical Gothic stock characters such as ghosts to advance the plot.
However, later Gothic novels; especially Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein broke this typical convention, with heavy stress of the use of typical Gothic atmosphere and symbolism, focusing on conflict between the good-evil nature of mankind and creating characters that are not typical black and white heroes and villains, rather; fallen and tragic people (Lowry 36). The use of typical Gothic symbols, atmosphere, conflicts of good and evil, and tragically fallen characters stem from the archetypes of the Gothic novel in Frankenstein.
Frankenstein’s use of atmosphere and imagery is used in a typical Gothic setting – dark in nature. In James Whale’s 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein, imagery such as crosses, a statue of Death, and a crucified Jesus Christ are shown to give a first impression into the macabre nature of Henry Frankenstein’s gathering of corpses. As the plot advances, rain and thunder are added to show pathetic fallacy to foreshadow the creation of the monster and warn the viewer of the dangers of the monster’s creation. The dark setting of the castle is typical of the Gothic genre, and also contrasts with the use of light and fire as horrifying to the monster, a creature of darkness by nature. In Chapter 5 of Frankenstein, the creature’s ugliness is exemplied from Victor Frankenstein’s point of view: "It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishments of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony . . . I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breath hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs" (Shelley 56)....