SOCU 347: Society/Culture/Literature
Instructor: L. W., Ph.D.
December 9, 2008

Mary Shelley wrote an in depth story with many underlying metaphors and interpretations. Many of these are seen in the ideas of fire and light as well as creation. In so understanding these ideas and metaphors, we are able to look into the various cultural values and elements to see various thoughts and ideas of how culture changes in some ways and does not change or refuses to change in others.

Complex Metaphor’s simply are Primary Metaphors that can be combined to larger structures (Labhart, 2002). Labhart continues to say that, “these “molecular” structures are stable and therefore determine an important part of our conceptual system.” Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein,’ has many elements of these complex metaphors. In chapter nine of Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein,’ the character Victor describes that he “was encompassed by a cloud which no beneficial influence could penetrate.” This complexity of words is very interesting in deciphering its metaphors.
Shelley first uses the concept of being encompassed by a cloud. This is a semi-common metaphor used in modern urban society. To be encompassed by a cloud refers to being surrounded by something in what is being referenced. In this case of complexity, Victor is being surrounded by some external force that is protecting him. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary supplies one definition of beneficial as “receiving or entitling one to receive advantage” (2008).
At the age of fifteen, Victor Frankenstein had said as he stood at the door of his home in Belrive, that “on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished the oak disappeared, and nothing remained but the blasted stump” (Shelly, 1818). To break down this metaphor of light and fire, I have chosen to take this apart in great detail. While reading this metaphor, I was very unsure of the meaning of “on a sudden,” but the word sudden being defined as “happening or coming unexpectedly,” this transformed this phrase to a modern comprehensible definition. Secondly, Victor speaks of a stream of fire, which is easily defined by the earlier description of the thunder storm as being a bolt of lightning. Thirdly, he states that “a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak.” This is not vocabulary that is used in modern urban culture and so it is a bit interesting to decipher without definitions of some words, however in finding the definition of the word issue, one meaning is “a means or place of going out” (“issue,” 2008). Finally he describes the light vanished and the oak disappeared. This is again defined as the lightning striking the tree and destroying it in one powerful blow. So to see this fire and light metaphor a little more clearly, we can rewrite this section as, ‘a bolt of lightning came unexpectedly out of an old and beautiful oak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the lightning dissipated the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump.’
It is this authors understanding that this metaphor described Victor’s mental change not only by this experience, but also by the experience of a man of great research in natural philosophy. Had this gentleman not been staying with the Frankenstein’s, Victor probably would not have had the experiences and expanding ideas that he had of the ‘lords of his imagination.’ This brought about the experience of attending school and studying science, in which it brought about the creation of the wretch.
The underlying cultural values are very basic in which Mary Shelley defines these through her metaphors in the aspects of what is right or wrong, what is and what is not acceptable, things that are of importance and unimportant, and even workable and unworkable standards. For example in the creating of the wretch, Victor believes that it is acceptable to create his own creation and be as if he was a god himself in doing so. Victor saw no wrong in this work he was doing until after the creation came to life and then he felt that it was wrong of him to do so and turned his creature away. This later brought on the realization of his wrong doing by choosing to refuse the wretch his demands of building another creature of the female kind as a companion. Later in the book, the creature saw the importance of learning, himself, in order to be able to associate with mankind. Although he was learning the science of words and letters, by way of watching De Lacey, Felix, and Agatha, it was moreover better for him to be able to learn such sciences by reading ‘Paradise Lost,’ ‘Plutarch’s Lives,’ and ‘Sorrows of Werter.’ This was able to help him be able to communicate with mankind in the future. He also found the things in life that were workable for him; such as being able to entertain his hunger and thirst at night while being able to be hidden from humans and helping Felix and Agatha in some of their chores so they would not have to suffer a terrible amount of burdens that were put upon them.
The wretch realized very early on in his existence, that although he walked among mankind, he would never be classified as acceptable, as proven on numerous occasions when encountering people. This caused him much grief and pain. With the unacceptable features that people thought that he was hideous and could not be kind or gentle, he was forced into ostracization from all of society, causing him to hate the day he was created, who he was, as well as Victor for having creating him.
Some of these ideas, such as creating a living creature, i.e. Dolly the sheep, have been frowned upon in contemporary society. The idea of cloning a creation or creating one from scratch is not a far fetched idea, we just realize that it is more so unacceptable and wrong in contemporary urban society. Trying to be as God per se, has been an idea that has basically been around since the creation of mankind; according to the Bible, Satan told Eve that if her and Adam were to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they too could be as God was. This has been one of mankind’s downfalls in every society.
In conclusion, I believe Mary Shelley was writing all that we as humans have ever looked at possibly doing; the fact of being our own god, having someone to “worship us,” and being able to create whatever we wanted and whenever we wanted to do so. It is true that society has changed in its many facets of society in the last one-hundred and ninety years, but in many ways we have also stunted our growth and in some cases reverted backwards through history. Maybe one day we will be able to completely go forward without any regression or stunting our societal growth and then we can make the most out of our lives and world.

“beneficial.” 2008. In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved December 9, 2008, from

“issue.” 2008. In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved December 9, 2008, from

Labhart, Nathan. (2002, February). Primary Metaphor and Complex Metaphor. Presented at the Seminar <>, Zurich, Switzerland.

Shelley, M.W. (1818). Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus. Retrieved November 5, 2008, from