The use of symbolism can be a powerful tool to help illustrate fundamental themes and ideas in an author’s literary work. In Frankenstein, Shelley develops a deeper meaning to the simple elements of fire and light through the actions and thoughts of Doctor Frankenstein and the Monster. Shelley uses fire and light interchangeably to portray a positive and a negative theme, representing the duality of the Doctor Frankenstein and the Monster, depending on the situations they face.
Through the symbol of fire, The Monster undergoes an internal revelation and learns how to express his newfound emotions. For instance, the Monster stumbles upon a small fire “which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth [he] experienced from it” (Shelley 120). He fell in love with the fire and grew an appreciation for it. The fire is not only used as a resource for beggars but also as an aid to evoke their undiscovered emotions. He, for the first time, grows a sense of attachment, love, and the need to care for something outside of himself. However, the Monster quickly learns the dangers of fire when he attempts to expand his joy for it through physical means: “In my joy, I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain” (Shelley 130). He is puzzled and says, “How strange...that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!” (Shelley 130). Because Dr. Frankenstein deprived the Monster of parental love and care, the Monster discovers this feeling of longing and tries to get as much of it as he can. He sticks his hand into the fire, not understanding its dangers. Through this encounter, the fire does not merely reveal new emotions, but it also teaches him a lesson about the risks of excess satiation.
The creation scene most effectively uses the symbol of light. Dr. Frankenstein uses electricity to give life to the Monster (Shelley 136). The ability of electricity, a form of light, to create life demonstrates its enormous power and represents life. Before creation took place, the room was dimly lit only by the “glimmer of the half-extinguished light” coming from a “candle [that] was nearly burnt out” (Shelley 58). However, after Frankenstein granted life to the Monster, the room was soon filled with the “spark of life” (Shelley 58). Dr. Frankenstein exits his laboratory promptly after creating the Monster, and the “dim and yellow light of the moon...forces its way through the window shutters” to reveal “the wretch—the miserable monster whom [Dr. Frankenstein] had created” (Shelley 59). Dr. Frankenstein’s fears about what the Monster is capable of, how he will hide it, and how he will control it ultimately consume him. This suggests that Dr. Frankenstein becomes afraid of the powers of his own creation and life itself. Light has the power to create life but it can also create horrible, wretched, vile aspects of life.
Shelly employs fire and light as symbols to represent the positive and negative thoughts and emotions of the characters, which shows the duality of their complex experiences.