Instructors’ Teaching Experience
While many of my students had read Frankenstein before, I found that the discussions we had regarding the question of the creature’s free will, the necessity of considering the ethical dimensions of scientific endeavor, and the problems of knowledge constructed by the text to be quite useful. I would definitely teach this text again, and enjoyed playing with the general knowledge of ‘Frankenstein’ in popular culture, using it against my students and helping them to challenge their expectations somewhat. This really is a wonder of a book for students, since almost anything you can imagine to talk about can be found here (end hyperbole–but it’s still great). [Jacob Horn, email@example.com]
Teaching Frankenstein was a mixed experience for me. My first class, which included rather sophisticated readers and was earlier in the day, found it fascinating, and I left those class periods thinking that Frankenstein was a marvelous text to teach. My second class, which included more resistant readers and was a night class (read: students would rather be somewhere else), found it difficult to understand, and therefore discussions were strained. I taught the novel at the beginning of the semester, when we were focusing on the effects of formal elements of literature. This text was particularly effective in thinking about point of view (including unreliable narrators), structure (framed narrative), character (round/flat characters, who is the hero?), and setting. Themes that came up: pursuit of knowledge (connects well to college students), role of language and literature (can work well with the Autobiography of a Reader assignment, as the creature more or less shares his literacy autobiography), attitudes towards difference, personal responsibility, etc. One benefit to this novel is its flexibility. It’s short, so it can be taught quickly if you have a small window in your syllabus (I taught it in three 75-minute class periods), but it’s meaty enough that it can be stretched out over a longer period of time too. [Joanne Janssen, firstname.lastname@example.org]
Although this is not my favorite novel, I do find that this text teaches itself. Before they start reading, I have students write about their understanding of Frankenstein based on popular culture. Then on the first day, we do a book studies project in which we look at book covers on several editions of the novel and try to think about how these illustrations seem to be marketing the text. As we think about the cultural understanding of Frankenstein, I sometimes bring in the many film versions or adaptations, including the James Whale’s 1931 version, the 1998 film about Whale, Gods and Monsters, Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein. (Brooks has also recently done a Broadway musical by the same name.)
On the last day, I like to have students put Dr. Frankenstein on trial (with students playing the roles of key characters, the jury, and the rest making up the defense/prosecution teams).
Possible themes: Law, ethics & responsibility, reliable/unreliable narrators, monstrosity. [Ann Pleiss Morris, email@example.com]
I usually assign Gabriel Garciz Marquez’s "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" on the day before we begin Frankenstein. Marquez’s story works as a great introduction to some of the important issues I ask my students to consider while reading Frankenstein, including religion, language, and the boundary between humanity and monstrosity. [Travis Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org]
OED and Visual Imagery
I did a few things with Frankenstein that worked really well. First, I’ve been encouraging my students to use the OED. To practice, I split the class into small groups and gave each group a print-off definition from the OED on one of the following terms: monster, creature, daemon, wretch. (All terms that Frankenstein uses to describe his creation). Each group then had to make a case for why their term was the best one to describe the creature–based, of course, on evidence from the text. The discussion was great! Each group had a chance to present their perspective, and then we debated which term is the “best” one. They saw a complexity and richness that they hadn’t before, so I’d definitely recommend it for students that have a hard time getting beyond surface stuff.
The other activity I did built on something from our PA session during the first week, with the idea of illustrating Frankenstein. First, my students made their own illustrations of the creature, and we talked about their decisions, the details they included, etc. for most of one class period. Then, I brought in my students (and the illustrations I’d saved) to Special Collections. SC has a fabulous edition of Frankenstein that is illustrated by Barry Moser, that includes separate individual plates of each illustration. We went through the illustrations one by one, first talking about what kinds of things they notice, and then as we continued to move through the stack, we talked about where each image might fall in the text, if the image is an accurate representation of the text, etc. David Schoonover, the Curator of Rare Books, has a great story about how Moser used chicken wire, chicken skin, and prolonged sunlight to make his model for the creature–definitely invite him to join the class! After we talked as a whole group, and compared their illustrations with Barry Moser’s, I had them select one image to write about. They found the image in the full text, and then took notes on the colors, shading, location, size, emotional impressions, link to the text on the page, etc. Now I’m having them do response papers on “What difference does it make to have a story illustrated?”, taking a stand on whether the illustration they chose contributes to or compromises their interpretation of the original text. [Bridget Draxler, email@example.com]
Adaptation, Illustration, and Book Covers
After reading about Ann Pleiss Morris’s book studies project, I designed a PowerPoint with book covers, illustrations, and links to short clips from various film adaptations. We looked at these film adaptations and illustrations after we’d finished the book, so we discussed how the story had been interpreted for particular audiences in these more visual media. [Lacey Worth, firstname.lastname@example.org]
There are several topics in the novel worth a debate, but I've found the best spot is at the end of Volume II (or Chapter 17 in the original printing), when the monster finishes telling his own story and demands that Victor create a mate for him. I split the class in half and had one side argue for why Victor should create a second monster while the other half argued why he should not. When running a debate, make sure students are using the text for evidence. I structured the debate into the following phases:
- Opening arguments (each side makes their case)
- Break (groups come up with rebuttals)
- Response to rebuttal and closing statements
At the start of the debate, all students were assigned to either give the opening argument, rebuttal, or closing statement. This guarantees that each student talks during the debate.
- LETTERS I-IV
- What are Robert Walton’s reasons for going on his journey? What are your reactions to these reasons?
- What are the trade-offs of Walton’s pursuit of knowledge?
- How does Walton’s initial description of Victor color your perception of him (26-27)? Do you trust it?
- What inspires Victor to share his tale with Walton?
- CHAPTERS I-IV
- In what ways are Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein similar? Different?
- How would you described Victor’s motivations for pursuing science in the way he does?
- What do you make of Elizabeth so far? How does her introduction into the text (her back story) shape your reaction to her and her relationship with Victor?
- Read together final 2 paragraphs on page 43: What is Victor saying here? Why? Do you buy this excuse? (Destiny was in control of his actions.)
- CHAPTERS V-VIII
- Victor seems convinced the monster killed William; why doesn’t he come forward with this information? Do you agree with his choice?
- Who is at fault for William’s death? Is anyone other than the murderer responsible for what happened?
- Why does Justine seem so resigned to her gruesome fate? How would you compare her composure to Victor?
PowerPoint for in-class activity/debate: Victor on Trial
Assignment sheet for small group exercise/presentation on the various adaptations of the novel: Adapting Frankenstein