Essay 1 – Making a Case for the Contemporary Relevance of Frankenstein

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Essay 1 Assignment: Making a Case for the Contemporary Relevance of Frankenstein

For this assignment, you will write a thesis-driven research essay in which you make a claim about a primary text, Frankenstein, and support that claim using argumentation and several secondary texts. Here is the prompt: “What is the main insight that Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein has to offer to our own contemporary world and why?”

Your first task for this assignment is first to consider several of the issues raised in Frankenstein and choose one of those to focus on. Here are some possible issues/topics to emerge from the novel:

  • Scientific ethics
  • Feminism
  • Social isolation/stigma
  • Anger management
  • Loneliness/solitude
  • Revenge
  • Nature vs. Nurture
  • Language/communication
  • Appearance/Beauty
  • Friendship
  • Class privilege
  • Justice
  • Race
  • Monsters/Monstrousness
  • Storytelling/confession
  • Love/desire

Remember that you should pick a topic with the prompt in mind. Your paper needs to try to make a claim–that Frankenstein is especially suitable to addressing one of these topics/issues, and then you’ll need to explain why. Once you pick an issue, you are going to have to do some research related to this topic. You will of course want to do some research on Frankenstein as well, but supplementing that will be topic research—research that focuses primarily on the issue you’ve chosen to focus on. That means that picking a topic is also about picking something that you are interested in researching or knowing more about (You might even consider your choice in light of your major, or your other academic interests. For instance, if you are interested in science, you might want to discuss something related to science, or if you are interested in criminal justice, you might want to pick something related to crime/law/justice.

After picking your readings, it’s time to start thinking about developing a thesis, which is the central claim of your essay. Your thesis needs to respond directly to the prompt, “What is the main insight that Frankenstein has to offer our world now, and why?” You need an answer to that question, which requires that you are focused, and that you make an arguable claim:

  • To be focused, you have to remain consistent with one topic. For instance, if you want to focus on Frankenstein’s conception of justice, be sure that you remain focused on that topic alone as you write your thesis.
  • To make an arguable claim, you have to be very specific about the kind of insight that Frankenstein offers. For instance, if you want to focus on
  • Here’s an example of a working thesis on the topic of beauty that demonstrates what I’m talking about: “The creature in Frankenstein learns about life primarily from observing it. He is unable and unallowed to participate in it directly most of the time, so he develops his feelings, his appreciation and his emotional depth by observing others. This strategy, while necessary is also ultimately devastating, as it prevents him from developing meaningful intimate, personal relationships. Frankenstein’s treatment of isolation in many ways reflects an earlier time nothing like our own but in its fundamental understanding of the damages that isolation can cause an individual, it is essential reading for understanding how our own online society, in social media, in chat rooms and in other virtual spaces can create and foster a similarly destructive sense of social isolation.” This is just an example, and your working thesis does not need to be quite so involved at first, but it SHOULD try to explain specifically what you want to apply from Frankenstein to our contemporary society, and why you think it is applicable.

At this stage in your writing, your argument will be called a “working thesis” because it is likely to change, as you write and develop your essay. Basically, what you have in a working thesis is a placeholder that may or may not look like the final product, but will give you permission to continue in one direction, in support of one argument.

When it comes to writing a thesis, there are a few things to keep in mind, so I’m going to list some of those here:

  • In a research essay written for a college course, the thesis usually comes at the bottom of the first paragraph. The paragraph may start with an anecdote, or a broader discussion of the primary or secondary texts, but by the end of the first paragraph, the paper should announce its argument as directly as possible.
  • A thesis should always be arguable—it should be a convincing statement, but also a statement that even a reasonable person could disagree with. If you are just stating a fact, that isn’t an argument. If you can’t reasonably prove it, on the other hand, it isn’t a very good argument. In the sample thesis above, I try to argue that Frankenstein is applicable to our own contemporary social concerns related to online alienation and loneliness. I think that’s a good argument, since the creature does have some similar experiences but someone could very easily disagree with me and say that Frankenstein is not at all applicable, and then proceed to explain why. The thesis is arguable because while I think it’s convincing, and I want to convince the reader of it, a reasonable reader could still disagree.
  • While sometimes we may be taught that a thesis should be one sentence in length, it’s more likely to be a few sentences in total. Once you begin to make your argument—to draw the reader to the claim—you are writing a thesis. For this essay, that means that you will need to clarify what insights your chosen secondary text will lend to understanding your primary text, and, crucially, why you chose it.

Once you’ve gotten your working thesis down, it’s time to do some research. For this essay, you will need to directly quote from at least four sources within the body of your essay. Two of these sources should be about Frankenstein itself and two should be about the issue or topic that you are addressing. So for instance for my sample thesis, I would find two useful sources that address loneliness/isolation in Frankenstein and then I would also find two more useful sources that address the topic of online loneliness/isolation in the modern world. ALL of your sources should be from the HCC library, and ALL should be scholarly sources. We will review the criteria for a scholarly source in detail in the upcoming week 4 unit, so you do not need to worry about knowing that now.

Once you’ve gotten your working thesis down, and have done the research, start writing the essay, developing several body paragraphs in support of your thesis. This doesn’t mean that you have to start every body paragraph with a direct declaration of how it will support the thesis, but each paragraph should play a role in developing or explaining that main argument/idea you’ve started with. As you write, you may change your mind about the thesis, or you may need to revise in order to better support the thesis—either way, this period of writing is the most exploratory, and it is where you get to “test” your argument against your analysis of the text.

Typically, body paragraphs begin with a topic sentence that clarifies in some way what the paragraph will be about. Then, you can use the paragraph to make your point or your claim. You might do this by citing a passage or an argument from the secondary text, explaining how it helps the reader understand the primary text, but you might at times also focus on one or the other of these, without discussing both. Write as you see fit—there are rules of the road in writing, but inspiration also plays a big role. We can make those two imperatives meet when you’re working on the final draft, if they don’t yet in the rough draft.

As you write in support of your thesis, employ the following basic steps of analysis:

–Look for moments in Frankenstein that are most closely related to your chosen topic. These may be related to the behaviors of the characters, in the ways the story is written or in the themes that it deals with.

–Do the same thing with the research. Your research should help you think about some of the bigger issues in Frankenstein, but you don’t need to have them mastered. It is better to simply have a sense of those passages/ideas in the research that are most useful to you in your goal of applying these ideas to the primary text.

–Try to make sense of the connections you find, both in the primary text you choose and in the secondary material. Ask yourself what they mean and why they occur.

Here’s another example of a sample thesis. This one is focusing on creation/creativity but also raising the issue of solitude/isolation:

“In Frankenstein, both Walton and Victor measure accomplishment largely as a lonely enterprise. Walton is not interested in sharing in the glory of discovery with his fellow crew members; Victor is only concerned with creating life if it is something he has figured out on his own. Nevertheless, their storytelling is a profoundly collaborative act. It is only through their communication with each-other that the novel is born. While neither Victor nor Walton is able to fully mend the rifts caused by their individualism and ambition, this is a novel that poses storytelling itself as an effective antidote to modern self-involvement.”


  • Final Paper of at least 1500 words, typed, double spaced, Times New Roman 12 or Calibri 11 font, at least three direct quotations from Frankenstein and citation from at least four secondary sources (research sources). Two of the sources should be related to Frankenstein directly and two should be more directly related to the issue/topic you’ve chosen to address. The essay should have proper MLA formatting throughout, including in-text citation and a works cited page at the end.

Attached the e-book for reference.

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