Mary Shelley’s emphasis on the Faust legend, or the quest to conquer the unknown at the cost of one’s humanity, forms a central theme of the novel. The reader continually sees Victor favor his ambition above his friendships and family. Created by a German writer named Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Faust myth suggested that the superior individual could throw off the shackles of traditional conventions and alienate himself from society.
English Romantic poets, who assumed the status of poet-prophets, believed that only in solitude could they produce great poetry. In Frankenstein, however, isolation only leads to despair. Readers get the distinct feeling that Victor’s inquisitive nature causes his emotional and physical peril because he cannot balance his intellectual and social interactions. For instance, when he leaves home to attend the University of Ingolstadt, he immerses himself in his experiment and forgets about the family who lovingly supported him throughout his childhood.
Victor actually does not see his family or correspond with them for six years, even when his father and Elizabeth try to keep in touch with him by letters. Shelley’s lengthy description of Victor’s model parents contrasts with his obsessive drive to create the creature. Margaret’s correspondence with Walton at the beginning of the novel also compares with Shelley’s description of Victor’s home life; both men were surrounded by caring, nurturing individuals who considered the welfare of their loved ones at all times.
Not surprisingly, Walton’s ambition to conquer the unknown moves him, like it does Victor, further away from civilization and closer to feelings of isolation and depression. The creature, too, begins reading novels such as Goethe’s The Sorrows of Werter and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, claiming that an “increase of knowledge only [showed] what a wretched outcast I was. ” For the creature, an increase in knowledge only brings sorrow and discontent. Victor and Walton ultimately arrive at these two states because of their inquisitive natures.