Teaching Frankenstein in the Post-Columbine Classroom

While we now know that much of the early reporting after the mass shooting at Columbine High School was incorrect, including the portrayal of the shooters as social outcasts and victims of chronic bullying, the effects of explaining that violence as retaliatory against a culture of elitism and cruelty remain. Students reading Frankenstein today—steeped in narratives of mass shootings—are influenced by parallels between how we characterize the motivations of mass shooters and Shelley’s creature. But Shelley’s text offers students more than these parallels. While the Creature explains his acts of violence as reactionary and justified, the novel thinks carefully and critically about his justification and about the rights and responsibilities of men. In this paper I outline a method for teaching the novel, paired with readings that narrate mass shootings as a reaction to societal rejection, that invites students to analyze the way the novel is thinking about acceptance, rejection, violence, and the rights of men. Reading, thinking, and writing about the texts together allows students to more richly examine the beautiful complexity of Shelley’s Frankenstein as well as their own preconceived notions of retaliatory violence.