Vol. 53 No. 3 (2005)
Research Article

The Importance of Being “Ernest“ in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: A Study in Literary Onomastics

Published 2005-09-01



In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley utilizes the names of her characters to simultaneously distance the reader from the characters and to make ironic comparisons between the true identity of a character and the identity a character portrays. Furthermore, parallels are made between separate characters as well as between the character Margaret Saville and the author Mary Shelley. The novel uses a multiple-frame format where no single character directly presents the entire story and characters’ names are introduced in a manner that serves their role thematically. Notably, Ernest, whose name suggests an honest disposition, is the only character in the Frankenstein family who is spared from tragedy. Ernest's survival resonates as a warning to those who irresponsibly chase scientific progress. Shelley's automatization of names in Frankenstein sets the reader up for the deautomatization of Ernest's name and his symbolic development into a young man who produces for his country rather than threatens its existence with scientific pursuit.


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