Two Versions of Frankenstein: Nature Versus Nurture.
James Whale's 1931 film version of Frankenstein provides a deep contrast in both theme and characterization to Mary Shelley's original novel, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. In much the same way Prometheus stole fire and gave it to man, Shelley's subtitle suggests that God's power of creation has been stolen, in this case by Frankenstein. Also in the same manner, both are punished. Shelley's Victor Frankenstein is haunted until his death by his worst fear, the creature to which he has given life. Whale's Henry Frankenstein receives a very different fate. He is able to escape his creation and apparently carry on with his life. .
Both Shelley's and Whale's creatures have different reasons for their behavior, reducing the explanations to the age old debate of genetics versus environment. Whale's creature is the recipient of an abnormal brain, which accounts for his child-like behavior. Shelley's creature, in contrast, acts violently to obtain the attention of the creator who abandons him immediately after his "birth." Henry Frankenstein attempts to control and teach his creature. Victor Frankenstein leaves his to die.
Whale's creature, however, is the one that has become deeply imbedded in the collective subconscious of America, due mostly to the overwhelming popularity of the series of Universal films, beginning with Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, and finally, The House of Frankenstein. Our immediate visualization comes from the creature as portrayed by Boris Karloff, excessively lanky, large Cro-Magnon forehead, deep set eyes, greenish skin, the shuffling, awkward walk, and, of course, bolts embedded in his neck to conduct the electricity that gives him life. The creature, although inarticulate, still seems to cry for sympathy and exudes pathos. He wants to learn. His thinking is simple and child-like, as when tossing flowers into the water with a young girl.