Frankenstein- Acquirement of Knowledge

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In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the acquisition of knowledge is depicted as dangerous, and the novel supports Victor Frankenstein’s belief that a man is happier if he remains ignorant of the world beyond his native town. Shelley’s work examines the consequences of pursuing knowledge and science, emphasizing the risks involved in delving into these areas. The book portrays science as having the potential to surpass the limits of human control.

In Mary Shelley’s novel, the development of her protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, encompasses both romantic and gothic aspects. Set in the period of 1818, the novel reflects the influences of the world Shelley was living in. Additionally, it explores the fundamental human need for love and relationships. Victor Frankenstein serves as a representation of the potential dangers associated with pursuing knowledge. Shelley utilizes his journey to exemplify the disastrous consequences that can arise when one becomes overly consumed with a particular task.

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Shelley’s emphasis lies in the notion that the pursuit of knowledge is not inherently evil. However, when one exceeds its natural boundaries, destruction can ensue. This is exemplified through Victor’s ambition to achieve god-like status and generate a new human being: “I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation”. The character of Walton serves as a contrasting counterpart to Victor, instilling an ominous tone at the beginning of the narrative.

Walton shares the same aspirations for “discovery” and fame as Victor. After Victor experiences the severe consequences of his creation, he tries to caution Walton about the harmful effects. Victor warns, “You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; I fervently hope that the fulfillment of your desires will not turn into a venomous sting, like mine has been.” Additionally, Victor describes the pursuit of knowledge as “madness” and questions Walton, “Have you also consumed the intoxicating potion?”

In her portrayal of the quest for knowledge, Shelley expresses a negative attitude towards science, depicting it as capable of surpassing human restraint. Furthermore, she asserts that understanding God’s ability to create life is beyond human comprehension and voices her concerns about the future effects of science and technology. Additionally, Shelley incorporates romantic and gothic elements to further emphasize the detrimental portrayal of science and its potential for destruction.

The writer of the text effectively captures the gloomy atmosphere of Frankenstein and also explores the admiration for nature. The dark ambiance is clearly depicted in the portrayal of Frankenstein’s laboratory: “In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of my house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy creation… the dissecting room and the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials”. Such a depiction evokes a repugnant response from the reader and subsequently influences a negative view of science.

One of the important scenes in Mary Shelley’s novel that demonstrates her views on science is when Frankenstein witnesses the lightning striking a tree. This event sparks his curiosity and fascination with science, as he describes it as a “stream of fire” coming from an old and magnificent oak. The immediate disappearance of the oak and the aftermath of a blasted stump further emphasizes Frankenstein’s awe towards the power and beauty of nature, ultimately showcasing his interest in science through his admiration for nature.

Ironically, Victor returns to appreciate nature after losing everything and realizing his mistakes in trying to play god. Even though he is broken in spirit, he feels the beauty of nature deeply, as described by Walton. Shelley employs the Romantic contrast between man and nature to depict scientific progress. The text reflects the culture and general characteristics of 1818, the time when Shelley was living.

Shelley incorporates certain aspects of the 19th century historical setting into the novel, allowing her to criticize or praise her perception of society. This period was a time of significant social, political, and scientific change. It witnessed the emergence of Imperialism and the Industrial Revolution in Britain, as well as the literary movements of Romanticism and Victorianism. Additionally, Shelley delves into the importance of science during 1818, a year marked by extensive research and discoveries.

In her portrayal of Victor, Shelley presents him as the epitome of the overambitious scientists of that era. By depicting his failure and his realization of his mistakes, she conveys her skepticism towards science and its potential hazards when delving into unnatural aspects of nature. In this peculiar age of science, scientists transitioned from mere seekers of knowledge to become writers and poets, engaging in the act of creation.

According to Shelley, scientists attempting to possess god-like qualities was an affront to religion – “Victor desired to learn the secrets of heaven and earth, whether it pertained to the tangible aspects of existence or the hidden depths of nature and human consciousness.” The concept of light symbolizes knowledge and exploration, mirroring the era of enlightenment during this significant scientific period – “What could be anticipated in a land bathed in perpetual light?” Social class during this time was marked by strong prejudice, with wealth determining one’s place in the hierarchical structure.

This is exemplified in Shelley’s main character Victor and the kind-hearted nature of his parents and his family. They are depicted as a respectable and generous family, particularly in their decision to adopt Elizabeth and the father’s own journey to find his wife by acting as a guardian angel to a disadvantaged girl who entrusted herself to his care. Victor’s neglectful treatment of his creation contradicts the love and compassion he should have learned from his family.

Shelley questions the impact of science on family and relationships, emphasizing the harmful consequences of isolation from loved ones. She suggests that true happiness is not achieved through an all-consuming pursuit but rather through emotional connections between individuals. This notion is exemplified through Victor, who, in his childhood, found solace and fulfillment in his deep emotional bond with Elizabeth – “Harmony was the essence of our companionship, and the differences in our personalities brought us closer together”.

However, once he departs for university in Ingolstadt, he loses this constant attachment and becomes fully engrossed in his work. Following the completion of his creation, Victor devotes his days to seeking revenge for the loss of his loved ones. Thus, Shelley conveys that interpersonal relationships are crucial for happiness, as Frankenstein is unable to find any delight after the murder of his loved ones.

Earlier in the novel, Victor hypocritically states that if a study weakens affections and destroys the taste for simple pleasures, then that study is unlawful. This highlights Victor’s understanding of the obsession with knowledge while also showing his own ignorance. The necessity of relationships is also explored through the monster, who is met with horror and consternation by people despite only desiring love and acceptance.

Both Victor and the monster desire companionship and understanding. The monster gains knowledge about human behavior by observing the De Lacy family, but this does not quench his yearning for friendship. Similarly, Victor seeks love and connection to bring fulfillment to his life. Mary Shelley presents the idea that love and relationships bring greater joy than simply acquiring knowledge. According to Shelley, human connection offers genuine happiness while the pursuit of knowledge can be harmful and destructive.

Through the development of her protagonist Victor, her reference to gothic and romantic elements of science, the references to the period in which she lived, the evidence she felt of the perusal of information at this time, and through the human need for connection and relationships, Shelley portrays the concept that the quest for knowledge can be harmful if not approached in moderation. Victor’s ignorance of the consequences of his experiment due to his ambition is a representation of the concern Shelley had for scientists during her time.

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