“How the dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow. ” To what extent does Shelley’s Frankenstein support Victor Frankenstein’s view? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein explores the concepts of knowledge and science and the dangers involved with the pursuit and investigation of these ideas. The novel conveys Shelley’s attitudes towards science by portraying it as having the capability to exceed the bounds of human restraint.
Through the development of her protagonist Victor Frankenstein, the romantic and gothic aspects of her novel, the period of 1818 and the influences of the world she was living in that are evident in the novel and the exploration of the human need for love and relationships. The protagonist, Victor Frankenstein is used as the ultimate embodiment that the “acquirement of knowledge” is dangerous. Shelley uses his journey to demonstrate the disastrous results that can occur if one becomes completely immersed in a task.
Shelley especially focuses on the fact that the pursuit of knowledge is not necessarily and evil thing, but it can cause destruction when it is pursued beyond natural limits. This is shown through Victor’s aim to be god-like and to create another 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 is used as a binary opposition to Victor and to create a sense of foreboding at the start of the novel.
Walton possesses all the same goals of “discovery” and glory as Victor and after Victor has suffered he dire consequences of his creation he attempts to warn Walton of the negative repercussions-“You seek for, knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be serpent to sting you as mine has been”. Victor also then refers to the need to acquire knowledge as “madness” and asks Walton, “Have you also drunk from the intoxicating draught? ”.
By portraying the quest for knowledge as negative Shelley consequently conveys her attitudes towards science by portraying it as having the capability to exceed the bounds of human restraint. She also tells her readers that God and His ability to create life is not meant to be understood by humans and that she was concerned with the effects that science and technology could have in the future. Shelley’s uses of romantic and gothic elements also enhance the negative portrayal of science and its potential destruction.
Her writing conveys gloomy settings of Frankenstein as well as the appreciation of nature. Dark ambiance is evident in the description 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”. This description invokes a repulsive reaction in the reader and therefore a tainted opinion of science.
One of the important scenes that reflected Mary Shelley’s attitudes towards science is the portrayal of Frankenstein’s awe when he sees the lightening strike the tree, showing his curiosity towards science-“As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak… and no soon as the sizzling light vanished, the oak disappeared, and nothing was left but a blasted stump”. In this quote the power and beauty of nature is apparent and reveals Frankenstein’s interest in science through his admiration of nature.
Ironically after he loses all that is dear to him and realises his mistakes of attempting to play god he returns to appreciate nature in its natural occurrence with Walton describing that Victor, “even broken in spirit as he is no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature”. Shelley uses the Romantic contrast of man vs. Nature to portray scientific development. The culture and general characteristics of the time of 1818 where Shelley was living are evident in the text.
As the historical setting is in this period Shelley incorporates certain aspects of the time into the novel, consequently criticizing or praising her perception of society. The 19th century was a period of great change, socially, politically and scientifically. This time saw the rise of Imperialism and of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the literary movements of Romanticism and Victorianism. Shelley also explores the significance of science during 1818 which was at its height of research and discoveries.
Shelley portrays Victor as the embodiment of the overambitious scientists of the time. Through his failure and realisations of his wrongs she consequently illustrates her lack of faith in science and the danger it can cause with researching aspects of nature that aren’t meant to be tampered with. Scientist’s purposes were previously to understand science but in this strange time of science the scientists took on the role of writers and poets and began to create.
Shelley felt that this was an insult to religion and that scientists should not have tried to exercise a god complex-“It was the secrets of heaven and earth that [Victor] desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied [him]”. The symbol of light represents knowledge and discovery and is a parallel to the age of enlightenment that was this heightened scientific period-“What could be expected in a country of eternal light? ”. Socio-economic class of the period was very prejudice and the hierarchy is based on wealth.
This is represented through Shelley’s protagonist Victor and the “benevolent dispositions” of his parents and therefore his family. They are portrayed as an “upright” and charitable family, especially through their adoption of Elizabeth and the father himself who finds his wife through being a “protecting spirit” to a “poor girl, who committed herself to his care”. This strong sense of family is juxtaposed through Victor’s treatment of his monster as he should have gained characteristics of love and compassion that were demonstrated to him by his family.
Shelley is therefore questioning the effects that science has on family and relationships. Shelley shows that the isolation from family and friends can have destructive consequences. She shows that happiness does not come through the completion of an obsessive pursuit because true happiness is found in emotional connections established between people. She presents this idea through Victor as during his childhood his emotional connection with Elizabeth kept him from completely engrossing himself in his studies-“Harmony was the soul of our companionship, and the diversity and contrast that subsisted in our characters drew us nearer together”.
But after he leaves for university in Ingolstadt he loses this constant connection and becomes completely immersed in his work. After the creation is complete and Victor spends his days attempting to avenge the death of his loved ones. Shelley therefore expresses that relationships between people are the key to happiness, because Frankenstein is unable to find any joy after his loved ones are murdered.
Earlier in the novel he hypocritically states, “If the study which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures that no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful”. Showing Victor’s blind yet understanding perception of the obsession with knowledge. The need for relationships is also represented through the monster. From the moment the monster is created people react to him with “horror” and “consternation” when his only desire is to be loved and accepted.
He is educated in basic human ways through his observations of the De Lacy’s residence but even after he acquires this knowledge he still longs to have friends. Both Victor and the monster seek the love of others to complete their lives. Shelley portrays love and relationships with greater benefit than the “attainment of knowledge” as she believes human connection can provide true happiness. Mary Shelley explores the notion that the quest to achieve the “acquisition of knowledge” is destructive and “dangerous”.
She portrays this concept 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 and the evidence she felt of the perusal of information at this time and through the human need for connection and relationships. Shelley portrays to the reader that the quest for knowledge can be harmful if not approached in moderation. Victor was ignorant of the consequences of his experiment as he was blinded by ambition. Shelley suggests that this is the concern she felt for the scientists during her time.
Cite this Frankenstein- Acquirement of Knowledge
Frankenstein- Acquirement of Knowledge. (2017, Mar 16). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/frankenstein-acquirement-of-knowledge/