Over the centuries, intellectuals have made remarkable scientific and technological strides to improve humanity. These advancements stem from humans’ relentless pursuit of knowledge, information, and power. However, this unquenchable curiosity and desire for understanding can become overwhelming to the point where individuals’ moral and ethical boundaries fade away, leading to catastrophic consequences for everyone involved.
The text emphasizes the novel Frankenstein, which was authored by Mary Shelley, as a cautionary tale and heartfelt appeal regarding the perils of misusing one’s intellectual capabilities and the severe repercussions that ensue from impulsively pursuing scientific progress. The central character, Victor Frankenstein, is depicted as a scientist who becomes consumed by an unhealthy fixation to uncover the secret of life. In doing so, he forsakes his moral values and arrogantly assumes the role of a divine being by endeavoring to create life from scratch. Despite being cognizant of the potential consequences, Victor is seduced by the potential rewards and persists with his experiment until its inevitable culmination.
The novel is a critique of the pursuit of enlightenment science and philosophy. Victor’s obsession blinds him, as demonstrated by the monster’s mistakes. The structure of the novel is intriguing, with a frame story that begins with the story of another character, Sir Walton. Walton is the captain of a ship embarking on a perilous journey to the North Pole, as revealed in his letters to his sister Margaret. In many ways, Walton serves as a contrasting character to Victor.
Both young men, Walton and his companion, share ambitions of exploring the unknown. Walton’s excitement and eagerness are evident as he discusses the allure of being the first to venture into the North Pole, stating that it can overcome any fear of danger or death (7). Although some may view this perspective as heroic, it is undeniably naive. Walton’s strong fixation on his dream causes him to disregard the gravity of life and death. Nevertheless, it is essential to question whether the fleeting opportunity for success is truly worthwhile if it ultimately results in his demise.
Once Frankenstein meets Victor, he sees reflections of himself in Walton’s enthusiasm. He recognizes Walton’s pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, as he once did. Frankenstein hopes that Walton will not suffer the same consequences as he has. Despite the warning, Walton is drawn to Frankenstein’s story of a damaged man. He desires companionship and sees Victor as a fellow intellectual with whom he can share his success. Similarly, Victor also seeks a friend, but he needs someone to share his misery instead.
The monster’s initial encounter with Victor brings forth a tragic tale. Curiously, despite Victor’s lack of sympathy at the time, he now chooses to disclose his own misfortune to Walton. He starts by recalling a happy and secure childhood, which stands in stark contrast to his current defeated state. Victor then proceeds to recount his early education and intense fascination with the mysteries of the natural world.
Despite the seemingly perfect state of his life at present, there is an evident sense of imminent catastrophe in the manner he discusses his thirst for knowledge. He describes his fascination with natural philosophy as “the fatal impulse that led to my ruin” (23). This phrasing is notable as it implies a longstanding condition rather than a sudden choice. It demonstrates Victor’s immense dedication to his pursuit of knowledge, persisting on this journey for an extended period without comprehending the repercussions.
The protagonist’s examination of Agrippa, even against his father’s objections, symbolizes his behavior when it comes to his creation of the monster. Instead of involving others and valuing the input of those who may have more wisdom, Victor chooses to follow his own instincts. He conducts his experiments in complete secrecy while at Igosdolt, becoming so consumed with the creation that he neglects interactions with ordinary humans. The concept of light is presented as a spark of genius that coincides with his breakthrough in creation.
Both Victor and Walton use the word “light” in a positive way, as they see it as a source of illumination where there was previously darkness. However, they also acknowledge that too much light can be blinding. Victor realizes his mistake in hindsight and tries to show Walton the negative aspects of a word and concept that seems positive. He says, “Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (42). This suggests that there is a darker side to illumination.
In his impulsive nature, that quote reflects his propensity for hasty decision-making. Although the creation may have been an ingenious concept in theory, the evident deformity of his labor makes it harder to overlook its obvious flaws. Additionally, the conversation Victor has with the monster following William’s death sheds light on a different aspect of the mistake he has made. As the monster has now acquired the ability to communicate and experience emotions in a manner akin to humans, his deviations from humanity become even more pronounced and terrifying.
The monster becomes bitter as he realizes that he will never be accepted by humanity. His aggression can be seen as a symbol of Victor’s frustration, who is blamed for the sins of his creation. It is evident that the monster is not inherently evil, but instead resorts to physical strength as a defense mechanism. Victor abandons and rejects him, and the people he encounters in the world are cruel and rejecting. The monster deeply troubles over his understanding of the situation. “Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on a rock” (71).
The creature, with its knowledge of humanity, lacks the capacity to live in contentment or harmony. This predicament, akin to Frankenstein’s act of animating the creature, cannot be reversed. It is noteworthy that the creature acquired much of its ability to communicate through reading books. Similarly, when Victor discussed his upbringing, it became evident that books played a significant role in his accumulation of knowledge. Shelley appears to be conveying a message about the value of secondary sources, implying that wisdom is gained not merely by recklessly pursuing one’s own ambitions but through the patient acquisition of wisdom from the experiences of others.
Henry shows interest in natural philosophy during his travels with Victor. Despite the fact that this subject has caused Victor a lot of suffering, Henry seems content and satisfied. Since Henry dies before achieving any kind of greatness, it is unclear if he was also meant for ruin. Another interpretation suggests that Henry could have pursued knowledge more cautiously instead of diving in headfirst and overwhelming himself.
Victor is frozen with inaction, filled with regret and haunted by the lessons he has learned. He debates the creature’s plea for a companion, driving himself to insanity with indecision. It is ironic how his eagerness to create has been replaced with paralysis as he weighs the consequences of his actions. He now understands that, unlike a true master, he cannot control his knowledge and should not use it. The book concludes with a shift in narration back to Walton, bringing the story full circle. Walton sees Victor as a brilliant man who has been tarnished by one fatal mistake.
The boat was stuck in ice for several days now. The crew pleaded with Walton to go back to England, but Victor unexpectedly disagrees. Despite his own decline, he believes that the importance of their mission should outweigh the price of continuing. This can be seen as a dying man searching for a cherished dream from his youth or as Victor genuinely evaluating the consequences of the crew’s predicament. Walton ultimately chooses to turn back, indicating that he probably took Victor’s account seriously.
Frankenstein illustrates the perils of an unrelenting quest for knowledge. Victor envisions a grand vision of achieving greatness, but in doing so, he fails to recognize the consequences of his actions until it is too late. He identifies a similar quality in Walton and shares his story as a warning. Light serves as a significant symbol in relation to the exploration of the unfamiliar. Excessive exposure to illumination without proper readiness can be treacherous. Acquiring knowledge entails immense responsibility and should not be pursued carelessly.