13 April, 2018
The Dangers in the Pursuit of Knowledge in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”
Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is a story of a young scientist who encounters the secret to artificially create life. “This novel is a speculative narrative that asks: what would happen if man created human life without the biologically and relationally necessary woman and with indifference to God?” (Hogsette). In “Frankenstein”, Shelley questions the pursuit of knowledge and warns those who read it. She warns the those who seek knowledge can obtain it, but can hurt others in the process. In the novel, Frankenstein, Shelley displays the theme of the dangers of knowledge in the characters Walton, Frankenstein, and the creature.
The first character introduced in the novel that has a passion for knowledge is Captain Robert Walton. At the beginning of the text, Walton, is writing to his sister Margret, tells her that of his burning desire to seek out the unknown. Walton expresses to his sister how she cannot begin to imagine the benefits that his quest for knowledge would have on the world. “confer on all mankind to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many months are requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.” (Shelley). This quote from Walton’s letter shows that he would risk everything he had to pursue knowledge. In his fourth letter, Walton finds Frankenstein half-frozen to death and brings him aboard. He expresses to Frankenstein his passion for knowledge and to seek out the unknown. Walton even explains that he would sacrifice, “my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race” (Shelley). This quote is a foreshadowing of the dangerous path Walton is traveling on. Compared to the story of Frankenstein, the reader can see just how dangerous the path Walton was on, and how his fate would be similar to that of Frankenstein. Thankfully, Walton took Frankenstein’s advice and turned away from a possible tragic ending.
Unfortunately, for Frankenstein he was not spared a dreadful ending. His thirst for knowledge, instead of being blessing and beneficial, instead proved to be a dangerous endeavor. Mary Shelley portrays the dangers of the pursuit knowledge in Victor’s story by how he tries to go beyond human limits and his attempt to create life artificially. “The problem central to Frankenstein is the belief of its central character that he can perform the ultimate usurpation, that of God. There is an extreme vanity and egotism acting as the motivating force for Victor’s work, as opposed to a disinterested desire to further the interest of the human race in general.” (Bond). “Victor is not a humble inventor who shows respect for himself, his invention, or the Creator; rather, he is a presumptuous man who attempts to transcend invention and to create life as if he were God.” (Hogsette). For Frankenstein’s pursuit of knowledge lead to his demise. As he grew in knowledge so did his infatuation with the human body and discovering the secret to create life. When at last presented the secrets to create life, Frankenstein began the construction of his creation. He worked relentlessly, not for a moment did Frankenstein step back to rationalize what he was creating. He was blinded by the thought of success. As a result, Frankenstein’s creature was born. As the monster came to life, only then did Frankenstein realize what he had created. He abhorred his own creation, and could not face to lay eyes on it out of fear and horror.
The third and final example Shelley presents in the novel that displayed the desire for knowledge was Frankenstein’s creation -the creature. When the creature was brought to life, he was like that of a newborn baby. Unable to distinguish where he was or what was happening around him. He wandered aimlessly searching for comfort. Like a child he grew in knowledge as he roamed, and soon was able to distinguish between simple things such as berries and fire. As the creature continued to roam, he came upon the DeLacey family, where he remained for quite some time, observing them. The creature becomes fascinated with the family, and begins to learn from their example. As he grew in knowledge, the creature came to understand more and started to believe that humans could be rationalized with. And, they would come to love him once they saw the kind heart inside of him. The creature sought love and acceptance, but unfortunately the creature was rejected by the DeLacey family. Even the creature himself states that even though he destroyed Frankenstein’s dreams, “I did not satisfy my own desires. They were for ever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned” (Shelley). This knowledge led to his anger and hatred towards mankind and his creator. So, the creature swore revenge on his creator who created him and left him unloved. As the creature grew in knowledge, he also grew in hatred and bitterness knowing that he alone would never be able to experience love, kindness, and sympathy from another human being for as long as he lived.
Mary Shelley sends a clear message in her novel. Shelley warns the those who seek knowledge and secrets might attain them, but lose everything they treasure and care for in the process. Just as in the case of Victor Frankenstein, sometimes the thirst for knowledge can lead to a devastating end, not only for the one who seeks knowledge, but all those around them. She sends the message that, like Walton, one should step back and consider the consequences of pursuing knowledge. If they are blinded by their goals, they cannot see the cost of their search until it is too late.
Bond, Chris. ;Frankenstein: is it really about the dangers of science? Chris Bond explores how Frankenstein is about something more than the danger of scientific experimentation.; The English Review, vol. 20, no. 1, 2009, p. 28+. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com.chattahoocheetech.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A208587507/LitRC?u=cht2;sid=LitRC;xid=9fc836dc. Accessed 23 Apr. 2018.
Hogsette, David S. ;Metaphysical intersections in Frankenstein: Mary Shelley’s theistic investigation of scientific materialism and transgressive autonomy." Christianity and Literature, vol. 60, no. 4, 2011, p. 531+. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com.chattahoocheetech.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A272444886/LitRC?u=cht2&sid=LitRC&xid=4fce19f9. Accessed 23 Apr. 2018.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus. 1818 ed., The Project Gutenberg, 2012
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. Wordsworth Classics, 1993.