The day a child enters the world; they are ignorantly bliss from the world around them. But is ignorance bliss? Society is a harsh place, and none know this better than the creature in Frankenstein. The creature is given the ability to think at a far higher level than the general public, and yet the only thing he wants is to be loved. Victor Frankenstein abandons his creature, like when a parent abandons their child, because Victor is a reclusive person who cares more for knowledge than being loved. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, knowledge is what drives Victor and the creature’s existence, while their emotions and society corrupt them.
Initially Mary Shelley alludes to the idea that ignorance is bliss when Victor says, “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how 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” (Shelley 51). It’s not knowledge that is bad, it’s how a person obtains it. Knowledge is merely that, it’s not magic or corrosive or unhealthy. Knowledge and this pursuit of knowledge is what sets humans apart from animals. It could be said that the essence, or soul, of man is knowledge.
The creature learns and gains knowledge, which means he has what it takes to be classified as human. Chanakya says, “Men have hunger, sleep, fear and carnal intercourse in common with the lower animals. It is only knowledge that a man has more than they. Those men who have not it may be regarded as beasts”. A monster is an ignorant beast filled with rage, while “creature” refers to being more human. The creature transforms from creature to monster to creature. In the end he does what’s right. Nothing about ignorance is bliss, if man remains ignorant he might as well be a monster.
How can someone believe that ignorance is better than what makes man different. People can be unhappy, regardless of what they know. Martin Amis writes, “ Oh Christ, the exhaustion of not knowing anything. It’s so tiring and hard on the nerves. It really takes it out of you, not knowing anything. Sometimes…[I] stare at the window, I think how dismal it is, how heavy, to watch the rain and not know why it falls” (Amis). Victor Frankenstein still doesn’t learn from his mistake of abandoning the creature, instead he blames his thirst for knowledge.
It’s not wrong that he creates the creature, it’s wrong that he is irresponsible with it. He loses his family members because of his irresponsibility, not because he creates the creature. The essence that the creature has, that makes him a man, is created through his experiences. Jean-Paul Sartre says, “Existence precedes essence” (Sartre). This means that when born, man is ignorant and merely a living form. Through life experiences the being develops its essence. When Victor brings the creature to life he explains, “[I] beheld the wretch –the miserable monster whom I had created.
He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He…[had] one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs” (Shelley 56). It’s as if the creature is reaching out to Victor like a newborn to its mother. At this time he symbolizes innocence, only to transform. As the creature ages, he becomes an evil monster in search of revenge. What brings about this evil? Does knowledge bring about evil?
Peoples’ actions towards the creature are what push him to the edge of insanity. The creature gets physical injuries, society pushes him away, and Victor abandons him. The creature says, “I remembered Adam’s supplication to his Creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him” (Shelley 113). This experience causes the creature to turn to hatred, because events shape who people are. The reason people despise the creature is because of his appearance. No one takes the time to learn about him, no one takes the time to become his friend.
They all just focus on his appearance. Even when Victor, his father, sees him he says,”Begone! relieve me from the sight of your detested form,” the Monster responds by placing his huge hands over Frankenstein’s eyes: “Thus I relieve thee, my creator . . . thus I take from thee a sight which you abhor. Still thou canst listen to me, and grant me thy compassion” (Shelley 101). Those people are ignorant because higher societies, more knowledgeable societies, have less of a problem accepting people for how they look. The creature may have not even found himself hideous if others didn’t treat him that way.
He suffers from extreme loneliness, which turns to rage. The creature says, “Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance” (Shelley 130). This hatred and depression the creature has is simply because he hasn’t learned how to be happy, he hasn’t accepted his physical self. No one was there to make him feel human, which forces him to side with monster within.
Many believe that “knowledge is power” (Bacon), but Victor and the creature had knowledge and yet seem to lack power. It’s what a person does with the knowledge that gives them power. Dan Brown says, “Knowledge is a tool, and like all tools, its impact is in the hands of the user” (75). Victor knows many things, far more than any average man, and yet the creature learns more in such a short period of time. This creature has endless potential and yet he can’t seem to learn how to be happy. Napoleon Hill says, “ Knowledge is only potential power” (Hill 105).
The creature could have gone in search of other ways to be happy, but instead he continually makes the same mistake of trusting man. He wastes his gifted mind with emotions. The creature says, “The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind” (Shelley 140). Here the creature reassures his feelings of vengeance, which is unfortunate because this leads to his demise and perpetuates his unhappiness.
Emotions are so strong that they can push all knowledge aside. The creature is indulging in his animalistic feelings, rather than taking the high road. Victor Frankenstein believes, in the beginning, that “knowledge is power”(Bacon) and plans to create the creature to gain fame and glory. His reasons for wanting to gain more knowledge are what corrupt him, not the actual pursuit of knowledge. Victor gains the knowledge, knowing the potential power it has, but abuses it. He goes to all the effort to make this creature not only for knowledge, but fame.
A knowledgeable man would do no such thing; it’s the boy’s ignorance and personality flaws that take over. It’s his emotions that corrupt him, just like the creature. They are doubles of one another; both go in search for certain knowledge and let their emotions get the best of themselves. This double is very significant between the creator and creature. From the surface, Mary Shelley is expressing that knowledge is dangerous through Frankenstein, but Mary Shelley’s lifetime alludes otherwise. Bodysnatching is very common during Mary Shelley’s lifetime.
Medical students lack bodies to dissect, in this time, so they find and study bodies any way they can. “Seventeenth-century surgeon-anatomist William Harvey, famous for discovering the human circulatory system, also deserves fame for being one of few medical men in history so dedicated to his calling that he could dissect his own father and sister” (Roach 42). People throughout history push boundaries in order to achieve knowledge for the greater good. People will always push the limits of nature to learn more, just like Victor Frankenstein does.
Victor wasn’t wrong when he creates the creature, he is wrong when he is scientifically irresponsible for it. Without this unquenchable thirst for knowledge, humans would know nothing. Many breakthroughs in science and medicine lead to even more overwhelming breakthroughs. Doctors who preform in vitro fertilization are going against what naturally was suppose to happen to bring life into this world, just like Victor. Doctors help people on a level today that was unachievable years ago because of knowledge previous generations have collected.
Who is to say that knowledge is dangerous or not? Knowledge is changing faster than ethics can keep up and it always will. Bernard Beckett says, “A society that fears knowledge is a society that fears itself” (141). Society wouldn’t even exist, if it weren’t for knowledge. This constant struggle between society and science is what brings about questions of ethics. Ethics of science is one of the main driving forces in Frankenstein because in Mary Shelley’s time there weren’t laws against bodysnatching or human testing.
In Mary Shelley’s time, medicine also hadn’t been able to show any positive results of their research. “Although the evil and tragedy resulting from one medical experiment are its theme, a critical and fair reading finds a more balanced view that includes science’s potential to improve the human condition and reasons why such an experiment went awry” (Davies 32). Mary Shelley personified her fears of what she witnessed in the times, fears of the future, fears of what happens when things go wrong. Even today, scientists are constantly pushing to learn more.
It is this unstable crossroad between ethics and science, which intimidates Mary Shelley. When does something go too far? Ethics and morals of society are what judge when scientists go too far. Society and the scientist, when working together, can benefit one another. “Mary Shelley’s novel gives us a hideous insight into the consequences of separation of scientist and society” (Davies 34). Victor Frankenstein removes himself from the people he knows to create the creature. He keeps the knowledge he gains from his creation away from society.
He is completely removed from society, not because it rejects him, but because he rejects it. His lack of ethics is what drives the creature to madness. The creature and Victor never really seem to learn from their mistakes. The only character that learns is Captain Walton, and it’s from Victor’s mistakes not his. Walton realizes that the knowledge obtained from the continued trip would only offer fame, while learning from his mistake, turning around, and accepting ethics and society back into his life, saves the lives of his crew.
Offering both halves of each idea throughout this novel is Mary Shelley’s way of expressing herself. Many of the ideas from the surface seem to have no counter argument, but her use of symbolism allows readers to see that even the creature and the creator, two completely different beings, can be one in the same. “Both the intellectual misfit…and the physical one…are excluded by the intolerance and narrowness of society; yet though they frequently condemn society for its unfitness as a home, they just as often long to be part of it as it is, and rage against themselves for their inability to conform.
This contradictoriness permeates the novel” (Bowerbank 418). They can be one in the same and still complete polar opposites. The conflict between Victor and the creature are perhaps projections of Captain Walton’s inner conflicts within his mind (Keyishian 206). This image is a strong literary element, especially in gothic horror. The creature can also resemble knowledge. He can be seen as the physical form of knowledge, because sometimes people don’t want to know the truth because they fear it. Although the reader never learns the details of Frankenstein’s science or the degree of the creature’s “monstrosity,” one thing is clear: the monster, whatever else it may be, represents a remarkable “body” of knowledge” (Rauch 227). Another very strong image in this novel is fire. The “spark of life” that brings the creature’s dead flesh to life reoccurs when he commits suicide with fire. It’s as if his spark was too strong and fed with rage, that once his father dies there is nothing driving his existence anymore.
Also, the fact that the creature and his father both die within a somewhat close timeframe of each other hints that they are dichotomies, without one you can’t have the other. In closing, Mary Shelley offers the argument that emotions and society corrupt the souls of Victor and the creature, not knowledge. Mary Shelley, at such a young age, knows far more about the darkness and light of the human soul. She knows what it means to be human. The incorporation of philosophy, psychology, medicine, science, sociology, morals, ethics, anthropology, and even history, into this condensed gothic novel is astonishing. The story, in itself, shows what can happen when the soul is corrupted.
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