Some Readers Have Seen Frankenstein as an Illustration of the Fear of the Power of Science Essay
The 19th century was a time of enlightenment where philosophical thought began and man’s concern for a greater psychological form developed. However, during this time of enlightenment and exploration, the values of religion and ethical thought challenged science and its moral reasoning. Frankenstein could be seen as an illustration of the fear of the power of science due to these social changes; however there is evidence within the text to support other aspects such as society and religion being the focal point of fear.
On a basic level, it could be argued that Victor’s search for knowledge ultimately leads him to his transgressions and eventual demise; through the medium of science he is able to create a creature that is fearful and monstrous, this suggests the power of science is something to be feared. However, the creation of the monster could be viewed as a misuse of science, rather than an accurate demonstration of its other altruistic uses; Victor had the knowledge and power to create life however just because he could do it, doesn’t mean he should; a moral debate still applicable to modern society.
Science could be seen as fearful within Frankenstein due to the reader’s (especially that of Mary Shelley’s audience) inability to understand how it works, before the 1800’s and the great amount of scientific, social and political change and development, science; especially medicine, was seen as witchcraft and something to be feared. With the age of enlightenment came more acceptance however the majority of the population was still skeptical and fearful of science as it was unknown to them.
Shelley could therefore be suggesting that scientific experiments to explore the depths of the unknown are dangerous and shouldn’t be done, thus inciting fear. In Frankenstein, it demonstrates how terrible the consequences can be if scientific knowledge and power falls into the wrong hands, the way Victor is depicted at many points throughout the book suggests he is mad with delusions of grandeur and power; “a new species would bless me as its creator and source”, and if science does fall into hands such as Victor’s, there will be inevitable destruction and sadness.
The power Victor gains as he creates the monster could also be something to be feared, as no human has ever been able to achieve such a thing. In contrast, Victor creates life; however modern medicine also has the power to stop death (to an extent), in essence both could be seen as “playing god” by humans deciding who lives and dies. Victor’s power could be questioned however, as he shortly deteriorates after creating the monster as he cannot handle what he has done “every night I was oppressed by a slow fever”- suggesting he is way out of his depth thus making the consequences of science fearful as no-one can handle them.
Shelley also uses representations of nature throughout Frankenstein, contrasting it with science creating a dichotomy between the power of science and the power of nature; electricity is used in the creation of the monster and earlier in the book Victor describes a tree getting struck by lightning in a storm and destroying it; “I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak… and nothing remained but a blasted stump”- this shows the destructive power of nature, and the electricity from the lighting paralleled with the electricity used to animate the creature demonstrates the destructive forebodings of monsters actions, only made possible by Victor’s harnessing of nature via the power of science. The sublime is often referenced throughout Frankenstein, the idea that nature is awe inspiring yet dangerous and a force to be reckoned with, Victor’s attempt at harnessing nature and taking control of life leads to his downfall and misery. A spiritual interpretation could be that Victor essentially has the power to give life, yet creates a being that turns out to be a murderer; perhaps Shelley is suggesting that you cannot disturb nature and that there must always be a balance, with Victor’s creation of life it means there will be an opposing reaction and people must die to maintain a natural balance.
However, although Victor uses science and his character is obsessed with the search for knowledge, it could be argued that Shelley deliberately leaves out specific scientific references to leave the readers wondering if it is science that creates the monster, or if there is more of a supernatural, Gothic interpretation of how the monster came to live. Comparatively, some readers could believe that Frankenstein illustrates the fear of the power of religion. Victor’s creation of the monster is ultimately a transgression, defiling morality and arguably giving him ultimate power over life and death. The idea alone is fear inducing, but further still is the way in which Victor goes about this achievement. He is emotionally detached from the bodies he is digging out of graves and mutilating “a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life”, sparing no thought of the unspoken moral codes of humanity.
There are also the interesting parallels of John Milton’s Paradise Lost; the Monster finds the book and interprets it literally “I read it… as a true history”; as many Christians interpret the Bible literally; this could represent the fear of the power of religion, as it suggests that people who take religious teachings absolutely literally are dangerous because they have no logical reasoning, as the monster does not. Furthermore, the monster compares Victor to God, as he has created him and thusly deducts that he is comparable to Adam “Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence”, similarly to Adam, his creator rejected him and cast him away, Adam betrayed God’s trust and Victor cast the monster away when he realised his true, hideous appearance (compared to the perfect vision Victor had as he was creating him).
Another interesting Biblical parallel is that in Genesis 1 there is a female absence as God created man first; and Victor creates the monster asexually without the use of a woman or a womb etc. In addition, the monster goes on to compare himself to Satan “Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition”; Christianity dictates that the devil originated as the angel Lucifer, who then falls from grace and becomes “evil” when rejected by God; comparably the same could be applied to Victor and the monster; the monster becoming evil when Victor and the rest of society rejects him “I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed”. All this suggests the biblical parallels in a more modern interpretation causes fear of the power of religion.
On a different note; Frankenstein could be seen as a novel based on the fear of a society living in the absence of religion; due to Victor’s blasphemous actions of creation, this elicits the question; can there be morality without a God or religion? In the context in which the book is set, there was a struggle within society between the Romantic’s who favoured nature and those who supported the Age of Enlightenment which with it brought scientific discoveries, thus pushing society away from religion and the wonders of the natural world. Shelley suggests that many members of society at the time did not approve of the scientific developments, and arguably that science cannot replace nature. Victor could be perceived as a threat to the natural world as he unnaturally creates something and is disturbing it; “I pursued nature to her hiding places”.
Victor’s creation is described as a “demoniacal corpse”, whereas those created naturally such as Elizabeth are described as “the purest creature on earth”, thusly showing how science is disturbing nature with Victor as its catalyst, and how horrifying the results of this disturbance are; also how science is something not to be explored as it is troublesome which sides with the Romantic view of society. Shelley explores the Romantic idea further by suggesting that nature is the stronger force, this is represented by the sublime and how nature tries to impede him “The wind was unfavorable and the rain fell in torrents”; Victor has explored science to the point of the unnatural, and nature is trying to stop him from going any further.
There is also an exploration of nature vs nurture, would the monster have been so evil if Victor had not rejected him, or was he born evil due to the unnatural circumstances in which he was created; this develops the idea of Frankenstein being a novel that portrays the fear of the power of society, due to it’s horrible treatment of the monster, who is rejected and outcast wherever he goes before he commits any evil; although he looks like a fully grown man and is hideous in appearance, it could be argued that essentially he is a child that has been abandoned, as he is not created with any knowledge of speech or any memories; this treatment of a fundamental “innocent” incites fear as it shows how heartless and cruel society can be if you do not conform to their pre-established ideas of normality. Shelley also represents the vapidity of society by way of the monster being ugly and being rejected by his peers; i. e in order to succeed and be happy in life you must be physically attractive. This is supported by Elizabeth’s character that was rescued from her impoverished beginnings and is accepted into the Frankenstein’s family due to her beauty.
This not only implies that physical attractiveness is significant but also that money is necessary to be happy and successful; this idea is secured by introducing of the De Lasey family who are portrayed as unhappy due to their poverty. In conclusion, I believe that although Frankenstein shows aspects of being an interpretation of the fear of science, religion and society; that the most significant illustration of fear is that of the power that humans have. Although science is a powerful force, without a human to abuse it it could be harmless, non-destructive and altruistic. Religion is a human conception which in the wrong hands can be used as a manipulator. And society is dictated essentially by the people within it, if it is wrong or corrupt than there is no-one else to blame but the humans that created it.