In Frankenstien Essay, Research Paper
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, recounts the tragic story of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who
dared to defy nature and as a result, lost all those dear to him, as well as his mind. However,
upon closer examination of the novel, it is relatively simple to see that there is a strong message
regarding the morality of science. In order to analyze the early Modernists understanding of
scientific knowledge I will: First, assume the authors views and beliefs are characteristic of the
period and second, examine the fears to which the novel gives rise. Through this I will prove that
at that time, much like today, mankind was extremely fearful of the scientists ability to ?play
To understand modernism, readers must first understand what modernism emerged from.
Premodernism, I believe, can be accurately described as ?pre science?. In this era, natural
science and scientific research was frowned upon. Any scientific questions were directed to the
Church or to the writings of the ancients, such as Aristotle. The highly held belief during this time
was that God had created nature to be used by man, a higher understanding of the workings of
nature was not required since it was God?s creation and for Him only to understand. Men began
to manipulate nature for agriculture and could therefore stop wandering and settle into one area.
Society and culture were able to evolve from this change.
Eventually, feudalism came into place. Everyone had their place in life and a job to do,
there was neither time nor reason for science. All was quiet. Then another class emerged from
feudalism, the bourgeoisie or middle class. This class consisted mostly of merchants who did not
have a set place in feudalism. The bourgeoisie, to compensate for this lack of class rank, formed
trade guilds and eventually began forming their own towns. These merchant based societies had
the money, the time, and the motivation to begin scientific experimentation, something usually
only affordable to lower lords in feudalist society. With the furtherance of science, society?s
views of science gradually changed to accept some forms of the natural sciences.
To more thoroughly understand early Modernist science, I feel it is necessary to have a
basic understanding of the early Modernist scientist.
In the novel, professor M. Waldman illustrates modern scientists as men who ?penetrate
into the recesses of nature, and show how she works in her hiding-places.? (Shelley, 27). This
exert, especially the use of the word ?penetrate?, clearly shows how the male, scientist, shows
contempt for the female, nature, and therefore the creator of nature, i.e. God. This is important to
understand because, in worldview, humanity was still very religious based. Religious movements
such as the Great Awakening that swept across the American colonies in the mid seventeenth
century nearly paralleled the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution of Shelley?s time (Encarta,
World History). This exert also implies that scientist hold some type of power over nature and
God, a blasphemes view in a God fearing society.
Shelley further demonstrates this concept held that science equals power later in her novel.
Her character, Frankenstein, on the merge of finishing his creation, becomes ecstatic at the
thought that ? A new species would bless [him] as its creator and source… No father could claim
the gratitude of his child more completely as [he] should deserve theirs.? (Shelley, 32). This
exert shows how power hungry Frankenstein actually was. The monster of Shelley?s novel, the
apparition of science, also realizes the power held in science. When he tells Victor, ?Remember
that I have the power…You are my creator, but I am your master…? it is clear how power
influences scientists (Shelley, 122). The advancement in science meant little to nothing at all to
Frankenstein, his concern laid solely in making a name for himself. If Frankenstein had not been
in such a rush to become achieve fame and admiration, he may have stopped short of releasing a
monster into the world. This is in reality a warning from the author. Misguided use of science
can create irreparable damage.
From these two analysis, I can make a generalization about early Modernist scientists.
Scientists of this time were irresponsible, pretentious males who were only in search of power,
money, and prestige. These scientist would hold no regard for morality or things of that nature. I
can see how people of this time would be wary of their work.
Take, for example, Victor Frankenstein. His contempt for God and search for prestige
was so powerful, that he chose to ?play God? and create an unnatural life. He also shows
contempt for women (which can be interchanged with nature) by mechanicalising the whole
reproductive process (Damyanov, 1). This act of ?playing God? is the main fear of science
introduced in the novel. In the novel, when Frankenstein takes on God?s role, a monster is let
loose into the world to wreak havoc. Furthermore, Victor does not receive fortune or prestige
for his contribution to science, he is instead haunted endlessly by his creation, which eventually,
murders all those whom the misguided scientist cares for. Victor followed through with his
experiment without any thought to the possible negative consequences that may arise due to his
?divine? role in the creation of this life, and therefore suffered for it. This is another warning from
the author. If man takes on the role of God, negative consequences are sure to arise, even if not
apparent at the time.
This warning is more tangible today than it would have been even thirty years ago. In a
time where man has the technology to clone himself or to decide the sex of his offspring, not to
mention their hair and eye color, what is to stop science from creating a Frankenstein?s monster?
Morality. When advancements like these occur the same question is asked of ourselves. ?Who
are we to play God??. Is it not remarkable that after nearly two hundred years of social and
technological advancements that mankind is still posing the same question towards science? I
would have to say no.
I say no for one central reason. Even though society has advanced socially and
technologically, it is still nearly the same morally. Granted, mankind has greatly benefited from
advancements in science from such fields as medicine. We have evolved from previous notions
that God did not intend man to explore nature and that doing so is usurping His power. We have
realized that if God did not intend us to do so, He would not have given us the ability. But, even
though our morals have evolved slightly from what they once were, the core morals and values
are still the same. Once mankind?s core morals are changed, we will enter a new era. The
Modern era will become the Premodern era and what we now look to as the Postmodern era will
become the Modern era.
However, even though mankind may be closely approaching the Postmodern era of
civilization, we must still be wary of creating a Frankenstein?s monster. Signs of this have already
appeared, and more may be forthcoming. Nuclear energy is polluting our planet, likewise are the
toxins released from our irresponsible burning of fossil fuels. We are clear-cutting forests and
strip-mining mountains to quench humankind?s thirst for energy and wealth. Our Frankenstein?s
monster is destroying our planet.
In the early Modernist period, science was still in its infancy, but society could see the
potential harm scientific knowledge could bring. Mankind, in some cases, is just beginning to see
the consequences of irresponsible science from the past century, today. And how do we fix these
problems? With more science, of course. It is a never ending circle. Perhaps we should heed the
advice of Victor Frankenstein: ?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, 31).