Technology Essay, Research Paper
In Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, written in the late nineteenth century by Mary Shelley, Shelley proposes that knowledge and its effects can be dangerous to individuals and all of humanity. Frankenstein was one of our first and still is one of our best cautionary tales about scientific research.. Shelley’s novel is a metaphor of the problems technology is causing today.
Learn from me. . . 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 101)
The popular belief of how Frankenstein came to be written derives from Shelley herself, who explains in an introduction to the novel that she , her husband Percy Shelly, and Lord Byron set themselves the task of creating ghost stories during a short vacation at a European villa. According to Shelley, the short story she conceived was predicated of the notion as the eighteenth became the nineteenth century that electricity could be a catalyst of life. in her introduction she recalls the talk about Erasmus Darwin, who had preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion,” (Joseph vii). The extraordinary means forms the basis for Frankenstein. Many people also believe that a nightmare that Mary Shelley had could also be partly responsible for the creation of the novel.
At the time the novel was written, England was on the brink of leading the Industrial revolution in Europe. The experiments of Huntsman (crucible steel manufacture), Newcome (steam-powered pumps), and Cochrane (coal tar production) throughout the eighteenth century in England were decisive in the initial transformation of England into an industrialized country (Burke 137, 173, 195). The emerging age of technology appears to have found followers throughout the culture and to have become firmly reinforced by the time Frankenstein was written. Eric Rabkin (author), says that in England early in the eighteenth century, “there exist a populous discourse community that accepted the rhetoric of science” (Rabkin 39). This rhetoric has proof extending back to the English Renaissance.
Those sensitive to change and those prepared to embrace a rhetoric of change need not be scientists. While scientists address a discourse community of scientists, novelists address a wider discourse community of the literate. If we can accept the earlier argument that science and poetry are not ontologically antagonistic, then we might well hope to find fictional uses of the rhetoric of science . . . in texts scattered from Francis Bacon’s time to the present. These uses would change as the prevailing first principles of the time evolved under the impact the advances brought by science and as the consequent needs of artist also changed . . .
In the early seventeenth century, when the prevailing first principles in the artist’s discourse community were theological, Bacon, as we have seen, used the authority of theology to validate the rhetoric of science. As science and technology and the persuasiveness of the rhetoric of science changed the world and the way people viewed it, the competing authorities changed their balance until today the rhetoric of science is used to lend authority to religion (Rankin 25, 37).
Tillyard confirms the proof of science and technology as firmly established in Mary Shelley’s lifetime by quoting a book on Homer that proclaimed England’s arts improving and its sciences advancing. Tillyard’s point is that “the eighteenth-century myth of freedom in England included the doctrine of progress” ( Tillyard 106). The doctrine of progress is connected with the emerging doctrine of industrialization and science. It was this doctrine, seemingly inside by English scholars and popular culture, although reflected by imagination it may have been, that it can be said to have provided scientific proof for Frankenstein. Rankin states that “Shelley had written a palpable fable and she knew that its full effect depended on authorizing some possibility of belief” (Rankin 42). Science provided in the novel provided that authority, creating a foundation story in what the English culture current with Mary Shelley would have taken as real world possibility.
The rhetoric of science in fiction is not merely a modern overlay on storytelling, nor is it employed, except fortuitously, to convey newly discovered information about the world. Once upon a time fiction, which obviously is not true, took its authority form the Muse: at other times from the Bible. Neither of these sources of authority would do for Shelley, but authority has always to be found somewhere if we are to distinguish the lies that tell truths form the just plain lies (Rankin 43).
Industrialization and the development of science were a sign that the mind was no longer medieval as it was modern. This explains the use by Shelley of The Modern Prometheus, and it does not eliminate the potential for literary investigation. Fellman (178, 180) makes this point when he asserts that Frankenstein was a literary anticipation of the twentieth century with alienation of human beings and technologies. He asserts that technology has led to a culture of control of positive creative energy in favor of technology that developed a life of its own and that there is a parallel in Frankenstein with Victor’s alienation and withdrawal from his family and from the world at large. Tillyard deals with the troubling element of moral uncertainty certain in a culture of scientism when he cites Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, were “the poet asks by what means liberty, once lost, can be regained.”
The answer is hope, forgiveness, defiance of absolute power, love, endurance, steadfastness. In this passage Shelley descends from his ecstatic vision of a redeemed universe to the sober thought that a happy state of things on earth is liable to mutability (Tillyard 120).
There is uneasiness in the vision of the world could be improved by scientific or at least technical progress. The consequence of technological action on this view is emotional and psychological on the part of human beings connected with it. In this regard (Brooks 592-4) suggests that in the novel, the monster’s comportment makes it impossible for him to access human interaction; only his ability to speak and communicate offers any opportunity for interaction. Indeed, the monster’s ability to communicate offers suspense and pathos, particularly when he demands that Victor create a mate for him:
You have destroyed the work which you began: what is it that you intend? Do you dare to break your promise? I have endured toil and misery: I left Switzerland with you: I crept along the shores of the Rhine, among its willow islands, and over the heaths of England, and among the deserts of Scotland. I have endured incalculable fatigue, and cold, and hunger; do you dare destroy my hopes?
Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness (Shelley 167).
This goes to the issue of the scientist as villain, as Issac Asimov puts it. Asimov says that Victor Frankenstein is the prototype of the mad scientist who invades on those things not meant for man to know, because , presumably they are reserved for God alone.
What lies behind Victor Frankenstein’s scientific projects is obviously an attempt to gain power. Victor is inspired by the new scientists who acquired new and almost unlimited power. Frankenstein has sought this unlimited power to the extent of taking the place of God in reaction to his creation. In doing so, Frankenstein has not only disrupted nature, but seized the power of reproduction in order to become acknowledged. This ambition is very close to capitalism (to exploit natures resources for both commercial profit and political control). This is a goal of what many of todays scientist are out to accomplish.
” Frankenstein, Asimov remarks “dared usurp what was considered the divine choice of giving life and . . . paid dearly in consequence” (Asimov 66). The subtle irony of the book is of course that Frankenstein is not portrayed as a villainous character. he is actually, a tragic hero: he meant well” (Asimov 66). The moral dilemma created by progress that outgrows its creator and develops as it were a life of its own is identified in Frankenstein. Robert Spector sees this as a concern of Shelley’s.
Frankenstein (1818), which has long enjoyed a reputation as a monster story, was a warning against man’s domination by the machines he was creating. The evil is not inherent in the monster, but is a result of the attitude toward it. For Mary Shelley, imbued with the ideas of progress and the perfectibility of man, the danger lay in a lack of proper feeling, a failing of charity and understanding. Her long passages describing the education of the monster have often been criticized as sentimental nonsense, but they were essential to her point of view. If what the monster learns about humanitarian principles comes only from book, it merely increased his wrath to discover their perversion in practice. . . . (Spector 10)
Shelley questioned the morals of the advancing technologies. She saw the consequences that all the advances might cause. On this view, the novel is a cautionary tale about what is to come. Shelley’s tale of horror is a profound insight of the consequences of morally insensitive scientific and technological research.
Asimov, Isaac. “The Scientist as Villian.” Asimov on Science Fiction. New York: Granada, 1983. 65-68.
Brooks, Peter. “Godlike Science/ Unhallowed Arts: Language and Monstrosity in Frankenstein.” New Literary History (Spring 1978) 591-605
Fellman, Gordon. “The Truths of Frankenstein: Technologism and Images of Destruction.” Psychohistory Review 19 (1991): 177231.
Joseph, M.K. Introduction. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley. Ed. M.K. Joseph. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1969. i-xx.
Rabkin, Eric S. “The Rhetoric of Science in Fiction. ” Critical Encounters II: Writers and Themes in Science Fiction. Ed. Tom Staicar. New York: Ungar, 1982. 23-43
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. Ed. M.K. Joseph. Oxford: Oxford Up, 1969.
Spector, Robert Donald. Introduction. Seven Masterpieces of Gothic Horror. New York: Bantam, 1963. 1-12.
Tillyard, E.M.W. Myth and the English Mind. New York: Collier Books, 1961.