“Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base? He appeared at one time a mere scion of the evil principle, and at another as all that can be conceived of noble and godlike.”
In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley presents her ideas of the nature of man and his dual nature as both creator and destroyer. Whether through Frankenstein’s struggle to attain the knowledge to conquer death and the repercussions of that endeavor or the monster’s visit to the cottage where he begins to understand the world around him we see that nothing is as simple as good and evil.
The book opens with the narrator, Captain Robert Walton writing letters back to his sister on his journey for the discovery of knowledge. From an early age he had spent his time reading of discovery, “…a history of all the voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole of our good uncle Thomas’s library” (3). After finding the stranded Victor Frankenstein the story shifts to Victor’s perspective as he begins to relate how through a similar thirst for knowledge he ended nearly dead in the middle of nowhere. From here we see how young Victor begins his education by reading theories of scientist such as Cornelius Agrippa and Albertus Magnus. After being sent away to study, Frankenstein learns that his idols of science are in fact outdated but he continues forward with his pursuit.
Through these studies he learned to reanimate dead matter in affect creating new life. “Nor could I consider the magnitude and complexity of my plan as any argument of its impracticability. It was with these feelings that I began the creation of a human being,” (49) here we see that Frankenstein does not fully understand what he is setting out to do. Creating life as science has taught him to understand is something as simple as merely a connection of systems that must function correctly together. To Frankenstein it seems as simple as building a machine and he gets lost in his own delusions, “A new species would bless me as it creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs” (49). It seems so simple that after creating a species that he would achieve the status of a god or God himself even making the allusion that he would be greater than God by having a personal interaction with his creation to God’s distant relation.
Armed with the knowledge to complete his work and after laboring for 2 years he succeeds in his dream but, “the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (54). Frankenstein flees from his creation attempting to forget and hide himself away from what he has done until the monster finally leaves. In his first act of creation Shelley shows how incapable Frankenstein has become, all the knowledge he had acquired to manifest life from death has done nothing for his ability to handle his creation. Frankenstein imagined himself the creator, the God, of a new species and he is incapable of facing the responsibility. After the creature fled, Frankenstein is recalled to Genevese at the death of his brother and upon his arrival becomes convinced that the creature is the one responsible. In reflection, his creature finds him and attempts to confront him to explain all that has happened. The creature describes how happening upon a hut inhabited by 3 people he observed and began to learn from them. Through the collected reading of books to the young mans beloved he learned“…of the wars and wonderful virtue of the early Romans - of their subsequent degenerating - of the decline of that mighty empire; of chivalry, Christianity, and kings. I heard of the discovery of the American hemisphere, and wept with Safie over the hapless fate of its original inhabitants” (131). Through this fragmented learning through no direct interaction with other people the creature builds and understanding of language but more importantly an understanding of people. He begins his education as if like a child simply observing and not truly understanding what these people are doing. As his language skills develop he begins to question what drives the people to happiness or sadness. This fractured education marks the fault of Frankenstein as creator, he used his knowledge to create life beyond his ability to truly understand the consequence but he failed to teach his creation anything about existence. What good was the knowledge of the scientist when it came to matters of life? What else has Frankenstein’s knowledge caused but the death of his brother and the creation of something beyond his understanding?
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Mumbai: Wilco Publishing House, 2002. Print.