Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Scientific Advancement

A Hollywood interpretation of Frankenstein is of a mad scientist who from his own insanity created an evil monster but the original Victor Frankenstein as depicted by Shelley is far from this pop culture image.  Victor is more of a man driven to the point of obsession to further scientific study than a man with truly evil intentions.   The creation of Frankenstein’s monster is an example of a scientist innocently experimenting with powerful reactions resulting in unforeseeably terrible consequences.  The reason perhaps that this novel is considered a classic horror tale in the twenty-first century is that the theory making it terrifying is still relevant if not more so today. That theory as suggested in Frankenstein being not the scary aspects of the monster itself but rather the fact that a man with reasonable intentions into the advancement of the scientific community can lead to a terrible disaster affecting innocent lives.  This theory is represented in the passage when Victor reflects on the night he created the monster and says “I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart”(99). 
It is interesting to consider the scientific advancement of the doctor as a child and into his work at the University from having a wild dream about science to actually creating a successful theory.  As a child he recalls not being forced into education but rather having an intrinsic desire to learn about the world and seeking out for himself different areas of study.  To fuel his thirst for natural science knowledge specifically he read what was accessible which was the works of early scientists with primitive ideas and concepts compared to those modern works he would learn later pick up at the University.  Though limited, these primitive works were important to his foundation and ultimately to the creation of the monster because although they were dated, they were more open to fantastical ideas about the possibilities of science.  These possibilities, such as the possibility to create life, is what ultimately drove the doctor to create the monster with the underlying idea that creating life could help with medicine.  This belief in the general unlimited possibilities that can come from scientific understanding is what created the chance for his revelation on how to create life.  After going to the college with this foundation and then employing the current techniques to the past fantastical dreams, Dr Frankenstein was in the perfect situation to truly advance science.  Advancements in science not just in science fiction, come from not a whole new research but more of a restructuring and new way of looking at studied phenomenon.  Those who advance science are often those who are able to just approach the situation differently and from there can add on to current thought.  It is this desire to advance science that leads him to become obsessed with testing his theories.  The difficulty with studying theories in the natural sciences on life is that death must also be considered.  Victor does see that he must study death but he neglects to realize that through creating life, there is the possibility to create death at the same time which is the ultimate result.
  To an audience, this fear of unforeseen consequences to scientific advancement is as relevant today as it was when Frankenstein was written and perhaps that is why this is considered a classic horror tale.  Science is normally considered to a be a honorable field studying natural phenomenon often to help understand and improve life. But this horror tale shows the real possibility of dangerous consequences of such advancement.  Such a real life example of a Doctor Frankenstein is the team who created the atomic bomb.   Another suggestion from this novel is the fact that as science advances, the realistic capability for destruction increases exponentially.  Dr. Frankenstein created a monster that was capable of ending a handful of innocent lives and now scientists have the capability to destroy all of humanity.


  1. I like the ideas you bring up in your post so far. It reminds me of a slight bastardization of quote from a Robert Browning poem, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
    Or what's a heaven for?" For the sake of the argument you are making and what most if not all of the class is making, "Man's reach far exceeds his grasp."
    Running with that theme I suggest just leaving out the part of Hollywood itself, you could write an entire paper on just the significance of the difference between the many adaptations of Frankenstein and his monster. I like how you draw parallels to modern scientific pursuits, you could explore that a little more not only with the Atomic Bomb but cracking the human genome(human engineering) artificial intelligence(Terminator, Matrix). Though it raises the interesting idea of what we discussed in class in regards to Victor's scientific understanding. Maybe the horror isn't so much in not foreseeing what he is creating but with what amazing success it was achieved. I say this thinking back to my own entry as well as yours, Victor and as you use them the scientists behind splitting the atom had a sense if not a clear understanding of what they are doing but when science wins in these cases at what cost. "I am become Death, destroyer of worlds." Obviously given the length of the assignment you can't fill the pages with giant block quotes but I would like to see some more pulling from the book itself if only for the simple fact of showing how you frame your argument. As I said I like what you have, I think if you can tighten your thesis down and put some quotes in to focus your argument you could not only improve what you have here but go on further for any even longer assignment. If you have any questions or would like to discuss anything I said please feel free to speak to during class.

  2. Is Victor innocent? You seem to start with his innocence and good intentions as a given: to me, this seems like something that requires at least a little argument or defense. It's not an obvious claim, in other words.

    In the second paragraph, you generalize about Victor's goals and motivations without referring to the text. Remember that Victor, inspired by his reading, tries to conjure demons. He is fascinated by the power of lightning (which annihilates a tree) and dreams of dominion over life and death, to just pick some examples. He is fascinated by power, in other words, at least in part. Regardless of whether your point of view differs from mine, you get into trouble by generalizing (usually incorrectly) about how Victor thinks and what he does. Use the text when making claims!

    At the end of the essay, I have no idea which prompt you intended to respond to. What's happening, first and foremost, is that you're generalizing both about the text, and in your responses to it, and that you're remaining on an easy and conventional level. You need a more coherent and individual argument (even if incomplete or imperfect) more clearly and directly rooted in *details* of the text.