Mary Shelley is one of the most timeless novelists ever to grace the fields of writing. Her works looked into the future and the problems that science might bring upon humanity. She was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in 1797 to two parents who were also renowned authors.
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Unfortunately, she grew up motherless as her mother died immediately after her birth. In 1816, she married Percy Shelley, who she had earlier eloped with. Frankenstein was initially released without her name as she did not want people to credit her husband with a work that she considered to be of juvenile standard (Esaka 7).
Science & Knowledge as the Themes of Frankenstein
Frankenstein belongs to the same movement as the works by Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Percy. This movement, identified as Romanticism, required “active participation of the reader who must pay close attention to how the persona’s mind controls the work of art” (Schug 17). Frankenstein highlights how Victor Frankenstein assembles an artificial man from human, remain gathered from a grave. Frankenstein can infuse life into his creation through the use of science.
The results are disastrous. The creation becomes an enraged monster trapped in a human body set about destroying anything that looks human. The book, other than focusing on the relationship between parents and their children, also highlights the dangers of uncontrolled science. This paper explains Shelley’s theory that the pursuit of limitless knowledge will be the ultimate end of humanity.
Mary Shelley’s focus on the dangers of science is marvelous. It focuses on the life story of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who defies nature and wants to create a human being from a lifeless being. Shelley, in this novel, portrays 19th-century scientists as “men who penetrate the recesses of nature, and show how she works in her hiding-places” (Shelley, 27).
This shows how the 19th century Europe was still gender-biased against the woman by highlights how the author uses the word men to portray scientists as only men. At that time, humanity was still very religious, viewed God as a male, therefore the use of the word men. Shelley considers scientists as men equal in power with God as they can create put life in a lifeless thing. Her assertion is that science is equal to power, the power to create.
Frankenstein, however, does not view science in the positive light as it is viewed today. Her main character Frankenstein embarks on a project to create a human being from the remains of dead people. When he finishes his creation, he is so excited with his prowess and exclaimed that the new creation “would bless [him] as its creator and source…
No father could claim the gratitude of his child more completely as [he] should deserve theirs” (32). In this assertion, Frankenstein’s pride in his newfound ability to create is portrayed as he equates himself to God, who has the power to create. This proves that scientists in the 19th century were power-hungry males, with no regard for any morals. They were only interested in gaining prestige and fame at the expense of the consequences of their actions.
Despite all this showmanship by the character Frankenstein, the novel shows the awesome power that exists in science. Science may actually hold more power than people think. Power is a dangerous thing when it gets into the head of those who possess it. Upon realizing the power science possesses, the monster tells its creator that “I have the power…You are my creator, but I am your master…” (122).
Science has created a powerful maters in today’s world. Countries that are scientifically advanced have become so dominant in world politics, while some controversial world leaders have used science to chat their own immoral intentions. It is clear how science influences power, and if this power is not checked, then science proves to be disastrous.
Shelley does not spare any chance to explain the dangers of science. She portrays science as a hazardous lot. Scientists are only interested in knowledge and would go to any length just to acquire it thus: “Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world” (3).
Some scientists like Frankenstein, think that human power is limitless and therefore set to test the limits with little or no regard for the consequences of their actions. But as Shelley explains, human beings actually do have a limit in understanding the workings of nature. This is exemplified in the fact that Frankenstein did not have the knowledge necessary to control the monster when it went berserk.
The effect of Frankenstein’s scientific misadventure is the uncontrollable monster that goes on killing sprees. By creating this monster, it proves that Frankenstein is an even greater monster who is capable of doing much more harm than the monster he created; thus: “Justine died; she rested, and I was alive. The (monsters) blood flowed freely in my veins” (59). This monster is an example of today’s hazardous scientific discoveries that have the potential to wipe out life.
It is now common knowledge about what nuclear science can do. We should have gone on and heeded Shelley’s advise against science thus: “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” (31). Her precept here is that it is not knowledge that is bad but the acquisition of that knowledge.
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In conclusion, the nineteenth century experienced a scientific implosion never seen before. This is the time that electricity is discovered and has gone on to change people’s lives forever. It is not debatable that science has had a profound positive effect on humanity. This is not Shelley’s contention, however.
Her arguments are quite, on the contrary, that science needs to be checked. The uncontrolled pursuit of knowledge will lead to the creation of hazardous monsters that humans cannot control. Frankenstein reads like a warning to the modern world about the dangers of science.
Shelley seems to have foreshadowed what might result if the pursuit of knowledge is not controlled. Had we heeded her warning 200 years ago, the world would be a safer place to be. However, science continues to evolve and put the world into more hazards. Scientific creations such as chemicals and industrial waste have altered the environment so much that we are now living with uncertainties of how the future would be. Shelley was a messiah who we never listened to.
Essaka, Joshua. Mary Shelley: ‘Frankenstein.’ Penrith: Humanities e-books. 2007. Print
Schug, Charles. “The Romantic Form of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900.” 1977. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/450311?seq=1
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Crown Publishers, 1977. Print