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Scientist’s Role in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Essay

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Updated: Nov 20th, 2021

The Industrial Revolution brought about a great time of change for the people who lived in this time. As the country changed from being mostly agriculturally based to mostly industrialized, people began to debate the relative merits of machines over nature. Newspapers made available through advances in printing techniques pointed out both the advantages and disadvantages of the new machine age. The great issues of the day were the main focus of articles as well as the works of fiction that were becoming much more popular as the price of books fell. “The Victorian novel, with its emphasis on the realistic portrayal of social life, represented many Victorian issues in the stories of its characters” (“The Victorian Age”, 2007). One of the biggest debates in this period was discovering what people felt the proper role of the scientist was in the contemporary age, which was addressed in the novel Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley.

In this book, the main character is Victor Frankenstein who is a scientist that intentionally pushes the boundaries of technology in an attempt to overcome death by re-animating dead tissue. Through this story, science is criticized for its inability to deliver on all its promises as well as having a lack of imagination. “The ancient teachers of this science,’ said he [Frankenstein’s first professor], ‘promised impossibilities, and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted, and that the elixir of life is a chimera” (Shelley, 1993: 40). Frankenstein believed he could create a better human than the one created by God. In the end, though, the monster he succeeds in creating turns out to be the destruction of Frankenstein’s entire family. This makes the argument that science cannot and should not attempt to replace nature in terms of creation.

In addition to examining the ideas of physical science and the capabilities of machines, Shelley attempts to take a scientific approach to the development of her characters. For both the scientist and the monster, she adopts the Lockean model of individual development in which all people are born as a blank slate, without any real personality of their own good or bad. As the characters move through the book, it is seen that they are shaped by their experiences. Frankenstein is mostly an innocent country boy until he enters the city and begins studying science. At this point, he turns into a careless, selfish man with no compassion for the beast he’s brought to life. The monster also enters the world with a gentle spirit but is eventually pushed into violence as the only way of gaining Frankenstein’s attention. Thus, Shelley argues that the only way to retain the peace and harmony of the world as it was then known was to carefully raise children within the natural world without attempting to mechanize it.

With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, most people felt anything was possible, but Shelley questioned whether that was advisable. She did this first by questioning whether physical science could actually produce desirable results and answers that it is not. This is shown as the monster turns out to be something so hideous that not even its creator can stand to look at it in spite of its naturally gentle nature. She then uses the science of the mind to argue that the natural world, in the absence of machines and science, is the best environment for the development of mankind.

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1993.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Scientist’s Role in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein'. 20 November.

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