Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is at once, confirming, and contradictory of Charles Darwin’s scientific discoveries and views on science, nature and the relation of the individual to society. Mary Shelley confirms Darwin’s ideas through Frankenstein, when Dr. Frankenstein and Darwin both reject God as the creator of human life. Although this is a major theme in both works, it is the only similar idea shared between both Darwin and Frankenstein. Darwin’s understanding of nature is comparable to that of Mary Shelley; although how the individual relates to society is gravely between the two works. One of Darwin’s admiring disciples, Andrew Carnegie, the author of “The Gospel of Wealth,” shows us how contradictory these ideas are in relation to each other. His ideas of inheritance and the conduct of man are in disagreement with the actions of Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein. I will demonstrate in this paper how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein confirms, and at the same time contradicts Darwin’s ideas presented in “The Origin of the Species” and “The Decent of Man.”
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Throughout Darwin’s works the idea of the rejection of God as creator of man prevails. He alludes to prehistoric marine Ascidian larvae, as the predecessors to the later evolved human beings we are today. This would give credit for the creation of man to the process of evolution, not to the handiwork of a Supreme Being. “Species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species”(Appleman, 36). Darwin is showing here what conclusions he came upon about the “Origin of the Species”, in which he used science to prove his theories. He is replacing God with ideas of science, something that we see ever more increasingly in our society today. This idea of replacing God with science, is an important factor of Darwin’s theory of evolution of the species, an idea that is prevalent in many other works published since his “Origin of the Species.
An important theme in Darwin’s works is the rejection of God as the creator of man. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein reflects this theme as well. Dr. Frankenstein takes creating life into his own hands by going around God and, through the use of science, fashioning a creature comparable and somewhat superior to man. “My imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man”(Shelley, 39). This excerpt from Frankenstein shows how the doctor refused to acknowledge God, and therefore initiated himself as the creator of the life of man. Dr. Frankenstein simply found, through science, a way to bestow life without the inclusion a Supreme Being. By doing this, Frankenstein is rejecting God as the creator of life through the discoveries of science, an idea that we have seen in the works of Darwin as well.
Darwin thought of nature in terms of science. He used nature to prove his ideas about natural selection and the evolution of the species.
The great principle of evolution stands up clear and firm?as the mutual affinities of the members of the same group, their geographical distribution in past and present times, and their geological succession?He who is not content to look, like a savage, at the phenomena of nature as disconnected, cannot any longer believe that man is the work of a separate act of creation (Appleman, 197).
Darwin is showing us nature as only a tool for unlocking the mysteries of the past and giving hints to the future. It is only for the purpose of scientific advancement that Darwin examined nature, and proceeded in exploring how nature worked rather than marvel at its beauty. He was not concerned with the ways, in which nature worked, but used nature to show that man had come from evolution, rather than from a supernatural being.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein presents a similar view to that of Darwin in relation to nature. Dr. Frankenstein often viewed nature in the same manner as Darwin had, as a tool for the further advancement of science. “It was a most beautiful season; never did the fields bestow a more plentiful harvest or the vines yield a more luxuriant vintage, but my eyes were insatiable to the charms of nature”(Shelley, 40). Frankenstein is explaining here that he had no time to marvel at the beauty of nature because he was too busy exploring it’s greatest secrets and constantly engaging himself in scientific works. This is comparable to the work of Darwin, which also looked at nature in a scrupulous manner. Both Shelley and Darwin were naturalists and therefore wanted to explore the inner workings of nature, that is why their views on nature are similar throughout their works, a view that was widely expressed during their time period.
A major supporter and disciple of Darwin, Andrew Carnegie, applied Darwin’s theories to the accumulation and distribution of wealth in society in “The Gospel of Wealth.” In this essay, Carnegie demonstrated how accumulating wealth was essential to our society because it implements the idea of “the survival of the fittest.” He also described how an individual should relate themselves to society, and act in an admirable fashion. Carnegie said that the duty of man was
To set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and, after doing so, to consider?which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community?[and to become]?the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves(Appleman, 403-404).
Here Carnegie is showing that more capable individuals, being the fittest, should be modest and help others who are less fortunate, and not to lavish in material objects. His view of an individual in a community is one who is always keeping the whole of society in mind and not one who seeks praise and material goods, always looking out for their own best interests.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein gives a different perspective on the individual’s relation to society. Shelley portrays Dr. Frankenstein as a self-absorbed man with intentions of achieving fame and fortune by blazing trails in scientific discovery. “For more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation”(Shelley, 33). The way that Dr. Frankenstein interacts with his society is a direct contradiction of Carnegie’s ideas. Dr. Frankenstein came from a well-off family and was well schooled, being one of the few who were able to attend college at the time. His goal as an individual to his society, according to Carnegie, should have been to help those less fortunate than himself. Instead Dr. Frankenstein shunned those around him while self-absorbed in his evil creation, while trying to distinguish himself as a great scientist. Frankenstein’s duty to society was a failure. The creature that he bestowed life to destroyed all that was good and represented all that was evil. He did not help to better his race; instead he helped to obliterate it.
Mary Shelley’s novel Frankestein both confirms and contradicts the ideas of Darwin put forth in his “The Origin of the Species” and “The Decent of Man” regarding science, nature, and the relationship of the individual to society. Both Darwin and Shelley reject God as the creator of life throughout their works, giving the power of creation to evolution and mankind. They also both present similar views on nature, seeing it as a tool for scientific exploration and not as a wonder of beauty as it is often seen today. Using the work of Andrew Carnegie to show Darwinian ideas about the individual in society, we can see that these ideas strongly contradict those which Shelley presents in Frankenstein. Overall I believe that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein exemplifies many ideas expressed in the works of Darwin, enough that they can be considered enriching of each other in terms of comparison.