The Main Theme Of Frankenstein Essay, Research Paper
Mary Shelley’s work is symbolic. Symbols are meant to be explored with ever increasing depth rather than simply defined. What you envision as the central theme of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein will likely be governed by the interpretive lens you view the novel with rather than some unquestionable meaning revealed by the text itself. Instead of advocating any one theme, I would suggest that you explore your critical and imaginative abilities so that you can see the text in a multitude of ways. In this manner you will be attempting to see the most it can mean rather than trying to condense the novel into a single summary. Below I suggest different avenues into the text that locate the central thrust of it in different ways.
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Frankenstein can be seen as a prophetic statement against the pride that accompanies technological or scientific knowledge. Victor Frankenstein becomes intoxicated with the possibilities of modern science. He is so inflated and consumed with the knowledge of how to animate a human creature that he doesn’t consider the morality or even the aesthetics. He is so absorbed in the minutia of his experiments that he creates each section of the Creature with care without considering the total effect.
How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!- Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set,
his shriveled complexion and straight black lips.
I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had
deprived myself of rest and health. 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.
Deeply disappointed in the results of his experiment, Victor’s elation turned to sheer terror when he realized what he had unleashed. The scientist becomes the hunted and the haunted as a result of overstepping his boundaries. There are many advantages to viewing Frankenstein as a cautionary tale directed at science but this interpretation has limitations as well. It doesn’t do Shelley’s novel justice to see Frankenstein as anti-scientific or as placing the blame on Victor’s scientific knowledge. The problem is not with science but rather with the character of those who wield it.
One of the most applicable interpretations of Frankenstein approaches the novel from a relational dynamics point of view. While there are similarities to the moral educative point of view this relational approach touches on the deeper psychological roots of monster making.
The dynamics of doom are set up by the abhorrence of the parent for the child. Victor Frankenstein’s idealism prepared him for an idyllic relationship. Instead of the expected adulation by his offspring, he was immediately confronted with the creature’s loathsomeness and his own responsibility.
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. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room, continued a long time traversing my bedchamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep.
Victor’s disillusionment with parenthood, more particularly mothering, led to post-partum
depression and neglect. Victor himself had no one at his side encouraging him or advising him of what to do with what he had created. His entire venture was done in secret, in self-imposed isolation. Through his obsession he isolated himself from any form of community. While bringing his child into the world he was himself alienated from society. Parenting had become for him an issue of possession, ownership and self-aggrandizement. One could say that Victor lived for and through his child or what that child promised until that child became a separate being from him. Victor in essence experienced the burden of loneliness in parenting and didn’t have the character to cope with it.
One wonders if Mary Shelley gleaned this theme from her own experience. She had a mother who disappeared immediately upon birth and a father who was left to carry out the responsibility of child rearing on his own. One of his self-expressed reasons for a quick remarriage was the need to have someone other than himself care for his children. In the aftermath of her mother dying, did Mary think, as many children do, that she was the cause of her death? Did Mary feel the same as her sister Fanny, that her existence was a life-extracting burden on those who loved her? Fanny’s last words included this self-evaluation: “…whose life has only been a series of pain to those persons who have hurt their health in endeavoring to promote her welfare.” Although it is by no means certain that this is the motive for Mary highlighting the experience of loneliness, one has to consider it entirely possible.
If we can empathize with the pain of the parent we must be even more touched by the plight of the child, a creature brought into the world and immediately abandoned who because of his hideousness could not expect a surrogate. Telling the tale of his progress to Frankenstein, the Creature recounts his first encounter with civilization.
I had hardly placed my foot within the door, before the children shrieked, and one of the women fainted. The whole village was roused; some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country, and fearfully took refuge in a low hovel, quite bare, and making a wretched appearance after the palaces I had beheld in the village.
This ugly child is not without his endearing qualities. He, like all living beings, stands in awe and reverence toward the universe. As the moon moves through the sky he gazes in wonder. This monster appreciates the love of the DeLacey family and is moved by higher culture as he develops. Sadly he is even rejected by the family that inadvertently modeled what love was. The beauty of their love only mocked his lonely existence and increased his pain.
But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses; or if they had, all my past life was now a blot, a blind vacancy in which I distinguished nothing. From my earliest remembrance I had been as I then was in height and proportion. I had never yet seen a being resembling me, or who claimed any intercourse with me. What was I? The question again recurred, to be answered only with groans. Upon reading the journal of his creator, the Monster finally attributes blame to Victor Frankenstein:
I sickened as I read. “Hateful day when I received life!” I exclaimed in agony. “Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.”
The abandoned Creature finally set the terms of a truce with his Creator in an effort to establish
justice. He will either be recompensed for his suffering existence through the creation of a mate or he will wreck his wrath on his Creator.
Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions, I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends.
Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin, was convinced that the isolated individual would become vicious. His belief was obviously shared by Mary his daughter. Mary, however, had something to add to Godwin’s proposition and that was that viciousness is the product of parental neglect. An unloved Creation is driven to wreck revenge on an indifferent Creator. Herein is the warning: love what you create or be utterly destroyed by it.
Clearly there is more than one concrete theme throughout the story of Frankenstein. It is obvious that is deals with scientific knowledge and the feelings of power and greatness that go along with that knowledge. Along with this, we can see that it also deals largely with relationships and how they can effect someone s everyday life. Although there are several other themes that can be found in Mary Shelly s Frankenstein, these two particular themes are definitely significant.