Illustration by Bernie Wrightson, 1979
“How ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom!”
The XIX century was a time of immense innovations and improvements. It was during this time that the human race developed a strong and almost religious faith in science, seeing it as the key to progress and a foundation of a new and better world where everything was possible. Mary Shelley, through her novel Frankenstein, makes a sharp critic against this mentality that believes men is all-powerful, focusing on the consequences this may have. The bottom idea of the book is that science should have certain limits, otherwise it can be dangerous; this is a notion that is still very much present nowadays. When Frankenstein finally gives life to his creature, he suddenly realises the implications of his actions- “I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
Viktor Frankenstein is a student with great ability and skills, who becomes obsessed over the idea of providing life after seeing the power of a lighting bolt striking a tree. However, he does not think thoroughly about the repercussion of his actions. Later on, he even despises his creation and regrets it. Shelley denounces how science gives man great power; however, this power may hunt him in his sleep later on.
It can also be argued it is a simile- God is Frankenstein who created life but later abandoned it because it no longer found it perfect or capable of good, and the monster represents humankind who feels lonely, left alone in an inhospitable world where he does not feel loved. The feelings the creature experiments are often the most human of all, even though he is called a monster and despised because he is not human enough. Through the monster’s thoughts, Shelley communicates the worries and afflictions all men have:
Listen to me, Frankenstein. You accuse me of murder; and yet you would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your own creature. Oh, praise the eternal justice of man!
‘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?’
The loneliness and the search of love and acceptance, as well as an explanation of the meaning of our own lives, are true human feelings. The monster is not good or bad in the beginning; it merely turns evil after his contact with the world. Mary Shelley gives Science the role of power and creation, which can be associated with God.
There was none among the myriads of men that existed who would pity or assist me; and should I feel kindness towards my enemies? No: from that moment I declared everlasting war against the species, and, more than all, against him who had formed me and sent me forth to this insupportable misery.
Furthermore, Shelley goes beyond her time preventing the dangers that the careless use of science may have. Science and technology are not things to play with without proper weighting of consequences. Think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where it was proved that science does not necessarily imply progress and can even cause barbaric actions.
“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.” Mary Shelley foresees the potential problems that the rapid advances of Science, which began in the XIX century, may bring. The author manages to present Science as the villain and well as the hero of the story.
Was Science the real monster?