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Frankenstein’s Monster: Abandoned Child

It is surprising how some of the greatest works of literature start in the simplest of settings and the way creativity blossoms in these seemingly simple yet defining moments. Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is no exception. Peter Conrad describes the prolific yet simple setting that marked the advent of this novel in the following words: “In the summer of 1816, a young, well-educated woman from England traveled with her lover to the Swiss Alps. Unseasonable rain kept them trapped inside their lodgings, where they entertained themselves by reading ghost stories.

At the urging of renowned poet Lord Byron, a friend and neighbor, they set their own pens to paper, competing to see who could write the best ghost story. The young woman, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, took the prize, having composed a story creepy enough not only to take its place alongside the old German tales that she and her Alpine companions had been reading, but also to become a bestseller in her time and a Gothic classic that still resonates with readers almost two centuries later” (P. 257). The novel itself has been praised over the years to explore themes such as the pursuit of dangerous knowledge, abortion, secrecy and monstrosity.

While at the surface an interesting tale aimed at gripping the reader in its thrill and suspense, deep down the novel is an adequate commentary on the pace of scientific development and how the lack of a clear and coherent strategy to effectively manage and put to good use this advance in human knowledge might lead to catastrophic effects. These themes resound in our present day environments too with businesses and scientists conducting research in the pursuit of knowledge that may have adverse results altering our economic, social, political and economic landscape.

Plot Summary Writing from on board a vessel headed for the North Pole, Captain Robert Walton communicates to his sister back in England the happenings since he had left on his perilous trip. Ignoring early successes, his expedition soon found itself trapped with seas of ice that were impossible to surpass. It is here that the Captain encounters Victor Frankenstein, weakened by cold with a dog-drawn sledge as his only ticket out of the icy terrain. The captain takes him aboard and attends to his weakening health, learning along the way the playing God ways of Frankenstein.

Starting from his childhood in the Swiss city of Geneva, where he lived happily in the companionship of Elizabeth Lavenza (Cousin) and Henry Clerval (Friend), Victor enrolls in the university of Ingolstadt with an intention to pursue natural philosophy and chemistry. Years of research lead him to finding what he considers the secret of life and armed with this knowledge he spends countless months carving out a creature utilizing old body parts. Then he brings his creation to life, the climate outside his window, bearing testament to the importance of his act.

However, on realizing the monstrous aspects of his creation, he is taken aback in horror and soon finds himself on the street feeling regret. He soon runs into Henry and manages to get back to his apartment only to find the monster gone and hence succumbing to illness. Failing to come to terms with his own actions, Victor decides to leave for Geneva back to his family. Things get worse as news reaches him of his brother William’s murder and while passing through the woods where William was killed he catches a glimpse of the monster and becomes convinced of his involvement in his brother’s murder.

Victor’s grief intensifies when a girl adopted by the Frankenstein household, Justine Moritz, is judicially killed for the murder of his brother. Stricken with grief over the deaths of two innocent people, Victor heads for the mountains as an escape from the reality facing him. Soon, he comes across the monster on a glacial setting, which he had been trying to pass alone. The creature pleads guilty to the murder of William, citing his desire for revenge against Victor for he had equally shunned him into loneliness, requesting at the same time that Victor helps to ease his loneliness by creating a look alike mate for him.

Not interested in repeating his mistakes, Victor refuses at first but is eventually convinced. He returns to Geneva, and then with Henry, heads to England, conducting research on the prospects of creating a female monster. While Henry stays back in Scotland, Victor retreats to an island in the Orkneys and commences work. However, soon he is filled with doubts and one night while catching glimpse of the monster outside his window with a strange mischievous half smile back tracks, destroying his new creation.

The monster vows revenge on Victor’ wedding night for this. Unfazed, Victor boards a boat and throws away the remains of the female monster in the water. However, bad weather forces him to stay on the boat and by next morning he soon finds himself on the banks of an unknown town. On arrival he is arrested for the murder of Henry, whose body bears the horrific mark of the monster’s finger nail. Victor’s health succumbs to the shock and he is locked up in prison, an ill and grief stricken man. However, he is soon acquitted and returns to Geneva with his father.

On arrival, Victor marries his cousin Elizabeth but fearing the monster’s warning, he sends Elizabeth away to wait for him. However, Elizabeth’s screams of pain make him realize that the monster was actually after victimizing his wife and not him. The death of Elizabeth leads Victor’s father to die too out of grief, leaving Victor in a fit of anger and a burgeoning desire for revenge. Victor sets out on his mission to kill the monster as both pursuer and pursued race to the north in a dogsled chase. Just when victory is in sight, the ice underneath the two breaks and Victor ends up encountering Captain Robert Walton.

The conclusion of the story is another string of letters written by Walton to his sister, detailing Victor’s death from the illness and grief. The body is kept in a less frequented room. One day, Walton goes to this room to find the monster at the side of Victor’s body, crying and going on to tell his story of loneliness, pain, abhorrence, and regret. The monster then departs further north to die as the death of his creator signals his acceptance of the fact that his suffering can now too come to an end. Light & Fire

The most important symbol used in this text is of light and fire. Walton places confidence and is hopeful in the power of science to solve the problems facing man remarking, “What could not be expected in the country of eternal light? ” In this novel, comprehension, innovation, and illumination are symbolized by light. To the scientist, the world is a dark mystery with a maze like structure engulfed in darkness. His goal is to reach the light to illuminate his surroundings meaning he has to find answers to nature and make life more prosperous for the inhabitants of the earth.

However, light, if in the form of fire has a dual nature. Just as in the novel, “the monster’s first experience with a still-smoldering flame reveals the dual nature of fire: he discovers excitedly that it creates light in the darkness of the night, but also that it harms him when he touches it” (Isani, 2005). Thirst For Knowledge At the heart of the novel lies the thirst for knowledge as Victor and Walton both attempt to deny human limits on imagination and innovation to achieve results no man has comprehended.

However, the concept of light and fire is evident here as Victor finds light in the shape of fire which ultimately destroys him as he gets too close to it while Walton understands its power, refuses to touch it and heads back home towards the end of the novel without completing his mission, although he has a near encounter with death. One can explain the above point citing nuclear power and weapons of mass destruction as a modern day interface. Man’s possession of knowledge makes him powerful but how that power is used is the issue.

All power corrupts is a popular saying and history is testament to the fact that the discovery and invention of nuclear energy made the world a dangerous place as nations stock piled nuclear war heads. Had this energy been put to better use from the beginning, like the generation of electricity (which has now started by the way), things would have been different and the world a better and more secure place. Here, the scientists ended up touching the fire and were destroyed and ended up destroying what they intended to preserve in the first place. Monstrosity

The second element to the novel is the theme of monstrosity. Although the monster does not have a highly appreciative physical being, his lack of acceptance by society is also as a result of his creation in unnatural ways. Similarly, one may contend that by creating a monster through his knowledge of the secret of life, Victor could also be characterized as a monster himself as put aptly in the following words: “The religious response to a frightening new technological capability must be different because the existence of a product or outcome of a technology cannot be denied.

Instead, the notion of God’s domain is put forward. According to this notion, there is forbidden (scientific) knowledge that man should not attempt to obtain or use; knowledge that exists solely for the purpose of allowing God to run the world. Any attempt by man to cross the line into God’s domain — to “play God” — is immoral and will be severely punished. This is the usual reading of Mary Shelley’s novel. In the public mind, Frankenstein represents what WILL go wrong if “man” (meaning the community of scientists) goes “too far. ” (123helpme). This theme can be explained by utilizing the concept of human cloning.

The societal effect of this scientific technique has been described as morally hazardous as this amounts to playing God. All the major religious texts point to the perfectionism of the Creator, Who paid attention to every little detail and Who’s created system is perfect. By human cloning, man has been accused of trying to fill the shoes of God although he himself is not perfect. This means that his creation would only be one of a mutilated and imperfect form, which would not settle well with its own surroundings, as people would reject it. Our monster is an example that is imperfect and not natural and hence not acceptable.

Thus, those who create the monster are also equally monstrous. The concept of abortion also plays well in the novel. By destroying the female monster, Frankenstein aborts his act of creation, precluding the female monster from coming alive. There is also abortion in the intellectual sense as Victor remarks “I at once gave up my former occupations; set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation; and entertained the greatest disdain for a would-be science, which could never even step within the threshold of real knowledge. ” Thus, Victor becomes disillusioned with natural philosophy as an intellectual pursuit.

One may explain this point in an economic sense. Looking at the current global financial crisis, weapons of mass destruction were formed in the shape of highly leveraged products such as derivatives by shoddy investment bankers. The result was that trillions of dollars went to waste. Had their been more people involved and had this been a collaborative effort aimed at identifying potential risks, this would not have had happened. Although now there is an intellectual abortion with regard to the types of derivative products that bankers would be willing to take positions in, this collective abortion could have occurred earlier.

Thus, what is implied in the novel is that Victor could have escaped his fate had he collectively shared his idea for creating life as someone would have guided him accordingly in the right direction. However, like Walton, there had to be failure in our real world context by the financial services industry to realize that touching the fire hurts. Abortion may also be used in its proper sense. While Mary Shelley does not make a direct statement in this regard, there is a hint of pro-abortion attitude that is found in her work.

To her, the fact that Victor destroys the female monster after being filled with doubts and seeing the grin on the monster’s face is a guide to her belief that if something grotesque is going to come out of an activity, one may rather kill it beforehand. This can have dual social effects. While it would lead to rejection by society as these amounts to playing God (taking and giving life being an act of God according to every religion), this could also save the life being aborted from social rejection and hardship say due to poverty.

So what this effectively does is that it opens up the abortion question. Either way, you abandon the child, by giving birth or by having the fetus killed. However, the desirability of abortion in society is something that scientists should have collectively thought about before taking the step. Secrecy Another element is secrecy. Quite wrongly, Victor thinks science is a mystery which once revealed should be guarded and used to ones own benefit. This evident as Victor’s entire efforts at creating life are secret and are only revealed towards the end, by when it is too late.

Here too, one may argue that Victor could have escaped his fate had he collectively shared his idea for creating life as someone would have guided him accordingly in the right direction. The same can be said of the present world. Cigarettes have been proven to be addictive, as companies have resorted in many countries to slant advertising and the use of pleasure enhancing techniques in nicotine. While one can argue that they intend to help consumers get more pleasure out of a puff, they have failed to recognize the harmful effects of addiction.

This inefficiency on their part could have been solved if everyone sat down collectively to discuss this and make collaborative efforts at using science to the consumer’s advantage and not for competition and purposes of shareholder wealth creation only. Conclusion Mary Shelley uses letters, notes, journals, inscriptions, and books to make an important point. The letters by Walton form the whole novel; the story of Victor is the letters of Walton, the story of the monster, the letters of Victor.

What is implied by this lack of direct quotation is that our lives are intertwined and our actions have a huge effect on each other. Its like every human is part of a larger body forming part of it. Any action taken by any one constituent affects the other. Hence, one may argue that given the nature of science as a fire with dual effects, it would be prudent that those in possession of this knowledge sit down and discuss the political, social and economic outfall from this innovation as where creativity helps us live, using it in a wrong way might lead to catastrophe.

These themes resound in every day life ever more often as we see innovation that is good for us continue unchecked so that in the end it becomes hazardous. Consider the case of Frankenstein itself, quite aptly described in the following words: “Among the seven themes in Frankenstein that Levine discusses is that of the “overreacher. ” Sparked by the French Revolution, intellectuals believed in “divine creative activity” (Levine 9). Dr. Frankenstein also subscribes to this lofty belief.

He states, “The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine” (Shelley 36). Yet as soon as he achieves his goal of creating life, he rejects all responsibility and his life becomes a living hell. Through this example, Mary Shelley is pointing out the dangers of “overreaching. ” Part of the tragedy Shelley describes is how Frankenstein spends much of his time running away from his monster. This results in the monster murdering members of Frankenstein’s family. The neglect of responsibility shows that Frankenstein was not ready for the results of his ambition.

Instead, his lofty ideals become less heroic and more cowardly“ (Duncan, 2004) This is the resounding theme of the book and contrasts heavily with my own thesis statement that innovation should not go unchecked for with great power comes great responsibility and it is absolutely imperative that scientific discovery should be a collective effort so that personal ambition should not come in the way of the wider interest in a total utility sense, that is, overall societal benefit should be maximized.

Works Cited Shelley, Mary. Frankenstien or the Modern Prometheus. London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, 1818. Conrad, Peter. The Everyman History of English Literature. London: J. M Dent & Sons Limited, 1948. Isani, Kiran. Frankensien: A study Guide. London: Independent Publishing, 2005. “Free Essays: Commentary on Shelley’s Frankenstein. ” 123HelpMe. com. 25 Apr 2009 “Frankenstein: A Historical Context”. Greg Duncan (2004). http://www. wsu. edu/~delahoyd/frank. comment1. html. 25 Apr 2009

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