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ORIGINAL Galat 1 Near the end of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the dying Victor Frankenstein urges Walton to live without ambition, especially if this ambition be directed towards "science and discoveries" (157). While Frankenstein's death-bed counsel might initially appear to demonize all scientific exploration and advancement, on closer inspection it becomes clear that the danger lies in the egotistical and isolating approach to seeking progress, not in the progress itself. Instead of condemning scientific advancement, Shelley is accentuating the risks this advancement might generate, primarily the risks of dehumanizing society. The seclusion and self-centredness of both the creature and Frankenstein—whether self-imposed or not—will be examined as the basis for each character's dehumanization. Throughout the essay, "dehumanization" will be provisionally defined as dispossessing people of their human qualities, with a particular Commented last semester). W writing abilities also makes it di referred to in le in my portfolio my developmen Commented is one that reso in 1818. The to pose a threat to well worth inve Commented essay for the pr literary work th likely include in Frankenstein, I range of audien aware of audien have the same e popular culture least on some le

Frankenstein Essay

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An essay about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Text of Frankenstein Essay

  • ORIGINAL Galat 1

    Near the end of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the dying Victor Frankenstein

    urges Walton to live without ambition, especially if this ambition be directed

    towards "science and discoveries" (157). While Frankenstein's death-bed counsel

    might initially appear to demonize all scientific exploration and advancement, on

    closer inspection it becomes clear that the danger lies in the egotistical and

    isolating approach to seeking progress, not in the progress itself. Instead of

    condemning scientific advancement, Shelley is accentuating the risks this

    advancement might generate, primarily the risks of dehumanizing society. The

    seclusion and self-centredness of both the creature and Frankensteinwhether

    self-imposed or notwill be examined as the basis for each character's

    dehumanization. Throughout the essay, "dehumanization" will be provisionally

    defined as dispossessing people of their human qualities, with a particular

    Commented [KG2]: I decided to revise a more recent essay (from last semester). While this will serve to display my current essay

    writing abilities as opposed to, for example, my skills in first year, it also makes it difficult to edit because of the lack of "distance"

    referred to in lecture notes. I am considering including earlier essays

    in my portfolio as well, potentially creating a kind of "evolution" of my development of writing in the academic field.

    Commented [KG4]: I chose to revise this piece because its theme is one that resonates today even though Frankenstein was published in 1818. The topic of how technological and scientific advancement

    pose a threat to human and social relations is controversial and thus

    well worth investigating.

    Commented [KG3]: Another reason that I chose to review this essay for the prose revision assignment is because it examines a literary work that many people are familiar with. Although I will also

    likely include in my portfolio essays on less well-known works than

    Frankenstein, I think this one will be more accessible to a wider range of audiences. As the lecture notes mention, it is important to be

    aware of audience; while not everyone looking at my portfolio will

    have the same exposure to literature, Frankenstein's entrance into popular culture ensures that readers will be able to follow the essay at

    least on some level.

  • emphasis on social qualities and relations among people. This essay will attest that

    Frankenstein can be read not only as a response to the mechanization of the

    Industrial Revolution, but also as a warning against considering human relations as

    subordinate to scientific progress. Contextualizing the novel in its historical time

    period, this paper will draw on the social critique Shelley's work of science fiction

    provides; it will illustrate the didactic function of Frankenstein, which is to teach

    the importance of prioritizing human relations. The seclusion and self-centredness

    of both the creature and Frankensteinwhether self-imposed or notwill be

    examined as the basis for each character's downfall. Contextualizing the novel in its

    historical time period, this paper will draw on the social critique Shelley's work of

    science fiction provides; it will illustrate the didactic function of Frankenstein,

    which is to teach the importance of prioritizing human relations.

    Formatted: Font: Calibri Light, 14 pt, Highlight

    Commented [KG5]: THESIS

  • While some critics have already been quick to interpretinterpreted

    Frankenstein as a "parable of perverted science" that demonizes technology

    (Warner 20), a closer examination of Shelley's portrayal of potential consequences

    posed by scientific explorationce shows the complexities of the issue to be much

    more complexthis perversion. Frankenstein is a character infatuated with the

    desire for knowledge and with the pursuit of scientific evolution; yet, it is not these

    qualitiesbut instead his withdrawal from family and societyfor which Shelley

    rebukes him. This idea of the dehumanizing effect of progress which seeps into

    Shelley's work can be read as a reflection of the social changes of her time: a

    reaction to the Industrial Revolution. The novel is set in the heart of the Industrial

    Revolution, widely considered a "period in which the removal of the boundaries of

    knowledge reached a peak of acceleration" (qtd. in Hammond 184). Although

    Commented [KG6]: In the original, I used Warner's comment to set up an opposition and introduce my own argument as an idea that stands in contrast to his. Upon further reflection on this citation, I

    realized that in focusing on his idea that science demonizes

    technology, I skimmed over the part of the quote that opens up a discourse about sciencethe part of the quote that perhaps reflects my argument instead of opposing it. To fix this issue, I slightly

    reworked the contextualization of the citation so as not to misrepresent the critic's true argument. Instead of presenting my

    views in opposition to Warner's, I am presenting them as an

    advancement of his thought.

  • technological innovations of the time were celebrated, the high cost of these

    advancements was paid with human life. Mechanization attempted to transform

    every facet of human society "into the equivalent of an efficiently run machine,"

    and the "mathematicization" of human life saw people and relationships as

    numbers (O'Brien 39). Shelley engages with this dehumanizing element of progress

    through the ambitious character of Frankenstein. She highlights the risks of

    scientific advancement, but also flips the issue to include a more thorough

    examination of dehumanizing effects. She analyzes e dehumanization not only as a

    consequence of progression, but also as a separate attitude towards progress that

    mightalthough but possibly does not have toaccompany the evolution of

    science. Commented [KG7]: Run-on sentence.

  • In stark contrast to his idealized scientific aspirations for the benefit of

    humanity, Shelley presents contrasts Frankenstein's gluttony and his selfish whims

    against his idealised notion that his work is benefiting humanity. Through his

    effortswork, the scientist desires to "pour a torrent of light into our dark world"

    (Shelley 33), but in the very next line of speech, he outlines a further, more

    egocentric, motivation. He glories in the idea that "a new species would bless [him]

    as its creator" and that these "excellent natures would owe their being to [him]"

    (33). Therefore, he is not seeking knowledge for the purposes of knowledge, but

    knowledge that would acclaim his own character as superior to others'. This

    conceptual separation from other people is accompanied by a physical one. His

    obsession with creating life isolates Frankenstein to "a solitary chamber [...] at the

    top of the house, and separated from all other apartments by a gallery and a

  • staircase" (34). The placement of the cell at the top of the house represents the

    summit of his self-centredness; he desires to climb above humanity by surpassing

    that which restricts others. The arithmetic of the Industrial Revolution further

    saturates Frankenstein's work, as he objectifies the human body in the bones and

    pieces of cadavers he collects from charnel houses. The body is no longer

    something filled with life and individuality. It is degraded to the status of an item

    that becomes a means to reach his own personal successes. He surrounds himself

    with dead bodies that replace the healthy associations and interactions in which he

    formerly engaged. He "forget[s] those friends who [are] so many miles absent" and

    allows his scientific ambition to "swallow up every habit of [his] nature" (34). The

    use of the word "swallow" suggests a ravenous appetite associated with progress,

    insinuating that he will chase progress until it physically consumes and destroys

    Commented [KG8]: Here I included an elaboration and extended interpretation of the quote in order for my argument to come across more clearly.

  • him. This casting off of relationships, both those previously dear to him and the

    potential one with his creation, is the root of Frankenstein's troubles.

    Shelley personifies the dehumanizing aspect of scientific pursuit in with the

    creature, and it may seem at first that she isseemingly suggesting that science to

    beis the origin of all that is gruesome and dreadful in the novel. The creature is a

    product of innovation and seems to bring only harm and desolation upon his

    creator and upon the world into which he is brought. He becomes a monster,

    apparently devoid of sympathy for his victims, whose deaths he looks upon with

    "exultation and hellish triumph" (100). Yet it is impossible to overlook the

    parallelsism between Frankenstein's isolation and the creature's. While iIt is the

    creature who physically murders William, Clerval, and Elizabeth, but he does so

    only after Frankenstein has already systematically carved them out of his life via his

    Commented [KG9]: To accompany the more abstract reading of this citation, I tried to analyze how diction is contributing to Shelley's

    message.

  • antisocial behaviour; the creation becomes an extension of his dehumanized

    creator. Frankenstein shuns the creature from the moment he becomes animate,

    turning his back to him and "rush[ing] out of the room" in a physical manifestation

    of the abandonment of his role as father (36). Up until this moment, he was

    speeding towards the completion of his scientific experiment, and now the

    "rushing" becomes repositioned as Frankenstein changes direction, by running

    away from, instead of towards, his creation. This inability to partake in an

    interpersonal relationship cements the fates of both the creature, and through the

    creature's revenge, Frankenstein. Shelley gives the creature a voice: through the

    tone of his narrative, the reader is encouraged to sympathize with the vulnerable

    and naive creature, who consistently reaches out only to be shunned into isolation,

    as with the De Lacy family (94). Further, it is Frankenstein, through his own

  • dehumanizing tendencies, who pushes the creature into isolation, and effectively

    directs the outcome of his experiment.

    Frankenstein projects his own rejection of social ties onto the creature, thus

    determining the successor rather catastropheof his scientific pursuit. While

    potential for a father or caregiver relationship is insinuated when the creature

    compares his own origin to that of man's in Paradise Lost (91), this potential is

    shattered by Frankenstein's selfish response to his creature's birth. The diction

    throughout the novel, particularly in Frankenstein's speech, implies a

    disconnection from humanity. There are no words of endearment for the

    creatureFrankenstein repeatedly refers toences him as "devil, fiend, daemon,

    horror, wretch, monster, monstrous image, vile insect, [and] abhorred entity"

    (Ozolins 104). All of these terms have negative, immoral, or menacing

  • connotations, casting the creature in a negative light before he even has a chance

    to express himself. As critic Aija Ozolins points out, the creature becomes

    dangerous only when he is denied the opportunity to form meaningful

    relationships: the creature is filled with "hatred and violence [only] when [he]

    suffers social rejection" (106). Could the creature's murderous rampage have been

    prevented if he had been treated with love instead of hate? Shelley presents no

    reasons apart from the selfish tendencies of the creator for why this particular

    scientific pursuit could not have transpired differently. In doing so, sShe does not

    denigrate is not denigrating Frankenstein's thirst for knowledge. By presenting the

    moment of Frankenstein's rejection of the creature in vivid detail, she is instead

    highlighting the choices available to the scientist. At the completion of his

    experiment, the "beauty of the dream" vanishes and is replaced with "horror and

    Commented [KG10]: When this paper was graded, the professor wrote that in order to improve it, I could include more of my own readings of the tex. In the process of revising, I plan to follow this

    advice. I think the original word prevented me from expanding

    certain ideas and including more of my own interpretations. Much of my revision will centre around developing ideas I already had and

    pushing certain notions further.

  • disgust" (36). He turns his back on the creature because he is "unable to endure"

    looking at what he created (36). Frankenstein's superficiality is emphasized, and his

    decision to run away is shaped as both a conscious act and a sign of weakness.

    Despite Frankenstein's wrong choice, his refusal to accept a social role, the

    prospect of a right choice within the paradigm of scientific advancement still exists.

    For example, a different scientist might have shown love towards the creature.

    Someone who is not Frankenstein and does not share his weaknesses can

    therefore make that correct choice.

    At the beginning of his experiment, Frankenstein sets out to discover

    Nature's secretsa "legitimate" objective "for a man of science" (Ozolins 109). As

    critic Kim Hammond construesobserves, "science is not in itself 'good' or 'bad',

    'right' or 'wrong', but [...] full of potential for liberation as well as potential for [...]

  • exploitation" (193). It is therefore possible to view Frankenstein's story as a mere

    example of an abuse of sciencean improper application of a science that could

    potentially be used to bring about positive changes instead of negative ones. This

    notion is easily applicable to the new and improved technology of the Industrial

    Revolution, which, despite bringing suffering, also brought with it long-term

    improvements to the quality of life. Frankenstein himself notes that it is beneficial

    for humankind "if no man allow[s] any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the

    tranquility of his domestic affections" (Shelley 34). He is communicating that no

    pursuit should be considered as superior to an individual's relationships. The

    structure of the sentence nonetheless does allow for pursuit, providing that it does

    not impair social ties or "lead to estrangement from family and society" (Ozolins

    108). Shelley's nuanced novel is therefore not a demonization of technology or a

  • condemnation of the pursuit of knowledge. The creaturean embodiment of

    scientific explorationis indeed represented as gentle, intellectual, and

    sympathetic until these qualities are destroyed by his seclusion. As the creature

    himself relates, before he was repeatedly treated with violence and scorn, he saw

    the future as "gilded by bright rays of hope, and anticipations of joy" (Shelley 80).

    Yet his isolation is encapsulated in the question that plagues him throughout the

    narrative: "Where [are] my friends and relations?" (84). The absence of family from

    the creature's life is a microcosm for the potential absence of social ties in science.

    This depiction of science leads to a reading of the novel as a warning against

    sacrificing human relationships for knowledge and progress. It asks: what is the

    purpose of scientific advancement if humanity is left behind?

    Commented [KG11]: I provided some additional textual evidence to support my argument.

  • In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the proposition is that social relations must

    always remain a priority. Scientific pursuit destroys Frankenstein's life, but Shelley

    does not present this as a direct cause-and-effect correlation. There is no definitive

    affirmation that an approach to the pursuit of knowledge which embraces social

    relations would be any more successful than Frankenstein's; however, neither is

    there an absolute statement that it would not. As a narrative born out of the

    Industrial Revolution, there is no question as to why Shelley is probing the risks of

    dehumanization and unsociable conduct. With the speed in which our society is

    advancing today, in the midst of a Technological Revolution, the issues raised in

    Frankenstein are as relevant as they were when the novel was first published in

    1818. We need look no further to see this trend in action than ads for the latest

    sleek technologies that glorify hi-tech commodities and prioritize them over social

    Commented [KG12]: I decided to give a slightly more specific example here to create a clearer link between my thesis, the novel,

    and today's world.

  • interaction. The question of whether scientific progress can, in actuality, co-exist

    with strong social relations remains open-ended. A reappraisal of the significance

    and potential devaluing of social relationships therefore seems necessary if our

    understanding of what constitutes progress is to increase. While Frankenstein

    does, on his death-bed, warn Walton against scientific pursuit, his very last words

    before death carry hope, suggesting that "another may succeed" (157) where he

    has failed (157). Perhaps then, if it is approached selflessly and without forsaking

    human relations, scientific advancement should be celebrated.

  • Works Cited

    Hammond, Kim. "Monsters of Modernity: Frankenstein and Modern

    Environmentalism." Cultural Geographies 11.2 (2004): 181-198. Print.

    O'Brien, Susie, and Imre Szeman. Popular Culture: A User's Guide. Toronto,

    Ontario: Nelson Education, 2013.

    Ozolins, Aija. "Dreams and Doctrines: Dual Strands in Frankenstein." Science Fiction

    Studies 2.2 (1975): 103-112. Print.

    Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. Print.

    Warner, Marina. Six Myths of our Time: Little Angels, Little Monsers, Beautiful

    Beasts, and More. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.