Mary Shelly is not trying to stop the quest for knowledge, however, she is trying to highlight the responsibility and respect needed when introducing new discoveries and creations into society.
Mary Shelly seems to use the mis use of science in her novel, Frankenstein as a forewarning against the pursuit of knowledge, however, her use of language and structure suggests that she is actually trying to highlight the responsibility needed when introducing new discoveries and creations in order to respect the liminal space between the role of humans and the natural world. Frankenstein was written in the age of the Enlightenment, where scientific contemporary discoveries such as Galvanism and electricity where taking the world by storm and would change humanity’s relationship with the natural world forever. Shelly uses Victors “misfortune” (mis-use of science) as a platform to teach society about the responsibilities involved with the gift of knowledge; she uses contradictory language, a Russian doll narrative structure as well as disturbing visual imagery to portray the lack of responsibility surrounding new discoveries and the consequences involved with the mis-use of science.
Victors speech is littered with juxtapositions which portrays his naivety and (ironically) his lack of knowledge when it come to understanding how to responsibly bring his creation into the world. One paragraph after Victors realises that he is “capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter”, Victor urges Walton to “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge”. At a glance, Victor seems to be warning Walton about the thirst for knowledge, however, this statement is rather problematic as he contradicts himself as Victor asks Walton to “learn” from him and then warns about the danger of knowledge. Knowledge and learning are inextricably linked to one another, meaning that if Walton wants to “learn” from Victor, he must “aquire” the knowledge to warn him to do so. However, Victor contradicts himself buy saying that obtaining knowledge in the first place is dangerous. Thus, the information that one desires “learn” may be very dangerous however, a fault in human nature disables us from being able to distinguish a beneficial discovery from a dangerous one, resulting in a mis- use of science.
Although many feel that Shelly uses the “creature” to represent a mis-use of science as a whole, Percy Shelly’s review of Frankenstein in 1832 suggests otherwise. Percy Shelly said “treat a person ill and he will become wicked” if one agrees that the “wretch” could rightly be considered a Human, he could be suggesting that Victor creating the monster is not the mis-use of science, it is actually his disregard and abandonment of him which has lead to his “unparalleled misfortunes”. As soon as the monster was born, Victor immediately reacted towards him with great disgust similar to a very irresponsible father, which suggests that it was the environmental factors which led to the monsters mental degradation. The monster says “I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel.” This religious imagery would have connected with the 19th century reader as christianity was still a very large part of society even though Shelly’s husband, Percy was an atheist. This metaphor suggests that when the monster was created, he had the potential to be the start something (arguably) beneficial, like man. However, his potential had ‘fallen’ due to Victor’s neglect. The connotations of “angel” are good, pure and holy which could portray the lost of potential through Victors lack of responsibly which backs my thesis of Shelly not discouraging the acquirement of knowledge but encouraging the responsibility surrounding it.
Finally, Shelly uses the liminal boundary between the role of humans and of the natural to encourage a respect for nature. Due to the discovery of electricity in the 1800s, the foundations of society were dramatically shifted. As a Romanticist, Shelly may have found this rather disturbing, as she appreciated the sublimity and awesomeness of nature and seemed to be aware of the consequences involved with crossing this liminal space. On page 46, Victor describes a disturbing dream where he sees Elizabeth and his mother’s corpse. He describes the disturbing dream by saying, “they were livid with the hue of death”, he “held the corpse of my dead mother”. The death of his mother and Elizabeth implies that Victor has circumvented natural way of reproduction and the production of life,’he has usurped the roles of both God and Women”. This shows natures consequence in response the unnatural mis-use of science.
In Conclusion, the moral derived from Frankenstein is that knowledge and science itself isn’t dangerous, however it has the potential to be if there is a misuse of knowledge through a lack of responsibility and respect. Therefore, Shelly’s warning isn’t about the pursuit of knowledge, but is actually about the necessity for scientists and others to be responsible of their creations. Although the issues that Shelly addresses were believed to be very contemporary in the 1800s, our society still currently struggles with these issues such as artificial intelligence, stem cells and cloning changing the foundations of our relationship with the natural world. A misuse of powerful knowledge can be detrimental to our society and Shelly encourages society to think of how to avoid it.