Knowledge in Frankenstein.


What We Think/What Shelley Thinks.

What we think:

The pursuit of knowledge is a most noble occupation, but with it comes a mighty responsibility. Victor Frankenstein failed to recognize this, and it assured his downfall.

(Okay, enough with the fancy vocabulary)

We believe that there should be constant ethical/moral limitations when it comes to scientific advancement. Experiments should be done with not only good intentions, but with enough foresight to predict many, if not all, possible outcomes of such experiments. Frankenstein had good intentions: to ensure that his loved ones (and the loved ones of others) don't leave us before their time.

But for all his intelligence, he didn't posses enough to see where his creations/experiments could possibly go, and it turned out to cause more pain, suffering, and death than it did life and happiness.

We believe that Shelley would agree with us, and that she clearly shows this in her novel. As a Romantic, she would have a great appreciation of nature and the natural order - but, at the same time, she would call for scientific advancement due to the experimental-leaning society she grew up in. We feel she would always call for a balanced response: learn and discover enough to better mankind, but always make sure that you can anticipate the repercussions that any "dark" experiments can/might/will bring.


"Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries." Frankenstein, Chapter 4

Frankenstein's curiosity is shown in the above quote, and does show his initial position on the process of attaining knowledge. At this time, there were no reasons for having ethical/moral boundaries, and that the ends justify the means. He even goes so far as to call those boundaries/considerations "cowardice" and "carelessness".

"But I scarcely observed this; rage and hatred had at first deprived me of utterance, and I recovered only to overwhelm him with words expressive of furious detestation and contempt.” Frankenstein, Ch 10

Frankenstein's loathing for his creature is evident. Before, he was so willing to do whatever it took to create such a being, but, after seeing what resulted from his actions, turns on it.

"Man," I cried, "how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom!” Frankenstein, Chapter 23.

This shows Frankenstein's complete 180 in terms of his opinions on the pursuit of knowledge. Originally, he was eager to learn and discover. Later he scorns those who think themselves superior for their "wisdom", and, perhaps by extension, himself.

“Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be his world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.” Frankenstein, Chapter 4.

After he pursues his creation to the far north, perhaps he realizes that his end is near. Frankenstein tries to spread his new message: that ignorance really is bliss.

"What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?" Walton, Chapter 1.

Light is seen as a symbol for knowledge, as a sign of absolute benevolence. But, from what occurs in the novel, we know this to not be entirely true.

"I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on." The creature, Chapter 24.

The repercussions of Frankenstein's discovery of how to create life not only would have an extremely adverse affect on others (I mean, people have died), but it has affected the mental state of his creature. It feels alone, abandoned, and bullied. Frankenstein's ultimate pursuit of knowledge has not only cost Frankenstein dearly, but his family and his "son".

The Modern Connection:

Genetic enhancement is the idea that genetic material is added to the body to modify human traits.Genetic enhancement usually describes making a person better than they were before and to raise all of their performance levels. Animal experiments have tried to improve traits like growth rate and muscle mass. Some of these experiments have been proven to be successful and if given certain drugs, we can treat human diseases and conditions.

This relates to Frankenstein because ultimately Frankenstein is playing God, just like the scientists are who are thinking of genetic enhancement.