Frankenstein By Shelley Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley is a complex novel that was written during the age of Romanticism. This gothic work has enjoyed a wide range of interest and readership for roughly 200 years. Gothic tales have certain elements in common, chief among them being certain universal themes, eerie settings, twisted creatures and a breach in the natural order. Shelly’s “Frankenstein” is a perfect example of a gothic novel. In this book she explores as her main theme the development of evil in an individual when he is subject to rejection by society. She also develops two secondary themes: man’s fear of death, and man’s conflict between morality and science.
These two themes are used to support and clarify the main theme. These themes are as relevant today as when the novel was written. The novel is first and foremost an exploration of the development of the evil in Frankenstein’s monster, which is, a consequence of his rejection by society. Frankenstein created his monster from bits and pieces of human corpses, and brings it to life. Horrified by his actions, he deserts the creature to find its own way in the world.
Hideous in appearance, unable to communicate, and ignorant of his condition, the creature attempts to interact with the people around him. They reject the creature with fear and cruelty, causing him to flee in hiding. The monster falls victim to the system commonly used to characterize a person by only his or her outer appearance. Whether people like it or not, society always summarizes a person’s characteristics by his or her physical appearance. Society has set an unbreakable code individuals must follow to be accepted.
Those who don’t follow the “standard” are hated by the crowd and banned for the reason of being different. When the monster ventured into a town”…children shrieked, and ..women fainted”. From that moment on he realized that people did not like his appearance and hated him because of it. The creature spends several months spying on a family living in a hut, learning to speak and read by watching them. Gradually, he becomes convinced that he needs a companion in order to be complete and goes in search of his creator.
He turns to murder as a method of forcing Frankenstein to acknowledge his existence and meet his demands. When Frankenstein fails him a second time, he again resorts to blackmail and murder. In this novel, Ms. Shelly shows how the creature’s attempts at interaction are met with rejection until finally the creature sees intimidation and extortion as his only recourse. The creature was not born evil, but was forced into evil acts as his only way to force acknowledgment of his existence.
This theme strikes a chord among modern readers, for ours is a society, which places a high value on beauty and empowerment. Those people who are rejected as worthless by our society because they are ugly, clumsy, mentally retarded, or too different from their peers frequently use extreme actions to force acknowledgment of their existence. These acts might include arson, murder, theft, vandalism, and other senseless acts of destruction or violence. Like Frankenstein’s monster, constant rejection breeds not compassion and understanding, but anger and hatred. The main theme of development of evil is supported by a secondary theme of man’s fear of death.
It is this fear of death and decay, which drives Frankenstein to create his monster. He believes that if he can discover the secret of life, then he can cheat death and defeat old age. The fear of death has driven mankind on many searches throughout the ages to find ways of cheating death and avoiding old age. Today, scientists and doctors create new medicines to slow the aging process and defeat diseases, which cause death. They peer further and further into the genetic code of human life in an attempt to understand why we die and to see if they can alter the course of life.
We can understand why Frankenstein created his monster, even if we cannot support his cowardice in abandoning this creation. When Frankenstein abandons his monster, he opens up the theme of the conflict between morality and science. Frankenstein began his experiments with the noblest of intentions, but without thinking about what the consequences of his actions. He failed to consider that simply because something can be done, doesn’t always mean that it should be done, or that the results are not always desirable. He usurped the power of God by creating life, and them compounded his error by recklessly abandoning his creature. Without love and guidance, the creature was forced to become evil.
Frankenstein, in following the goals of science, lost sight of his moral obligations to the life he created. This theme plays directly to some of the attitudes and fears of modern society as we grapple with the questions raised by the development of modern technology in the areas of genetic research, invitro fertilization, and drug research. The question becomes at what point should development be stopped on technology, and when does it become more of an evil than a force for good. Like Frankenstein, society must reconcile science with morality and accept the consequences of those decisions. Morality and science, man’s fear of death, and whether evil is caused by continuous rejection by society are three of the themes explored in this novel.
We as a society are the ones responsible for the transformation of the once child-like creature into the monster we all know. Shelley seemed say, that the public needs to know that our society has flaws and they must be removed before our primal instincts continue to isolate and hurt the people who are different. With such a large amount of technology among us, some people may wonder why such an advanced civilization still clings on to such primitive ways of categorizing people. The themes I’ve discussed are part of what makes the novel so appealing to readers and as relevant in today’s world as it was when it was written. Its themes are universal and address age old questions as to the consequences of actions begun in good faith but ending in disaster.