In Basketball, the play is considered dead when the ball travels out of bounds. Similarly, In the game of life, death is also a consequence when exceeding the bounds of nature. However, this death is eternal, not just a few seconds while a new play and attempt is decided upon. In 1818, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, which cleverly depicts this game of life, and deeply expands on the issue of artificial procreation, elaborating upon the abnormal balance that results from this unusual exploit. Ironically, written during the Age of Reason, Shelley highlights upon the absurdity that results when Victor Frankenstein fails to maintain control of his creation, ultimately leading to his defeat. Examining the societal obsession with the refusal of abnormality, Victor’s significant tinkering of Nature, as well as his lacking representation of heroism throughout the course of the novel, Shelley is warning against the social consequences that unavoidably result from uncontrolled scientific development. However, when considering the structural integration of Robert Walton’s progressive viewpoint that bookends the novel, it is evident that Shelley is actually supporting constrained scientific advancement. Shelley’s pessimism of social units is the foundation for the grave nature of the society portrayed in the novel.
Ignited by patriarchal views glorifying the male domination over females, the wrath that produces from Victor’s unacceptable manipulation of nature, a female representation, signifies the disturbed balance that results when extending the natural boundaries that should be considered in scientific progression. Commenting on when Victor ignores the limitations of procreation by completely omitting the role of the female, Mellor asserts that his “unnatural method of reproduction produces an unnatural being” (282). The perpetual downfall that Victor experiences once crossing these lines reveals the tarnished relationship that he holds with nature consequentially resulting from his betrayal of her laws instilled from the beginning of time. This is exemplified when Victor, after the completion of his toils, states, “â€¦dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete!” (Shelly 45). By instantaneously establishing a horrifically disgusted tone upon the creation of the monster, Shelley detracts all hope for a peaceful outcome as the wrath of nature denies Victor any form of pleasure for his achievement. When Victor’s professor describes modern chemists as having acquired “new and almost unlimited power; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows” (Shelly 33) Victor accommodates a controlling mindset. Glorifying scientists for manipulating nature to their liking, Victor now associates them as beholding powers that match those of God. In her critical essay, Ellen Moers describes Victor as the person “who breaks through normal human limitations to defy the rules of society and infringe upon the realm of God” (219). By placing himself on the same level as God, Victor is implying his control over the forces of nature and supremacy in the outcome of natural affairs. Shelley exposes her opposition to this overextension of natural boundaries in scientific fields by endowing the forces of nature with a thirst for vengeance as Victor is persistently punished for mocking natural procreation. Additionally contributing to his downfall is Victor’s failure to embody the heroic role that is expected of him in defense to this continual chastisement.
Victor’s self-destructive obsession with the pursuit of knowledge and failure to maintain a healthy balance in his life are precursors to his eventual downfall and symbolic of the objections that Shelley holds with uncontrolled scientific progression. Overly immersed with pride and ambition, Victor’s fixation with the fulfillment of his task is the venomous attribute that pushes him to challenge the limits of nature and threatens his bonds with friends and family. As George Levine notes, “what Frankenstein’s ambition costs him is the family connection which makes life humanely possible” (213). Personally lacking familial stability, Shelley is well aware of the importance of healthy relationships. By preventing Victor from maintaining his affairs with family and friends, she portrays her opposition to obligations that prevent this functionality. As he approaches the birth of his creation, Victor expresses, “And the same feelings which made me neglect the scenes around me caused me also to forget those friends who were so many miles absent, and whom I had not seen for a long time” (Shelley 41). Having Victor’s loss of familial connections begin prior to the completion of his creature and conflict with his creation, Shelley incorporates a structure that reveals that the implications of prospective scientific advancement are not just the result of the physical quarrels, but also derive from the complete isolation and loss of contact that occurs upon devotion to scientific progression. When pressured to reinstate stability into his life and prevent the loss of others, Victor’s ultimate disappointment as a protagonist character is reflective of his inability to manage the ramifications of his own actions.
A victim to nature as well as his own creation, Victor’s unsuccessful portrayal of valor and his perpetual downfall are representative of Shelley’s depiction of the chaotic implications that are imposed when taking part in uncontrolled scientific advancement. Being the protagonist of the novel, it is expected that he will triumphantly defeat all evil forces and prevail in rescuing his family and friends. However, Shelley does not endow Victor with these heroic qualities to convey the destructive nature that results from uncontrolled scientific development and how it, in actuality, causes a deterioration in society. After contemplating the gravity of the deaths of Justine and William, Victor proclaims, “From the tortures of my own heart, I turned to contemplate the deep and voiceless grief of my Elizabeth. This was also my doing! And my father’s woe, and the desolation of that late so smiling home-all was the work of my thrice-accused hands!” (Shelley 75). Victor’s foolish manipulation of nature’s boundaries, in effect, has caused the destruction of his home, and due to his several character flaws, Victor is unable to preserve the order that once existed. After the initial creation of the monster, the consequential events unfold in a domino effect, each of Victor’s actions building upon each other until all hope for salvation is diminished. When first introducing Victor, and prior to the account of his life, Shelley immediately establishes a dismally morose tone to accentuate the distressing outcome of Victor’s affairs. By utilizing this foreshadowing structure, Shelley eliminates all prospect of a happy ending and instantly confirms Victor’s failure. By verifying this and portraying him as the anti-hero, Shelley depicts her skepticism in unethically crossing scientific boundaries due to her lack of faith in human capability when placed against uncontrollable forces. However, Shelley has not lost all faith in human capability or scientific progression as is portrayed through the inclusion of Robert Walton in her narrative.
To portray her hope for successful scientific advancement, Shelley integrates the character of Walton into the novel as a representation of precautionary progression. When examining Mary’s knowledge concerning scientific matters, Radu Florescu states, “Theories of spontaneous regeneration of matter were also popular during Mary’s timeâ€¦[however] she had probably a very slim grasp of the theories expounded by Erasmus, Darwin, Sir Humphrey Davy, or the “physiological writers” of Germany” (219-220). Interested in the new and exciting scientific theories, yet lightly educated on their specifics, Shelley advocates scientific progression with a cautious approach. Acting as a foil to Victor, Walton’s positive response to Victor’s toils and contrasting path expose a suitable reaction to excessive ambition. Drawing comparison between the two characters, George Levine comments, “Walter is an incipient Frankenstein, in his lesser way precisely in Frankenstein’s position; ambitious for glory, embarked on a voyage of scientific discovery, putting others at risk for his work, isolated from the rest of mankind by his ambition, and desperately lonely” (210). Shelley constructs similar foundations of both characters to establish a greater contrast between their differing affairs with science. Walton is just as ambitious as Victor is prior to his voyage and exemplifies this when stating, “I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path” (Shelley 3). However, Walton’s ethics overpower his ambition as he is aware of his boundaries and does not threaten them by endangering others against their will. He reluctantly states, “I would not lead them farther north if they strenuously desired the contrary, but I hoped that, with reflection, their courage would return” (Shelley 205). Walton reflects on the reality that the limitations that are being imposed on him, but does not push further, although his passion for science remains. The placement of Walton’s affairs in the novel is reflective of Shelley’s contrasting approach to science.
Due to his constructive reaction to his encounters with Victor, the insertion of Robert Walton in both the beginning and ending of the novel is representative of Shelley’s hope for restricted scientific extension. Shelley introduces an exposition of Walton that is quite similar to that of Victor and is a representation of the mindset in which Victor began upon his self-destructive journey. By having the ordeals of Walton encapsulating those of Victor and the monster, Shelley is able to portray the effect that Victor’s story has had on the outlook of Walton. Commenting on the topic, George Levine proclaims that Walton “is the link between our world and Frankenstein’s, and he is saved by Frankenstein and his difference from him, to return to his country and, significantly, his sister-his one connection with the human community” (213). Walton’s final decision to retreat from his journey and respect the limitations imposed by nature, society, and human nature reveals Shelley’s portrayal of the positive outcome that results when restricting scientific development. Analyzing the impact of Victor’s example, Marilyn Butler notes “Readers, filmgoers, people who are neither, take the very word Frankenstein to convey an awful warningâ€¦don’t get too clever with technology” (302). This lesson is conveyed to Walton whose salvation portrayed in his bookend account gives hope for further controlled scientific progression.
Skeptical of unrestricted motives concerning developments in scientific fields, Mary Shelley effectively directs this cynicism in her novel Frankenstein. The unnatural balance that results from such an escapade is most likely caused from the consequential outcome of the societal obsession with perfectionist ideals, the vengeful wrath of nature in response to Victor’s patriarchal manipulation, as well as Victor’s failure to portray heroism. However, the frame story of Robert Walton and his contrasting characterization to Victor portrays Shelley’s faith in scientific advancement when controlled. In the game of football, if players are cautious about their path, they can focus on the goal and do not have to worry about crossing boundaries. It is when this precautionary mindset is applied to the fields of science that men like Walton, become the Walter Paytons of their time.
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