Rousseau’s ideology of education and nature laid the basic groundwork for many of the Gothic novels. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, was able to forge a bridge of thought that was able to span the chasm formed by the age of reason between the supernatural and reason. As a predecessor of the romantic movement, the Gothic novel was a direct reaction against the age of reason. The predominate idea of the age being that the world which is governed by nature is rationally ordered and given man’s ability to reason, analyze and understand nature, man possesses the innate ability to use nature to create a rational society based on nature’s dominate principles. The Gothic novel allowed the reader to pass from reason and order of the day to a region born of the supernatural which inspired dread and abounds in death and decay as nature’s only true end.
In Frankenstein, Shelley is able to create the antithesis of nature from various aspects of nature itself, creating a monster that is born of death and of decay yet enveloped in Rousseau’s ideology. “It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishments of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, . . . I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breath hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs” (page 56). What was created that night was a creature of vast intellect, raised and educated in the harshest of conditions: Nature. Out of the decay that is nature’s ambivalent end emerged a creature that was the antithesis of all that is natural. Mary Shelley had carefully chosen her genre, the Gothic novel was the only ground to act out the play between reason and the dark regions of horror. The stage was set for the creature to assume Rousseau’s entire educational philosophy that stated: “We are born weak, we need strength; helpless, we need aid; foolish, we need reason. All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man’s estate, is the gift of nature. This education comes to us from nature, from men, or from things . . . God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil”(page 143). This allows society to view the creature with supernatural awe, repulsed at nature’s most dreadful characters, decay and death, even when they form life.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – Society’s Humanity and Oppression
Society’s Humanity and Oppression in Frankenstein
“What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?” This question, posed by Captain Robert Walton on page 22 of Mary Shelley’s immortal Frankenstein, lies susceptible to interpretation to mean the ambition of man in one sense, but in another, the collective persecution and prejudice inherent in mankind.
With austere, scientific accounting of human nature, Shelley documents how zealous Captain Walton rescued Victor Frankenstein, the passionate student of natural philosophy and impetuous, chance creator of life, from death in the remote regions of the North Pole. It is through Walton’s journal entries that readers comprehend Frankenstein’s tale. After animating a lifeless human form, Victor recoiled in terror, afterwards recollecting, “Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath” (56). The monster’s ghastly physical aspect and murder of five people, both directly and indirectly, introduced this instinctual horror to the people he had contact with, including peaceable cottagers. Driven to this homicidal extremity by acute loneliness, the brute pleaded with Frankenstein to imbue life on a female counterpart, that they might never plague humanity again. Frankenstein began to appease this human necessity, but at the essential moment of creation, destroyed her, fueling a bitter vengeance and the final, fatal chase of Frankenstein across pastoral and rustic Europe to the bleak immenses of the North Pole.
Murder, within the standards of any society, would be considered the most heinous, immoral act possible, and readers would condemn Shelley’s monster readily, yet the authoress tr…
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…the violence of the change” (208), a common human handicap. Dashed expectations and social disenchantment endear him to memory through association of traumatic experience mortals claim in their lives. Dispelling any guilt of evil, the entreaty for justice appeals to social values when the monster finishes, “I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned. Was there no injustice in this? Am I to be thought the only criminal when all humankind sinned against me?” (210). Mary Shelley confessed her intent in writing this novel was partially “for the delineating of human passions,” consistent with the prevailing notion of naturalism at the time. Victor Frankenstein had studied natural philosophy and, to a measure, Shelley analyzed nature and its discord with society. Through the wondrous humanity and oppression of the monster, society’s humanity is debated.