Frankenstein and Nature of Man

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Through all ages of civilization, man strived to learn how he, the society to which he belongs, and the state to which he owes his allegiance came to form the world as he knows it today. Many tried to come up with an answer in their own ways, either scientifically, spiritually or philosophically. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” can be seen as her attempt to solve this problem. Since she was well read, and was familiar with many philosophical ideas, it is doubtless that she used the ones that affected her, in her novel. I will focus on one in particular, Jean Jacques Rousseau; and one of his earlier works: “Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men”. I will try to show how “Frankenstein” can be read as a philosophical quest to discover the true nature of man with the light of Rousseau’s ideas. The story, itself, can be seen as the experiment, to gain knowledge about natural man that Rousseau thought in real life was impossible to carry out.

The state of “natural man” may not even have existed, however it is necessary to at least think of it as a hypothetical state that might help us understand who we really are. Victor Frankenstein gives life to a creature that we can call “natural man” at the beginning. Rousseau says, “I perceive in it two principles that are prior to reason, of which one makes us ardently interested in our well-being and our self-preservation, and the other inspires in us a natural repugnance to seeing (…) our fellow men, perish or suffer”. We can see the Monster is interested in self-preservation, and by instinct, takes care of his hunger, thirst and weariness. (p. 131, ll. 7-14). However in line 16, the Monster says that he instinctively felt desolation as well, before he ever knew there was anybody else like him. Rousseau would have found that impossible, considering he thought, even when man was aware of other men, “without ties, with no need of his fellow men, nor any desire to harm them, perhaps without ever recognizing anyone individually, savage man, self-sufficient and subject to few passions, has only the sentiments and knowledge appropriate to that state; that he felt only his true needs”. Maybe savage man did not feel desolation because he was never so alone as Frankenstein’s Monster. I think here, Shelley may be suggesting that if man was ever so lonely, he would feel this way too. The need for a companion is also innate and maybe the beginnings of the society lied in this fact, along with the need for assistance to overcome difficulities one encounters. Rousseau thought it was not good intentions, but the use of men to each other, that has started dealings between people. Rousseau also said “moral aspect of love is an artificial sentiment, born of social custom (…), being founded on certain notions of merit and beauty that a savage is not in a position to have,”. I think Shelley also suggests that since love comes along with companionship, it is also innate. We know that even before the Monster had any notion of beauty and merit, he felt a kind of love toward De Laceys. He was interested in their world, and wanted to be a part of it. At first he had no way to compare the De Laceys to anyone (he had not even seen himself), therefore, according to Rousseau, he could not have known what beauty was. Yet he still cared for the cottagers (p. 136, ll. 16-35). I think we can safely assume that Shelley thinks love does not have to come with beauty or merit, at least not when one does not have many people among which he can make a choice. This may confirm Rousseau’s idea upto one point but it also tells us that even when there’s no one else, we long to be not-alone, and love may be its consequence when we know when we are physically not alone. Beside his first sentiments and concerns, the way the Monster’s person is built is also like that of savage man as Rousseau contemplated him. Obviously he was not...
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