Frankenstein Challenging Extreme Romantic and Enlightenment Ideologies

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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein like all texts is far from neutral, acting as a site to challenge and/or endorse certain ideologies. Published in the 19th century, it follows the journey of three characters amidst the influence and conflict of extreme Romantic and Enlightenment ideologies. Mary Shelley experienced much heartbreak, suicide and sorrow with the intense Romantic lifestyle she had chosen to adopt with Percy Shelley and it can be argued that Frankenstein is a critique of radicalism as revealed by her comment ‘I earnestly desire the good and enlightenment of my fellow creatures... but I am not for going to violent extremes, which duly bring injurious reaction…I have no wish to ally myself with Radicals - they are full of repulsion to me - violent without any sense of justice - selfish in the extreme - talking without knowledge’ (Frankenstein, Penguin Edition, pg 12). Through various literary devices, Frankenstein acts as a site to challenge the extremes of the two conflicting ideologies of Romanticism and Enlightenment, which result in natural boundaries being broken and a multitude of consequences.

Frankenstein firstly criticises the visionary or idealistic lack of reality that Romanticism promoted, an ideology connoting fantasy and fiction that is often not possible and leads to failure, destruction and ruin upon an individual and the wider society. The novel opens with Robert Walton’s letters to his sister making use of strong visual imagery to describe his journey to discover the arctic. His words have strong Romantic influences as he describes his wild and almost childlike fantasy to travel to an unexplored land and discover great secrets. His opening letter reads ‘Inspirited by this wind of promise my daydreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight.’ (Pg 1). Here his emotion becomes somewhat of a force that consumes his mind, repelling any logic or reality ‘the pole is the seat of frost of desolation’. Instead such emotion becomes fervent which connotes a sense of desperation that consumes his mind and allows for nothing but an unrealistic imagination. The word ‘daydreams’ connotes ideas about a childlike fantasy, which to many readers alike is known to be filled with naivety. Children are unable to make logical decisions and as such are guided by their parents, they have no perception to understand the world with a clear mind. As such Shelley connects such a Romantic ideal with a naïve childlike state which is far too riddled with emotion and void of logic which without guidance will undoubtedly lead to dire consequences as is with the case of Walton.

Walton’s fantasy to reach the Arctic lead to both failure and the almost death of himself and his crew before his vivid emotional passion became less extreme and he realized the illogical state of his mind and the dangers it posed. Shelley uses strong visual imagery to describe the setting and caesura to influence the tone of Walton’s voice to portray the potential consequences of Walton’s ‘fervent’ ‘imagination’. In the latter half of his letters he reveals ‘I am surrounded by mountains of ice, which admit of no escape, and threaten every moment to crush my vessel…Yet it is terrible to reflect that the lives of all these men are endangered through me. If we are lost, my mad schemes are the cause.’ (Pg 266) The description of the setting ‘mountains of ice’ could be symbolic of a natural boundary man should not cross - as mountain ranges are often used as boundaries such as the Himalayas. Walton comes to realize this peril as the use of caesura creates a broken sentence structure and portrays his fear as he realises his ‘madness’ could kill them all. However with this realization, some logic returns to his state and this allows him to save himself and his crew before it is too late. Although his expedition...
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