Frankenstein: The Danger of Knowledge

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“It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being in to the lifeleless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs” (Shelley, 34). Thus begins the horror in Mary Shelley’s well-known gothic, romantic fiction, Frankenstein. This literary work, published in 1818, tells the story of a young scientist who comes upon the secrets to create life. The novel begins with the correspondence of letters between Captain Robert Walton, a young English explorer in pursuit of discovering the Northwest Passage, to his sister Margaret Saville. The first few letters in the novel recount to Margaret the progress of Walton’s voyage. Upon reaching a plot of impassable ice, Walton encounters Victor Frankenstein upon a slab of ice, and brings him aboard the ship. As Walton nurses the dreadfully weakened Frankenstein back to help, his vigor for seeking success and the unknown leads Frankenstein to relate the story that led to his misfortune. Frankenstein begins relating his story to Walton. He tells Walton about his family and childhood in Geneva. Frankenstein recounts of his love for science and seeking out the causes of things since he was very young. Upon coming upon the works of Cornelius Agrippa, Frankenstein is enraptured with philosophy and the thought of creating life. This love led Frankenstein to attend the University of Ingolstadt, where he studied chemistry and natural philosophy. As his time passed there, Frankenstein became increasingly obsessed with discovering the secret of life. This led to a continual pouring and dedication to that one area, until he at last discovered it. Upon discovering the secret of life, Frankenstein poured himself into forming a human from old, decaying body parts and brings to life his creation. Though he initially began praising his creation, his joy soon turns to horror at realizing the grotesque, appalling being he created. Frankenstein flees from the creature, and returns to find it gone. As the novel progresses, each of Frankenstein’s loved ones is killed, and he vows himself to seek out the creature and destroy it. The novel shares the story of the incidents that led up to the creation of the monster and the sad destruction of the innocent affected by one man’s unharnessed passion to seek knowledge no matter the cost. Throughout the novel, Shelley portrays the theme of the danger of knowledge in the characters of Walton, Frankenstein, and the creature. Mankind, since its beginning, has always had a great thirst and craving for knowledge. In Frankenstein, Shelley seems to question the wisdom in such a pursuit and sends a precautionary warning to those who read it. This thirst for knowledge, though it can be a blessing and beneficial, can become a dangerous endeavor. The first character that Shelley introduces that shares this passion for knowledge and the unknown is Robert Walton. At the beginning of the story, Walton begins by writing to his sister and informs her of his yearning to seek out the unknown. Walton expressed to his sister how she cannot imagine the benefit that he would, “confer on all mankind to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many months are requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine” (Shelley, 20). This quote exemplifies from Walton’s letter how passionately he sought out after knowledge. After Walton finds Frankenstein and brings him aboard, he explains his pursuit to Frankenstein. Walton...
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