Rousseau's Philosophy in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Topics: State of nature, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mary Shelley Pages: 4 (1273 words) Published: November 30, 2006
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the titular character states that "If [man's] impulses were confined to hunger, thirst and desire, [he] might nearly be free" (Shelley, 97). With this assertion, Victor imparts his belief that man is most content in the state of nature; a state where only his most primal needs must be fulfilled in order to be satisfied. Man in his natural state is the central topic in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophic essay A Discourse on Inequality, an academic work that had tremendous influence on Shelley. Shelley uses three of Rousseau's major beliefs as fundamental elements of Frankenstein; man is most content in the state of nature, society is what corrupts him and once corrupted, he can never return to his natural state. These concepts are exemplified by the monster in nature, the monster in society and Frankenstein on his retreat in the Chamounix valley. Shelley applies Rousseau's philosophy as a method of commentary on the adverse effects that modern society has on humanity. The monster begins his existence as Rousseau's ‘Natural Man, living according to his basic needs and as a result is contented. Rousseau states that natural man is blessed with an enviable total freedom because he is not a slave to the artificial needs that civilized man has created for himself, such as companionship and the quest for greater knowledge (Edwards). As Frankenstein's nascent creation ventures out into the countryside, he is not lonesome- though he wanders through the wilderness unaccompanied- because natural man's few dealings with other humans are solely for reproductive purposes (Edwards). According to the philosopher, "Food (…) and rest are the only good things for natural man; the only evils are pain and hunger" (Edwards). As such, at the start of his journey the monster's only concerns are his "fatigue, (…) hunger and thirst" (Shelley, 103). Hardships endured by the creature as natural man are due to innate weaknesses, and are easily...
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