Frankenstein, speaking of himself as a young man in his father’s home, points out that he is unlike Elizabeth, who would rather follow “the aerial creations of the poets”. Instead he pursues knowledge of the “world” though investigation. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that the meaning of the word “world” is for Frankenstein, very much biased or limited. He thirsts for knowledge of the tangible world and if he perceives an idea to be as yet unrealised in the material world, he then attempts to work on the idea in order to give it, as it were, a worldly existence. Hence, he creates the creature that he rejects because its worldly form did not reflect the glory and magnificence of his original idea. Thrown, unaided and ignorant, into the world, the creature begins his own journey into the discovery of the strange and hidden meanings encoded in human language and society. In this essay, I will discuss how the creature can be regarded as a foil to Frankenstein through an examination of the schooling, formal and informal, that both of them go through. In some ways, the creature’s gain in knowledge can be seen to parallel Frankenstein’s, such as, when the creature begins to learn from books. Yet, in other ways, their experiences differ greatly, and one of the factors that contribute to these differences is a structured and systematic method of learning, based on philosophical tenets, that is available to Frankenstein but not to the creature.
Frankenstein speaks fondly of his youth because his parents were “indulgent” and his companions were “amiable” (21). His parents’ policy in the education of their children is that there should neither be punishment nor “the voice of command” (26). Instead, they encourage their children to pursue their studies with vigor by “having the end placed in view”(21) and by having them discover the process by which to reach the end and not by making them learn tedious lessons. Frankenstein’s testimony to this is that he learnt better and retained his knowledge well. The approach to Frankenstein’s education in the home is strongly influenced by Rousseau, one of the most eloquent writers of the Age of Enlightenment. In his influential novel Emile, Rousseau expounded a new theory of education that emphasises the importance of expression rather than repression to produce a well-balanced and free-thinking child. His theory also led to more permissive and psychologically oriented methods of childcare. A child brought up according to these precepts is significantly more a free man than those who were not because part of the hidden syllabus allows for the constant discovery of new processes and methods and another part denies the past scholarly masters from having too strong an ideological and pedantic hold on the newer generations. It is a unique combination of structure and liberty that one finds here and it is this combination that produced the modern day disciple of Alberta Magnus and Paracelsus in Frankenstein, who forges his ancient fantasies with modern scientific tools.
The creature, on the other hand, is an untamed and extreme version of the free individual. Without the support and shelter of a family, and the systematic approaches of an education system, the creature nevertheless gains an education of sorts. And he does this by reacting to his basic needs for shelter, food, warmth and company. In her book, Mary Shelly: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, Anne Mellor argues that the creature is Mary Shelly’s allusion to Rousseau’s “noble savage” who is “a creature no different from the animals, responding unconsciously to the needs of his flesh and the changing conditions of his environment.”(47) In the debate on the importance of nature versus nurture, Mellor explains that Frankenstein shows nurture to be crucial because the creature “rapidly discovers the limitations of the state of nature and the positive benefits of a civilisation grounded on...
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