The Human Genome Project, which has attracted its fair share of controversy, set out in the early 1990s to map all 25,000 genes of the human genome ("About"). The hope was that such discoveries would provide a roadmap to the specific genes which could "allow us to accurately predict who will develop heart disease, become violent, or become homosexual" (Young). Psychologists, however, have countered this process by pointing out the importance of environmental factors to overall social development. Professor Robert Plomin of the Institute of Psychiatry in London says that "individual differences in complex traits are due at least as much to environmental influences as they are to genetic influences" (qtd. in Young). This is, in essence, a modern-day battle of nature versus nurture. In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein the conflict is perfectly encapsulated in the character of the monster; is he inherently evil and bloodthirsty, or did harsh societal treatment force him to be that way? It is an age-old question, still yet to be solved. However, through her writing and characterization it becomes clear that the monster began life as fresh and innocent as a regular newborn baby. He only became a true "monster" in the archetypal sense after enduring hatred and isolation at the hands of the humans he so longed to be. He is, in effect, nurtured into being the murderer that he becomes. Despite his unnatural birth, Frankenstein's creation still exudes the freshness and naivety of a young child discovering things for the first time. The prime example of this is his discovery of fire: "I found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars...in my joy I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain" (Shelley 89). He obviously has no life experiences to guide his actions and spends his first few weeks investigating and trying to understand the world around him, much like a newborn would. He even says that "no distinct ideas occupied my mind" (Shelley 88). This is not a being born a raving lunatic, his mind awash with murderous thoughts. He is simply a blank slate. Once he begins to distinguish light and sound, he continues his fresh exploration, discovering such things as animals, foliage, and warmth. At one point he wanders into an old man's hut, scaring him off. He doesn't intend to cause the man harm, nor does the reaction his appearance receives cause him any emotional distress or give rise to vengeance. He is not the being that he is by the end of the novel, a clear indication of the influence of social and environmental factors on development. In fact, it is not until he sees the De Lacey family for the first time that he begins to truly grasp basic emotions like happiness and sadness; until that point he had only known physical pain and hunger. The De Laceys are essentially the monster's first nurturers, however unknowing they may be. By observing them he becomes aware of human relationships, human emotions, and even human history. He develops a high level empathy for the family; their trials and tribulations were his, and when their were sad so was he. In a way he is exhibiting a highly pure and limited form of emotional expression and understanding for, much like a very young child or even a pet, his own feelings are greatly influenced by, and reflective of, those around him. Since the family provides the basis for the monster's impression of humans, he originally thinks fairly highly of them. The monster, who had started out taking some of their food for his own survival, stopped doing so when he "found out that in doing this [he] inflicted pain on the cottagers" (Shelley 96). To make amends he instead gathers firewood for them, and is filled with satisfaction upon knowing that he saved them from even a small amount of hardship. It is from the De Laceys that he first learns of kindness and love, and of the bonds of family and friendship. If he was truly born a monster it is...
Cited: "About the Human Genome Project." Human Genome Project Information. 15 Oct. 2008. U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. 11 March 2009.
Popenoe, David. Life Without Fathers. 2000. Mensightmagazine.com. 2000. 10 March 2009.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. New York: Bantam Books, 1818.
Young, Emma. "Nature versus Nurture." BBC News. 30 May, 2000. 10 March, 2009.
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