The “monstrous” controversy of nurture versus nature in Frankenstein
What makes a person who they are? Is it written in their genetic code or is it their experiences and upbringing? This age old debate about nurture versus nature is explored in the gothic novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley about a man obsessed with creating life and when he finally does, he shuns the creature and is faced with drastic consequences. To provide insight onto the definition of nature and nurture, Sir Francis Galton stated that “nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world; nurture is every influence from without that affects him after his birth”. It is the purpose of this essay to reveal Shelley’s favouritism of nurture over nature in her novel. She supports nurture in this controversial topic by providing exemplary illustrations in the formative years of the monster’s life, during his exposure to the De Lacey family and similar individuals, and through the stories of Victor and Captain Walton.
Just like a new born, the monster was virtuous and naive at the start of his existence and Shelley reminds the audience that though everyone looks different, each person starts life ready to be nurtured. Exactly like a baby, the monster had no previous life experience which left him exploring the world around him on his own, including his discovery of his senses and fire (Shelley 107). He even mentions that “no distinct ideas occupied [his] mind” (Shelley 106). Clearly, Shelley is describing the mind of a young and inexperienced creature whose mental growth is “imbued with Lockean empricisim” or the theory that the mind is a blank slate only “to be written on by observation and sensory experience” (Chao 2). Correspondingly, his reaction towards being “attacked... until, grievously bruised by stones” (Shelley 109) was simply to turn the other cheek and run away. Surely an inherently evil being with supernatural strength would have...
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Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. London: Penguin Classics, 2003. Print.
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