The Anti-enlightenment Theory and Frankenstein
The Anti-Enlightenment Theory in Frankenstein. In the Age of the Enlightenment, knowledge is considered power, focusing mainly on reason and science. However, shortly after the 18th century, when this period neared its end, Romanticism started taking root. An era emphasizing individualism, inspiration, and subjectivity, was valued among many liberal writers and activists. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein and one of these writers, used the diabolical twists and turns of Victor Frankenstein’s life to stress that in reality, knowledge is suffering.
Frankenstein displays through the actions of Victor Frankenstein, his monster, and the supporting characters, the flaws in the ideals of the Enlightenment and the righteousness of Romanticism. Shelley saw the Enlightenment as being self-centered, characterized through the archetype of egotism and the disbelief that all is good in the world. Philosophers during the Enlightenment viewed this time period as an opportunity to test the limits of human understanding and to advance scientific reasoning. It was as well, an attempt by many to discourage others of the power of nature.
Victor, an egotistical character, is meant to represent an Enlightenment thinker. He ignores the warnings from his professors at Ingolstadt of the repercussions of his intentions to create a stronger, more superior, human-like creature. He is obsessed with the idea that “a new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (Page 40). Because of his short-sightedness, he suffers the ultimate consequence.Taking place in Chapter 5, after the creation, Victor and the monster have their first interaction. The monster that Victor created is a metaphor for the coming of industrialization to Europe. As the plot thickens, the monster undertakes a rebellious act – killing Victor’s brother, William. This is the climax of the story, showing the consequence of imitating God’s unique ability to create life.
However, Victor doesn’t consider the repercussions of his actions. He sees scientific advancement as a way to improve humanity, and to prove that he is worth something.Victor finds his worth by going on walks up the slopes of Montanvert and this newfound connection to nature is representative of the Romantic views that became more prominent following the Enlightenment. This connection helps him re-establish what he thinks to be his true intentions; that he is, in fact, worth something. However, in a hut on the slopes of Montanvert, the monster confronts Victor, asking that he “create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being” (Page 133). Out of sympathy for the monster, Victor begins to create a female version. Victor refrains from following through with the new invention, representing how the Romanticism in Victor’s character begins to win. In response to this, the monster vows to destroy Victor and everyone he loves. Similarly, because of the fiasco with the De Laceys, Shelley believes that the Enlightenment deprived the poor of their worth.Shelley believes that the poor are important people in the world; they should not be mistreated or threatened by the control of the unknown. Elizabeth, Justine and other women are representative of the poor in this novel. Prior to their discovery of Victor’s creation, the leading female characters in this novel are complacent. They are the vision of Romanticism; representative of the true love the world can offer. Elizabeth and Justine, influential women in Victor’s life, are unaware of the monster Victor has created. Therefore, they are not suffering.
In the Age of the Enlightenment, women and the poor were seen as possessions and were held at a significantly lesser social standing than men and the rich. Shelley discourages this idea by demonstrating that the monster needs a female version of himself to be able to thrive. This novel looks at society through a new lens; representing how Shelley feels females are portrayed in an Enlightenment society and how they are needed in a man’s world.Even though a female character should not be forgotten, another lead character in Frankenstein is a male: Robert Walton. Walton is portrayed as the voice of reason in the novel. He nurses Victor back to health, after his battle with life and death. He listens to the tales Victor tells of a monstrous creature that completely corrupted his life.
The Enlightenment is the monster in this novel, destroying all that is good and providing Victor with knowledge that leads to suffering and paradise being lost.Mary Shelley, a well-renowned English novelist and liberal activist for the prejudices produced before and during the Enlightenment, proved through her prominent Gothic novel that knowledge is suffering. This suffering can only be cured through the individualism, inspiration, and subjectivity produced by Romanticism.
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