The motive of Nature vs. Technology in Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein nature is purity and innocence in a vile, corrupt world. It is freedom and serenity and holds the power to overwhelm human emotion and make dismay small and insignificant in comparison to the essence of nature. Nature even has tremendous effect on Victor; it becomes his personal physician and personal therapy when he undergoes torment and stress. Technology, however, causes Victor to experience a much more negative effect. By causing sorrow and pain, Shelley communicates with the reader that humanity is advancing in technology too rapidly and at an immoral rate, and is even challenging nature’s role in the world.
Through the use of contrasting technology and nature, Shelley effectively determines the essential message of technology possessing no role in nature’s domain.
Since the Industrial Revolution had pervaded all part of European and British society by the time of her writing, Shelley questions how far the current wave of advances should push the individual in terms of personal and spiritual growth.
She conveys the impression that perhaps the technological advances made to date rob the soul of growth when man becomes too dependent on technology. Personal freedom is lost when man is made a slave to machines, instead of machines being dominated by man.
Thus, Victor becomes a lost soul when he tries his ghastly experiments on the dead and loses his moral compass when he becomes obsessed with animating the dead. Victor’s overindulgence in technology takes away his humanity, and he is left with the consequences of these actions without having reasoned out the reality that his experiments may not have the desired effects. His obsession with technology caused the deaths of everyone close to him, including his wife, and left Victor with nothing but an insane thirst for revenge. This downfall is solely caused by his ambitious attempt to improve technology, and Shelley communicates this notion clearly.
Shelley uses nature as a restorative agent for Victor. While he seems to be overcome with grief by the murders of his friends and family, he repeatedly shuns humanity and seeks nature for health, relaxation and to strengthen his spirits. By chapter five of the first volume, Shelley creates a connection between Victor and nature. Instead of describing his moods with metaphor, as in earlier images, she describes his recovery from grave illness through his affinity with nature. Although nursed by his closest friends, it is the breathing of the air that finally gives him strength: “my health and spirits had long been restored, and they gained additional strength from the salubrious air I breathed, the natural incidents of our progress” (Shelley 43). The air is not simply necessary for life; Victor is so taken with it that he actually gains strength from it that he had not had before. The use of the word salubrious, defined as “to bring health,” reinforces an intention to promote air, and through corollary, nature, as a restorative agent. Throughout Frankenstein, it is nature, not other people that keeps Victor healthy enough to continue living a relatively sane life.
The best illustrations of Shelley’s use of nature are found after the deaths of Victor’s brother William and Justine, the family’s servant. Having been murdered by his wretched creation of technology, his brother’s death deeply affects Victor, and he falls into a deep despair. His condition is so terrible that he cannot find solace in his friend Henry, and while he hurries off to his family in Geneva, it is nature that heals him and allows him to maintain his sanity: “I contemplated the lake: the waters were placid; all around was calm, and the snowy mountains, “the palaces of nature,” were not changed. By degrees the calm and heavenly scene restored me, and I continued my journey towards Geneva.”
As he approaches his family in Geneva, the curative effects begin to fade, and reunion with his family does little to help Victor’s mood. His exclamations to the mountain are more passionate than nearly any other in the story, and so it seems that his relationship with nature goes beyond what he can have with his family or any human. Thus, Shelley proves that primitive nature is more helpful to Victor than the technology he creates, due to the curative powers of nature and the destructive ways of his creation.
Nature is far more important to Victor’s health and sanity than the advancement of technology in the story, and the depictions of natural settings become numerous and redundant as Frankenstein unfolds. While Victor claims to be destroyed by the monster’s (technology) murdering of his friends and family, he seems to be drawn repeatedly to nature for support. His obsession with nature seems more and more inane as he shuns humanity again and again, but perhaps it is simply part of Victor’s flaws or even a rejection of himself. Whatever the reason, Shelley remains clear concerning the healing power of nature and annihilation caused by technology.
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