The Theme Of Regret In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Unknowingly, we learn from society what is right and wrong through the things we learn, watch, read, or hear. Often times we may not agree with what society says is right and wrong and we forge our own path of right and wrong. Historically humans have always had problems with changing the status quo or what society deems to be normal. We debate on everything from politics to what children should learn in school, to if genetically modified foods are safe for us. Lots of people would say with science evolving, alternating genetic makeup is playing god. In the novel, Frankenstein Mary Shelley warns us of the dangers of stepping outside of social norms and using science to play god.
Shelley puts forth questions that have been repeated over the centuries by many people. She answers them throughout her novel. She says that it is unnatural and that we will soon regret our decision to play god. What exactly is playing god? To play god, in this sense, is to create life unnaturally. In today’s culture, we are genetically engineering a lot of things. Often times this is due to our moral obligations as humans to survive. In today’s society there are many things that could be considered cheating death, and creating life unnaturally, that are oftentimes seen as scientific breakthroughs that are morally justified, like giving chemotherapy to cancer patients, deciding who gets an organ transplant, in-vitro fertilization for women who can’t have babies, and even creating new life through selective breeding. Mary Shelly shows us the unintended dangers of experimentation. She says that it is unnatural and that we will soon regret our decision to play god. So why are some acts of science morally justified when others aren’t? What exactly is wrong about Frankenstein wanting to create life himself? In her novel, Victor goes through many challenges and ultimately fails as a creator. She purposely has him fail to teach us, as readers, that it is not our place to cross the line but also what happens if we do.
Frankenstein begins with a story of a man on a quest to find enlightenment. On his journey, he meets a man named Victor Frankenstein who tells his story of woe through his narration:
You may easily perceive, Captain Walton, that I have suffered great and unparalleled misfortunes. You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been. I do not know that the relation of my disasters will be useful to you; yet, when I reflect that you are pursuing the same course, exposing yourself to the same dangers which have rendered me what I am, I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale, one that may direct you if you succeed in your undertaking and console you in case of failure. From the first few chapters, we can get a lot of foreshadowing where we can guess that this story will be filled with regret.
If we look closely at the time period when Frankenstein was published, we see that this was a time of romanticism and enlightenment. Most enlightenment thinkers during this time followed science instead of religion and were skeptics, much like Victor Frankenstein in the novel. She made Victor an example of what burdens come from the untold areas of science, “Prepare to hear of occurrences which are usually deemed marvelous”. Victor is saying he knows how excited we all can get from scientific discoveries and further explains why we need to take caution seeking this knowledge. He further says “Were we among the tamer scenes of nature I might fear to encounter your unbelief, perhaps your ridicule; but many things will appear possible in these wild and mysterious regions which would provoke the laughter of those unacquainted with the ever-varied powers of nature; nor can I doubt but that my tale conveys in its series internal evidence of the truth”, Mary Shelly brings ideals of her time to further explain herself. She wants us to know that this kind of science is unnatural and will only cause harm and bring you nothing but regret.
In the text, victor’s story is a warning for us all. He goes to college where his interest and curiosity in science is formed. There he creates a monster who he hopes admires him “A new species would bless me as its creator and its source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me’. Afterward he immediately regrets doing this “Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep”. Here we learn of Victor’s regret, he knew instantly that this was a bad idea. After abandoning his creation, the monster is left to learn how to survive for himself.
Upon wandering around, the monster reads Milton’s Paradise Lost and can’t help but compare himself to both Adam and a fallen angel, ‘I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed’, he sees himself as Adam at first but soon aligns him and victor’s relationship with God and the fallen angel. After he gets rejected by his creator, and not having any guidance, life made it into the murderer it became. Within these few pages, Shelly is hoping to instill doubt and possibly fear in the mind of scientist and innovators. Here another lesson is told in the text, scientists who isolate themselves like Dr. Frankenstein did and those who do not fully understand the consequences of their work risk later problems arising from their inventions.
Later in the text, we learn that Victor’s creation becomes a murderer. What can you expect from creation made from a human, humans aren’t perfect so if you are creating life how can that life not be flawed as well. We are not meant to be gods nor are we meant to play as gods. Shelly shows us that this is a consequence of stepping out of line. Some can argue that Shelly could’ve given the monster a fair chance to redeem himself but this shows that she wanted victor to fail so there can be a lesson learned. Without failure or punishment, the lesson would not be learned. Shelly also wants us to witness his failure to educate us that after crossing that line there is no coming back. Victor even realizes all he has lost after creating his monster. Ultimately his creation was the death of him “But such is not my destiny; I must pursue and destroy the being to whom I gave existence; then my lot on earth will be fulfilled and I may die’.
Are the advancements we make in science harmful? Are they considered acts of playing god? Often we wonder when we cross the line and say this is going too far. Or we wonder what can happen when we do cross that line of no going back. What unintended consequences will we face after it’s done? Her novel is a warning to all, once you cross that moral line there is no coming back. She uses her novel as a cautionary tale for all of society to stay away from acts of God. Her way of thinking may be outdated to some and some people would agree. Victor learns that his sorrows are of his doing and if he had not created the monster none of the deaths would have happened. Mary Shelly tells us that any unnatural science will cause you regret, burden, and eventually eternal sadness.
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