Essay on Safe vs. Dangerous Pursuit of Knowledge in Frankenstein

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is the early nineteenth’s century novel that represents the period of great scientific discoveries and demonstrates the ambiguity of science and the duality of knowledge. In the novel, on the one hand, it is viewed as a powerful tool assisting to achieve the goals and dreams and, on the other hand, it serves an incarnation of danger it brings with it if not properly controlled. The novel regarded as the whole unity reveals the subtle contradictory nature of knowledge and by the example of Frankenstein the work demonstrates the inexhaustible thirst for it. In the age when science fiction more and more often turns out to be reality the issues raised trouble humanity at all times and in all places.

Frankenstein’s most obvious theme deals with the pursuit and ultimate thirst for knowledge, it makes professor Victor Frankenstein create a monster that is paradoxically an unsurpassed scientific creation and a disastrous source of devastation. Having created a new life Frankenstein is persistently followed by death that is brought by the new life. The scientist is fascinated with the concept of life creation and is relatively passive towards the deaths of the people dear to his heart seemingly taking them for granted.

At first sight Frankenstein’s discovery appears to be merely a catastrophe, a fatal error of the creator that will never be accepted and understood by the society. He turns out to be unable to apply his encyclopedic knowledge and uncover the true principle of life. Influenced by the alchemists Victor understands science as product-oriented activity and has no social context for it. Shelley portrays how Frankenstein masterfully uses his knowledge of electricity, biology and chemistry, but shows no commitment to the application of his knowledge for the benefit of society.

Viewed from another perspective the scientist is seized with his pursuit for knowledge that is enlightens him and draws a gap between him and those ignorant miserable people who do not strife for knowledge. The professor views knowledge metaphorically, using in chapter 2 such phrases as: “the threshold of knowledge”¯, “a very slough of multifarious knowledge”¯ and applies creative thinking calling the pursuit for knowledge “a voyage of discovery to the land of knowledge”¯ in chapter 5. His knowledge “elevates him to heaven”¯ and the inspired scientist ardently relates to Walton: “I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation”¯. Hence the novel implies so called “good”¯ knowledge and “bad”¯ knowledge, the former symbolizes light and the latter symbolizes fire. The natural world hides mysteries that might bring out any consequences, even unexpected ones. On the other hand, without light a man walks in darkness being so weak and unprotected. However, we cannot say that all scientific discoveries are destructive, some of them turn out extremely dangerous, so Victor himself says: “Learn from me”¦ at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge”¯, he also asserts decisively that “one man’s life or death were but a small price for the acquirement of knowledge”¦ for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the element foes of our race”¯. It clearly demonstrates how uncontrolled pursuit for knowledge without any moral, ethical or religious limitations leads Victor to knowledge generation without understanding it. Still one cannot deny that Frankenstein makes a moral choice as he doubts the prospect of creating a female monster. His knowledge is not just science without morality and though Victor doubts and regrets, he is unable to restrain his curiosity and challenges his mind questioning if it has enough knowledge to implement his plan and create the new life. Victor is destined to create a monster not for the communal benefit, but for his own pleasure and take pride in what he has done. The monster as a perfect embodiment of Frankenstein’s knowledge will always be viewed by society as something alien and unacceptable.

The monster might be considered punishment for Frankenstein’s ruthless and unchecked pursuit of knowledge. But isn’t it a great gift and a reward for making his disparate efforts and doing his utmost? Wasn’t the risky operation actually a success or an unwarrantable leap in the dark? Victor was unwilling to accept the natural limits and was brave enough and well-grounded with profound knowledge of chemistry, medicine and natural philosophy. His creation enters the world without precedent and therefore it is doomed.

Frankenstein later has to bear the heavy burden of his discovery, but the creation as a scientific work is a great break-through and though this enthusiasm is bordering with obsession, it seems to be effective and might be the only worthy way to pursue knowledge. I believe that the majority of explorations have been made by such motivated, easily infatuated and risky people. Any thirst for knowledge is always noble and rewarding, it counterbalances ignorance and indifference that are virtually in abundance in modern world.

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