Too Much of a Good Thing
Too much knowledge can be dangerous. This idea is clearly illustrated throughout Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. Three of Shelley’s characters, Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and the monster all share a thirst for knowledge that ultimately leads to downfall in one way or another. The human race has always existed, and hopefully will continue to exist, in an ever evolving, dynamic, society. For this to be possible people need to have a desire for knowledge. The want to explore, to create new things, and to have a greater understanding of the world we live in should all lead to better and greater things, right? I think Shelley would agree with me when I say more isn’t necessarily better.
Shelley’s Frankenstein comes full circle. The novel starts out with letters written from Robert Walton to his sister Margaret Saville. His letters illustrate his journey and his encounter with Victor Frankenstein. The reader then gets to hear Frankenstein’s story, finishing back again with Walton. Robert Walton embarked on a journey to the North Pole. He sought to find territory untouched by other man. What he found turned out to be more than just barren ice.
In a search for knowledge and uncharted land, Walton departed for the sea. Often overwhelmed with loneliness, he persevered. Feeling as though something deep within
him was guiding him onward. Walton proclaimed that for most of his life he was self-taught. He said as a child he mostly read books about voyages and poetry. Now, in writing this letter to his sister, he realized he is not nearly as educated as he should be. Walton chose from an early age to ignore mainstream education and take finding knowledge into his own hands. He did not appreciate the knowledge that he could have acquired right in front of him. Instead he thought bigger was better and lacked a single friend to share his experiences with.
Walton’s ship eventually came across a very intriguing character, Victor Frankenstein. He made it clear that he would only board the ship if they were headed north. Walton and the crew found this very strange, as Frankenstein was very ill. Frankenstein was so determined to travel north, even though it seemed it might very well be the death of him. A few days later Walton learned more about the fire fueling Frankenstein’s resolute desire.
Frankenstein’s journey for knowledge led to a life of misery. Upon meeting Walton he warns him, “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” (Shelley15). This quote implies that Frankenstein believes the creation of the monster was what led to his downfall. In reality, his downfall began long before the monster was ever created.
Victor Frankenstein had a strong desire to learn as a young child. He was fascinated with the sciences. However, he had strong opinions about whom he wished to learn from. He spent all of his time studying the work of older scientists. When he was told that he wasted time on this and that new findings had been made since then, he only grew angry. Interestingly enough, his obsession with science continued and possibly even grew stronger. Unfortunately, Frankenstein ended up becoming so obsessed that he devoted his entire life to acquiring more knowledge.
Frankenstein’s obsessions led him to create a new life form. He was so busy trying to create new life that he completely ignored the life he had in front of him. His quest for knowledge was a selfish quest of sabotage, not only of himself but also of those around him. Frankenstein was so deeply involved in this undertaking that he, like Walton, completely isolated himself. He took no notice to his friends, family, and soon to be wife. Frankenstein’s thirst for knowledge went too far and led to one disaster after another.
Not only did Frankenstein ruin the life he had and the lives of those around him, but the life that he created for the monster was also a terrible one. Right after his creation came to life he immediately abandoned it, horrified with the result of all of his efforts. Literary critic Phillip Allingham stated the following quote regarding the monster’s abandonment: “The fault is not the monster's but his creator's; the monster is a sympathetic consciousness trapped in a repulsive form that even Victor, his mother-and-father, detests” (Allingham).
Author Mary Shelley put the monster in a very interesting situation in her novel. The monster was the result of a quest for knowledge that was taken beyond a reasonable limit. However, although the monster was very unappealing in many ways it was also very intelligent. The monster was, like Walton and Frankenstein, able to take education into his own hands. After his abandonment, the monster began his own journey for a greater understanding of the world and himself. Unfortunately, this only led to a very unhappy life and more destruction.
Living next to the De Lacey’s cottage, the monster was able to teach himself to speak and read. He was also able to observe human nature. By observing the De Laceys, the monster also developed human-like emotions. When the De Laceys rejected the monster he was completely devastated and devoted his life to seeking revenge on his creator. The moment of rejection was the turning point where knowledge became yet another downfall. Had the monster lived in ignorance or had been satisfied with a limited amount of knowledge he may have enjoyed the life that he was given. The more he learned the more he wanted to learn. This desire for knowledge made him more and more human. Unfortunately, he was never going to be accepted into society. He learned to long for a mate and companionship. When he realized this was not possible he learned to hate the man who created him.
Jerrold Hogle, from the University of Arizona, reflects in his writing about the dangerous enticement of knowledge, “Frankenstein's desires and errors could be universalized to apply to many individuals who have, as Walton has, dreamed of an ultimate discovery” (Hogle). The monster, Walton, and Frankenstein have all experienced the affects of wanting too much of a good thing. The desire for knowledge is a necessity, but when taken too far knowledge can have devastating affects, not only for the scholar but also the ones around him.
Allingham, Phillip. “Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" (1818) — A Summary of Modern
Criticism”. The Victorian Web. January 24. 2003. October 23. 2011. http://www.victorianweb.org/previctorian/mshelley/pva229.html.
Hogle, Jerrold. “Frankenstein’s Dream”. Romantic Circles Praxis Series. Ed. Orrin
Wang. October 23. 2011. http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/frankenstein/hogle/hogle.html.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Bantam Dell, 1981. Print.
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