“Shall I respect man, when he contemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and, instead of injury, I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be; the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union… I will revenge my injuries…” (Shelley 102).
To conclude, Frankenstein holds a mythic status in today’s culture where its ideas have been continuously adapted to the modern fears and debates over science, its products, and its consequences. The work created an immediate emotional connection with the scientists and members of the public during Shelley’s time. Frankenstein depicted a science of life manipulation that saw its birth through the work of contemporaries, such as Erasmus Darwin and Luigi Galvani, to Mary Shelley. The nineteenth century would see the origin of biological science, but since then, an unprecedented mastery, understanding, and control over nature has been achieved. The work played with the period’s fears of science overstepping its bounds through its violations of what is sacred/natural, and it is these exact fears that have persisted to the present day. Through the twenty-first century emergence of more advanced means of controlling nature, such as genetic engineering, it appears that Frankenstein’s more dominant, and enduring ideas, is its cautioning against a wanton manipulation (violation) of life. This enduring thread is a mythic theme that now lives outside of the novel, with many individuals being exposed to it without having read the original work. Its prevalence can be felt in modern scientific debates over issues such as genetically modified crops, where activists against the technology see them as a violation of nature and, thus, the products are appropriately labeled “frankenfoods,” “frankencrops,” or “frankenseeds.”
Upon a close reading, however, it seems that this cautionary element of Frankenstein is not its most relevant, or even salient, point. Frankenstein, above the rest of its mythic meanings, is a call to action for scientists, and members of the public, to nurture and take care of scientific artifacts. The true cause of suffering in the work was not the monster’s “unnatural” birth, nor Victor’s hubris, but rather Victor’s abandonment and humanity’s subsequent rejection of the monster. This is illustrated explicitly in the novel through the creature’s descent into violence. Born benevolent and good, the monster only became monstrous through the neglect, hatred, and abuse of others. With Victor Frankenstein being the one to abandon the monster, the case can be made that he is the true monster of the novel. It is suggested that Victor’s actions alone are responsible for the all the suffering that the creature enacts. Following that the creation’s nature is good and that Victor’s intention was to help mankind through the animation of the creature, it seems that the story is not primarily about warning against “unnatural” science.
The biggest problem to be found in Frankenstein is a collective one. Victor Frankenstein, as a creator, has a duty to the monster that he later fails due to his disgust towards the creation. Other humans, such as the De Lacey’s, reject the creature immediately through a similar prejudice against his appearance. This shared revulsion, or rejection, of the monster is the novel’s true root of suffering. Humanity today acts as both the creator and created with our existence enmeshed with technology and science. A modern rejection of technological artifacts, like with Frankenstein’s monster, is bound to result in negative consequences. Like all creators, we have a duty towards our creations that should never be violated. If we coldly reject our creations and fail to care for them, it can be guaranteed that they will not serve us. Like in the case of Frankenstein’s monster, if our creations are neglected, denied, or abused, they may even make matters worse for us. Physician and medical ethicist MGH Bishop illustrates this primary theme clearly: “Read the book and weep for those we have rejected, and fear for what revenge they will exact… (Bishop 753). With a future of further and greater technological advancement, the haunting of science by Frankenstein is bound to endure.
Image: In confronting the artifacts that we make through our nature as creators, humanity needs to form a just response. Some creations may appear to be indicative of the darker aspects of humanity, or seem to be violations of nature. Whatever the basic emotional response to scientific products are, the worst situation is the harboring of hatred for scientific products, and their subsequent rejection. As creators we have a duty to see that what comes out of science is cared for and managed, and a violation of this has consequences. Image depicts a stylized Frankenstein’s monster. Illustration by CRAIG & KARL, via Science Magazine.
Bishop, M. G. H. “The makyng and re-making of man: 2. Mary Shelley, or, the modern Pandora, and gene therapy.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, vol. 87, no. 12, Dec. 1994.
Frankenstein, CRAIG & KARL, via Science Magazine. 2018.