Fear of the Power of Science in Frankenstein

Some readers have seen the novel as an illustration of the fear of the power of science. To what extent do you agree with this view of the novel? There are many different readings of ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley, first published in 1818. The traditional reading sees the novel being about a man getting punished by God for crossing his domain. Many different Gothic themes are used in the novel to create a sense of fear in the audience, not just in the fear of science but the fear of the power of science and the influence this power has on Victor’s character. Frankenstein’ serves as a warning to others of the power of science and creates a sense of fear in the audience. One of the key ways Shelley creates this fear is through the juxtaposing references to nature, helping to serve as a warning. In the midst of Chapter Four, when Victor is engrossed in his work, a paragraph is added describing the beauty and nature around him. Through describing the outside world as ‘beautiful’, Victor is admitting that the world is already beautiful and by ignoring that, he is being ignorant.
If Victor had left his house, maybe the beauty of the world could have lifted him out of his depression and stopped the future events. This sense of foreshadowing in the novel creates the sense of fear in the power placed in Victors hands; he knows he is wrapped up in his work ‘neglect the scenes around me’, and through this unhealthy obsession is left with nothing. By adding the beauty of the summer months it further highlights how obsessive Victor had become as time speeds up and months pass within a short section of the novel. The language used in ‘Frankenstein’ to describe his task is interesting to note.
The opposing views throughout the novel, adds the retrospective notion towards the story, as he is telling the story having learnt his lesson. ‘If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste… then that study is certainly unlawful’. The sense that Victor has learnt from his mistake, creates the interpretation that ‘Frankenstein’ is a morality tale. Morality tales flourished in the 16th century and were often seen as personifications of good and evil usually involved in the struggle for a man’s soul. Victor, the rotagonist, can be seen as a representative of society as a whole, with Victor representing the many scientific discoveries at the time. During the 19th Century, Science was controversial as it questioned many fundamental religious beliefs such as Creation and God. Shelley uses the novel of ‘Frankenstein’ to address the problems with advancements in science and the fundamental consequences of those playing God, thus creating a sense of fear of the power that many were acquiring at the time. The setting is an important feature in Gothic literature and the fact that Victor has isolated himself is influential in the structure of the novel.

Victor describes where he works as a ‘solitary chamber’ or ‘cell’ implying he has trapped himself there. This fuels his obsession in creating his ‘monster’ as he has little or no contact with the outside world. The negative description of the room where he works, ‘workshop of filthy creations’ and ‘slaughter house’, creates a dark and creepy atmosphere in the novel, with this use of darkness evident throughout and a key concept in Gothic Literature such as ‘Dracula’. The isolation he creates adds a sense of fear not only to science but a fear towards Victor as his obsession could lead to him becoming crazy.
Although one could presume that a fear of science is being created, this can be argued. Many would argue that actually it is the fear of the unknown that is evident in ‘Frankenstein’. Victor is exploring something that no one has ever done and thus the path to his discovery, although with good intentions, is flawed. During the 19th Century, the new scientific discoveries were controversial with many going against Religion. The description used such as ‘fire tissue’ and ‘sizzling light’ of lightning, reflects Victors experiments with conducting electricity through organisms.
During the time, Johann Willhelm Ritter, had done experiments whereby he would pass electricity from metal conductors into frog’s legs and this is referred to in the novel. Ketterer says that Shelley’s awareness and fascination with the big scientific discoveries of her day is highlighted in the 1831 version of Frankenstein, where Victor asks his father to demonstrate that lightning is electricity. The novel ‘Frankenstein; is a response to these scientific advancements acting as a warning to those playing god ‘How dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge’ creating fear in the unknown not just in science.
Following on from the fear of the unknown, some would argue that it is also the fear of change in ‘Frankenstein’. Religion was a fundamental part of society and many believed that Science was a usurper to Religion and many would still believe that today. ‘In other studies you have gone to where others have gone before’. Unlike subjects such as History, Victor believes Science is about change and therefore oversteps the boundaries of discovery; it is the reference to the sublimeness of his task that makes this more evident. ‘In scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder’.
The fear not only in the power of science but in the ‘discovery’ is clear in ‘Frankenstein’ with continual conflict between the two. The novel describes the ultimate consequence of those attempting to cross two of Gods domains, ‘man’ and ‘God’. Victor creates the monster, which challenges the advancement of technology during the industrial revolution and thus a fear of industry and scientific advancement, not necessarily the direct fear of science. The fear of the power of science is a concept that can be seen clearly in ‘Frankenstein’.
Although, it can be argued that it is the fear of the unknown or change, the real fear is in the power of Science. Victor’s obsession with science allows him to feel powerful and thus make mistakes, that when retrospectively telling the story he is able to recount and acknowledge. The power placed in Victors hands when he is able to create life, is ultimately the one to be feared. Shelley’s ability to subtly create fear through setting, language and structure is important in creating the fear of the power of science which is crucial in this Gothic text.

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