What ideas of the pursuit of scientific knowledge are explored in
Mary Shelley begins Frankenstein through the narrative of Robert Walton, a
knowledge-hungry explorer seeking to discover the fundamental secrets of the world
in order to achieve personal glory. Walton is shown to be naive, especially considering
his introduction to Victor Frankenstein who tells the story of his own mistakes in
regard to the pursuit of knowledge as a warning to Walton. As a Romantic writer,
Shelley suggests that the pursuit of knowledge can be dangerous to humankind,
leading to Frankenstein to be described as a Promethean allegory through the
mirroring of Prometheus myth and Frankenstein's turmoil. Shelley gives this warning
in the 19th Century, a time in which Britain was experiencing an Industrial Revolution.
The reflection of Frankenstein's advancements to those who were currently aspiring to
pursue new inventions and findings could be Shelley's way of warning the
devastations that may be posed to mankind.
Within Frankenstein, the pursuit of scientific knowledge is suggested to be destructive
and unnatural. Shelley uses intertextual allusions to the myth of Prometheus, initially
within the frontispiece which states Frankenstein to be the Modern Prometheus.
This could be due to the fact that Shelley wanted the novel to be interpreted as a type
of Promethean allegory. Romantics believed in the sublimity in nature and therefore
the myth of Prometheus would extend to the theory that man could not defy nature
and if he tried, nature- which Pantheists believed represented a God-like figure- would
punish man. Frankenstein states having animated a spark of being into the lifeless
thing. The noun spark connotes images of fire which could be alluding to the fire
that Prometheus stole from Zeus in order to provide knowledge of this element to
humans which resulted in the Gods punishing Prometheus. Another interpretation is
that the spark is a reference to Galvanism, the scientific theory of using electricity to
re-animate life which Mary Shelley was very interested in this concept at the time.
The use of a reference to Galvanism and the Promethean myth shows the use of
science to contradict nature and how the pursuit of knowledge can lead to destruction.
Pursuit of scientific knowledge is also explored through the idea of Enlightenment.
The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that
existed through the 17th and 19th centuries. It encouraged the use scientific method and
the pursuit of knowledge in order to discover the fundamental secrets of the world
which could create better societies (opposing the Romantic idea that the pursuit of
knowledge and the aberration of nature was threatening to mankind). Walton and
Frankenstein (in their youn...