Frankenstein’s Anti-Enlightenment Argument

English: Frontispiece to Mary Shelley, Franken...

English: Frontispiece to Mary Shelley, Frankenstein published by Colburn and Bentley, London 1831 Steel engraving in book 93 x 71 mm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The most boring book I read for the Fantasy & Sci-Fi course was Frankenstein. The protagonist was unsympathetic, there were long passages of exposition and repetitive descriptions, and almost every line of dialogue, even that of a young child, began with the exclamation “Ah!”. It was a very laboured and contrived book and I regretted every moment that I spent on it.

Anyway, I’ve pasted my essay on Frankenstein below. It wasn’t a great effort, but mostly because I hated the book so much that I simply couldn’t bring myself to write about it.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein argues against the main principles of the Age of Enlightenment. In the Age of Enlightenment, which was the primary cultural movement for a greater part of the 18th century, great value was placed on reason and the advancement of the human race through scientific development. Nature was to be dominated by man, not the other way round.

On reading Frankenstein, one can clearly see that Shelley is highly critical of the Enlightenment movement’s cold, calculated approach towards the world. Anthropocentricism dominated all cultural and intellectual discourse and it was believed that, thanks to science and technology, humans will advance like never before. Shelley explodes this belief by having her protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, succumb to the ultimate hubris: he aspires to become the creator of a more ‘perfect’ race of beings. The ambition fails and Frankenstein sees his folly in trying to do nature’s work.

Shelley even frames her main narrative through the voice of another hubristic man, Walton, who wishes to fight against all odds and reach the Arctic: a desolate land, where man cannot hope to battle against the harshness of nature. Fittingly, the novel ends with Walton giving up his ambition and returning home.

While exposing human folly, Shelley also takes every opportunity to extol the sublime beauties of nature. Many passages are filled with Victor’s description of the natural beauties of his homeland and several times in the story, he finds solace in nature.  At one point, he even gives up his scientific studies and pursues literary studies, and finds “relief” and “consolation”.

In the end, Victor obsessively pursues his enemy, all the way to the arctic. Here, both the creator and his creature, meet their ultimate defeat, but not at each other’s hands. It is finally ruthless and relentless nature that kills Victor and renders his enemy without any purpose in life, thus leading to the latter’s suicide.

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3 thoughts on “Frankenstein’s Anti-Enlightenment Argument

  1. Loved this essay more than the others, methinks. Even at its length, it provides enough and more insight not just into the character, but the idea of the character as well.

    Thank you for posting this!

    Peace.
    Kabir

    • Thanks Kabir! Actually, it was really difficult for me to read the book because I disliked the character so much. But at the same time, I could understand why he would be afraid of a hideous creature. So there was also a slight, sneaking sympathy. I guess that’s why this book is a classic. It really confuses you because you see a little bit of yourself in Victor Frankenstein.

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