Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein brings out a very prominent and unavoidable theme: the dangers of knowledge. It is often said that there is nothing wrong with learning new things, but Shelley makes it a point to prove that wrong. Dr. Frankenstein’s voracious and successful approach to necromancy proves that very distinctly. Though the novel does not explicitly state that there are things best left to higher powers, the novel does highlight, very pointedly, that a man should act as such, and should not interfere with either that which he is not meant to, or that which opposes the natural way of things. Dr. Frankenstein does both. It is not a matter of controversy that humans are not meant to play God, and reanimating a corpse constructed from the remains of various other corpses falls very firmly in the realm of actions classifiable as both unethical and unnatural. Effectively, the entire book may be paraphrased, as “Dr. Frankenstein was a perfectly cheerful student, until he played God, following which, his entire life crashed around him, and he lost virtually everyone and everything he loved.” Shelley does not explicitly state that there are things solely in the realm of God, but the books makes it clear nonetheless that some things were made to transcend human knowledge, and that violating this law will have natural and terrible consequences. Shelley wishes, then, to paint knowledge as a formidable force that should be approached with intense caution. Her Frankenstein is a warning.
Three of the prominent characters in the novel Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein, Robert Walton and the monster, all share a thirst for knowledge that ultimately leads to downfall in one way or another. Shelly, in her novel, portrayed how Victor’s journey to seek knowledge led to a life of misery and sadness. Even upon meeting Walton, Victor says, “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”(Shelly 62). Although this quote only implies that his downfall was due to the monster, in reality, his downfall began long before even the monster was created, as evidenced by Victor’s (literally) inhumane quest for knowledge.
From a very early age, Victor Frankenstein had a thirst for knowledge. He was captivated by the sciences; he spent all his time just studying from the work of the older scientists. In the university, when he was told that all his time spent studying has been a waste, as new discoveries have been made, he became angry. Ironically, his obsession with science became even stronger and he devoted his life acquiring even greater knowledge. This obsession was where it all began. Victor’s quest for knowledge was a selfish quest of sabotage; his obsession to create a life form was so deep that he ignored everyone he knew. This thirst to surge beyond the accepted human limits and access the secret of life led to one disaster after another.
Similarly, Robert Walton desires knowledge beyond limits. Walton’s quest to reach the northernmost part of the earth is similar in spirit to Victor’s quest for the secret of life: both seek ultimate knowledge, and both sacrifice the comfort of the realm of known knowledge in their respective pursuits. When Walton says, “What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?”(Shelly 50). It becomes certain that Walton is ready to surpass any limit for the pursuit of total knowledge. Light in this context, is a symbol for goodness and knowledge. If we closely examine, we discover that Robert Walton possess the same desires as Victor Frankenstein, and can be addressed as “a potential Frankenstein, another man . . . seeking out ultimate knowledge by conquering the world’s uncharted regions”(Claridge 85). Victor, seeing Walton having the same thirst, warns him; “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow”(Shelly 81).
Knowledge not only destroys Victor Frankenstein’s life but also of the monster. Firstly, He was the creation of Frankenstein’s desire to gain knowledge. He would have never come to life if Frankenstein had control over his obsession. Secondly, the monster delves deeper into sadness when he acquires knowledge the world has to offer him “I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me; I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge. Oh, that I had forever remained in my native wood, nor known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat!” (Shelly 146). If the monster did not have any knowledge, he would have felt none of the emotions or reflections that people have inflicted upon him. Finally, the greatest impact of the monster’s actions is due to the knowledge that of him alone in the world “I am an unfortunate and deserted creature, I look around and I have no relation or friend upon earth. These amiable people to whom I go have never seen me and know little of me. I am full of fears, for if I fail there, I am an outcast in the world forever, without any love or affection”(Shelly 158), this knowledge, beyond his basic sensations, makes him a so-called “Monster” and the cause of all mayhem.
This, conclusively, is Mary Shelley’s severe warning to the reader. It is a strict warning to the reader to remain humane and reasonable in their quest for knowledge. The text, then, also professes a deep romanticism in that it shows, very clearly, that one should not stray from that which is natural. It preaches that things are exactly how they are, but also warns that knowledge is not something to be trifled with. The text also carries with it, a long standing theme of consequences; Victor defied nature and raised the monster, and it then seemed like everything around Victor was dedicated to driving him to depression or death. Eventually, defying nature got the better of him and he died, desolate and alone, away from his home, and nature claimed yet another human that defied it.