The word “knowledge” was recurring many times throughout Frankenstein novel and attracted or forced the reader to find out the true definition of it. Curiously, I decided to look up the definition of knowledge from the Webster’s Dictionary. It defines, “Knowledge: n. Understanding gained by actual experience; range of information; clear perception of truth; something learned and kept in the mind.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) I realized this word is very straightforward, but has many useful and different meanings to all of us. It is also powerful tool to determine and control the result of our judgment. “Knowledge consists in recognizing the difference between good and bad decisions”. (Knowledge Intellectual understanding) This statement seems to be one of the simple answers to the question of ‘what is knowledge?’
Knowledge can be powerful if we use it wisely and properly, but its unwisely use may convey a harmless rumor or cause awful consequences. The novel, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, was an interesting story with many comparisons of the great powers in life. It contains many themes of our society today. It contrasts science and literary, technology and human, life and death, and most importantly knowledge and ignorance. It presents knowledge in both negative and positive ways. In Frankenstein novel, three characters were used to search for one thing in common or important to them, the knowledge. Sadly the results of their search were completely different than they expected or anticipated. Walton, blinded by his ambition, believed that search for knowledge of the route to the North Pole would bring fame to his name, but learned that he has ended up only with the danger to the lives of his crew. Frankenstein, driven by his passion and unable to accept his own limitations, learned that this passion for knowledge harms his judgment, and the excess of his action leads to shocking consequences.
The creature, driven by unhappiness, believed that knowledge would be the answer to his pain but only found that it increased his unhappiness and sadness. Through each of these characters examples of successful and unsuccessful pursuit of knowledge, there is a tragic dignity in their sacrifices, suggesting that sometimes taking pride of aspiration would end tragically. Marry Shelly introducing the concept of knowledge to the reader for the first time was in a letter of Captain Walton written to his sister, Margaret Saville. In this letter, Robert Walton described his desire for knowledge of discover native territory: “One man’s life or death was but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race.” (Shelly, Letter 4, p.16) This statement showed that in Walton’s mind this achievement of knowledge was a top priority, above life or death. He was willing to die or risk everything in the name of discovery and to be recognized among those who are famous. It also explained that the risks of search for knowledge of Robert were too dangerous to ignore and costly to human life.
As the leader of a group, he will be responsible for the lives of other men; if he were make a ruthless decision in his pursuit of glory and knowledge, he would endanger those men. However, he was blinded by his obsession of knowledge to realize or disregard this sacrifice. After listening to Walton’s goal of knowledge, Frankenstein apparently worried that Walton could sacrifice his life if he continues the journey; therefore, he decided to share his own advice. Walton remembered the most valuable piece of advice from Victor to him, “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, Letter 4, p.17) Frankenstein was giving Walton a caution message because he did not want Captain Walton to follow in his footsteps of miserable and misfortunes by using knowledge in the negative way.
Especially, Walton was pursuing a mission that could ruin his life or kill his crew. Frankenstein was reflecting on his past when he shares his guidance of knowledge to Walton. He was thinking about his mistake and how different his life would be if he were not creating the monster. He was passing this helpful knowledge onto Walton, hoping that Walton would learn from his mistake or it would help Walton to understand the power of using knowledge unreasonably. Surely, Walton was able to learn from Frankenstein‘s advice and thus prevent his crew from enduring cruel death by turning back and leaving his ambition behind. “I cannot lead them unwillingly to danger, and must return.” (Shelly, Walton, in CONTINUATION, p. 161) Walton was a seeker who learned the limits of seeking.
There are two sources for gaining of knowledge. One is through reading books and education, and the other through discovering from experience and practice. This theory has been proved and supported by many examples in Frankenstein Novel. From his early age, Victor Frankenstein had a desire and thirst for knowledge. Frankenstein said of his own voice, “I was capable of a more intense application, and was more deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge.” (Shelly, Chapter 2 – paragraph 1, p 22) He was a curious boy who wanted to figure out the mysteries of creating life, and became increasingly obsessed with “natural philosophy”; he read book by Cornelius Agrippa, a sixteenth-century scholar of the occult sciences. He studied the outdated findings of the alchemists Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus with passion. With all of the knowledge he had gained about nature and mysteries of the natural world as a child and through his readings and lessons Frankenstein’s obsession of unnatural science continued and grew stronger. At that moment Victor Frankenstein understood what his destiny of how to be a scientist and to create something that the world has never seen before.
He was truly showing his awful need for scientific freedom and the chance for new discoveries. Frankenstein’s important goal was desired for knowledge of how to create a life from non-life. This ambition became his strength and weakness that were more or less the same things, and were both linked together. To achieve this desire, he decided to study how the human body built, and pursuit to create unnatural human or scientific knowledge by attending college. While he prepared to leave home for attending University of Ingolstadt, his mother died. He was suffered and felt lonely due to the lost of his mother; therefore, he planned to uncover the mystery of life. He said, “I ardently desired the acquisition of knowledge.” (Shelly, chapter 3 p.26) He conducted his experiments on creating of life from non-life alone by following the example of the ancient alchemists. Clearly Victor’s search for knowledge has driven him over the edge. He brought himself out of a safe and normal society and put himself in danger. Victor’s knowledge, once a gift, had quickly turned into an undeniable crisis for him and for all of close society.
Victor was so obsessed with bringing the creature to life that he failed to think of the possible consequences; he had never thought about the result of his goal and his responsibility if his dream would fail. He did not recognize that knowledge of natural sciences is the price of his entire life. This was his weakness or bad judgment. At the end, he was struggled to face the consequences of his own creation. I learned a lot from reading this story about a mad scientist who created life out of death; especially, how the pursuit of knowledge that always comes at a cost or can either lead to destruction or wisdom. Sometimes the pursuit of knowledge would require a higher price than we imagine or predict. The pursuit of knowledge was at Victor Frankenstein‘s mind, as his attempt to surge beyond accepted human limits and access to secret of life. Eventually it led him to create the monster and to his death. He successfully created a creature that had the ability to live and respond, but he had no real knowledge of what could happen when he made a bad decision. Instead of taking responsibility on guiding the creature to become good person he abandoned it.
The creature spent its life learning about human, how to take care of himself and take revenge on Frankenstein for having created and abandoned it. The creature destroyed his creator’s closest friend and family members due to two reasons; Victor did not comply with his demand; and the creature wanted Victor to understand his feelings of lonely; the feelings of having nobody to love or no one to be love. When his family was ruined, Victor decided to leave Geneva and all the painful memories behind him to chase and kill the monster, because he was mad at the creature for having destroying his life. Finally, Victor died to escape his despair and remorse from his creation. Victor Frankenstein’s suffering was the result of his search for knowledge and its use as a tool to show that he could do better than God. “The pursuit of knowledge is not necessarily an evil thing, but it can cause destruction when it is pursued beyond natural limits. Victor Frankenstein becomes a slave to his passion for learning in more than one way; first his life is controlled by his obsession to create life, and later he becomes a slave to the monster he has created.” (The Concepts of Knowledge and Happiness in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, p.1)
This statement showed that there always a high price to pay or sacrifice for scientist who went too far in his pursuit of knowledge. Victor Frankenstein did not realize and consider his pursuit for knowledge would haunt and control his life until it became too late. Obviously, the monster journey of discovery of knowledge was different than his creator. The creature was created through an experience of a brilliant scientist and immediately rejected by his creator. He has never been properly taught of how to survive around human and to distinguish between rights from wrong. His pursuit to educate himself was the only way available to him. He was created as a grown man but has mind of a child. He was curious about human life such as communication, feeling, behavior, and respect for each other. First, he relied on his natural instincts to survive by collecting food and warming himself by abandoned fire pits.
Eventually, he strived for more; therefore, he decided to learn how to speak, read and express feeling by observing and watching the families that lived in the cottages. To achieve his goal of communication with human, he needs to learn the basic knowledge of the language. He said, “I ought not to make the attempt until I had first become master of their language, which knowledge might enable me to make them overlook the deformity of my figure, for with this also the contrast perpetually presented to my eyes had made me acquainted.” (Shelly, Chapter 12, p. 80) Through hard works, the creature has accomplished his goal eventually. However, this wishing to be more like humans costs the monster his happiness. As the creature admired human’s graceful minds and beautiful physical figures and was shocked by his ugliness when he caught sight of his reflection in a pool of water. After realizing he was horribly different from human beings. Painfully the monster cried and spoke of sadness for his investigation of knowledge.
He said, “I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me; I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge.” (Shelly, chapter 13, p. 87) and “Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock.” (Shelly, Chapter 13, p. 87) This knowledge took away the creature hope for happiness and filled his heart with hatefulness and bitterness. He decided to take revenge on his creator because he was angry and blamed his creator for having brought him to life as a monster. This revenge was taken over the creature’s mind, leaving him unable to made wise judgments. Many innocent lives were destroyed due to the creature attempted to ruin his creator life. Narrow-minded, the creature thought he would be happy when other people live was ruined; knowledge would bring him happiness and community acceptance.
However, at the end, the monster realized his revenge still did not satisfy his own natural desires and knowledge only increased his sadness and unhappiness. Admittedly, he was the victim of his wrong doing: “You, who call Frankenstein your friend, seem to have knowledge of my crimes and his misfortunes.” (Shelly, Walton, In Continuation, p. 165) The creature was unusually minded; his actions were motivated by spirit, pure and simple. His hunger for his created reason drove him to search for knowledge of his origins and existence on this world. The references of unruly knowledge are spread throughout the book; it may not all be totally relevant to any sort of social importance but it still provided strong mean to the story.
This theme is strengthened by Shelley’s impressive and innovative style. It presented through a perfectly planned and laid out narrative from the perspectives of Walton, the Monster, and Victor, all of whom consistently contribute to the theme of knowledge. Frankenstein is a tale about man’s obsession to acquire knowledge at all costs. Mary Shelly provides examples of the different ways to gain knowledge and explores how characters are successful and unsuccessful in their quest for knowledge. The book Frankenstein shows a man’s life that is ruined by his thirst for knowledge. It is a great example of what happens when people take science too far, without considering the consequences of their actions. I learned a lot from reading this chilling story. I have to take a moment and ask myself, when I am working in the area of technology, whose interests do I have in mind? How will these developments affect society? What harm could my creation cause? One most important question I ask myself is how much am I willing to sacrifice in return for knowledge?