3 Robert Walton"One man's life or death were 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." - Robert Walton, Letter IVThis quotation poses the question of the price that we are willing to pay for knowledge. In the beginning of his "quest", Frankenstein would have agreed with Walton's statement. However, as Frankenstein's remorse later demonstrates, all lives have intrinsic value, which cannot be quantified into some nebulous amount of information.
4 Dr. Frankenstein"Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain these inquiries." - Victor Frankenstein, Ch. 4This quotation reflects the indecision that pervades the process of scientific discovery. Frankenstein asserts that fear is a factor in the scientific process, instead of the result. This naive viewpoint represents the voices of those that were criticized during Shelley's lifetime as taking science too far. The fear of knowledge’s result is parallel with that of science at the time, a fear for what the results could change."This sentiment of the worth of my nature supported me when others would have been oppressed, for I deemed it criminal to throw away in useless grief those talents that might be useful to my fellow creatures." Victor Frankenstein, speaking to Robert Walton, Ch. 24This quotation is a testament to the determination of humanity. Despite Frankenstein's excessive pride, he still had good intentions in conducting his experiments. He was initially willing to accept the risks of his actions. Even though the result of his actions was bad, this can be explained due to a series of circumstances beyond Frankenstein's control. If the Creature had been shown kindness, Frankenstein's toils might have produced a better result. A question that science must still struggle with is whether the ends justify the means. Despite the result of the scientific experiment, the question of if it parallels with the pursuit of knowledge- is it worth it even if the result isn’t what is hoped for?
5 The Creature"I cannot describe 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!" - The Creature, Ch. 13This quotation emphasizes the idea that more knowledge does not have to equate with improvement. Going back to the metaphor comparing the Creature to Adam, Adam was forced to leave paradise after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Similarly, the gains that come from knowledge are accompanied by a loss of innocence and the consequences that follow. Shelley depicts how knowledge and truth of the world adds sorrow, whereas naiveté creates relative happiness.
6 The Pursuit of Knowledge Shelley depicts the dangers of knowledge throughout Frankenstein. By comparing the pursuit for knowledge to the original sin, Shelley concludes that with innocence comes a relative sense of contentment, and with knowledge comes sorrow. The Creature is a direct symbol for the pursuit of knowledge, for his naiveté and psychological well-being at his origin is then juxtaposed to his torment and struggles as he learns more about human nature and society. Furthermore, Shelley demonstrates the obsession of curiosity in human nature with the characters of Frankenstein and Walton. Frankenstein portrays a bleak outlook on the fall of mankind and the natures of men- for the pursuit of knowledge in almost all cases leads to destruction and sorrow. In addition, each character in Frankenstein cannot escape their innate curiosity and thirst for power in knowledge. Man cannot escape the lure of the apple.
8 Robert Walton"My life might have been passed in ease and luxury, but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path." - Robert Walton, Letter IThis quotation examines the motivation behind a person's actions. Based on the events of the story, knowledge is most often pursued by people that are chasing glory. While waiting for others to make discoveries is not portrayed as negative, those individuals do lose the opportunity to reap the rewards."I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven; for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose-a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye."- Robert Walton, Letter IWalton articulates his strong sense of purpose and goals. As he describes his will to pursue his purpose, Shelley demonstrates how powerful human nature gravitates to a sense of purpose. In addition, she relates the sense of a purpose to higher religious power. This correlation not only fuses Walton’s thirst for discovery and purpose with a religious connotation, but it offers an equilibrium between the two.
9 Robert Walton (continued) "The die is cast; I have consented to return if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision; I come back ignorant and disappointed." - Robert Walton, Ch. 24In this quotation, Walton shows his frustration with his apparent failure in his exploration. However, Walton is only concerned with the failure of his goal. The crew is the embodiment of pragmatism. While Frankenstein had no checks on his desires, the crew were able to prevent Walton's obsession from leading them to disaster.“How all this will terminate I know not; but I had rather die than return shamefully- my purpose unfulfilled.” – Robert Walton, Walton, In ContinuationWalton’s powerful desire to complete his goal sets an example for readers to never give up. However, Shelley poses the question of what is worth dying for once again. Walton’s heavy reliance on pursuing his dream compromises not only his life, but the lives of his crew too. Shelley illustrates the dangerous effect hubris has on the obsession with completing a purpose.
10 Dr. Frankenstein"I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this, I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation ..." - Victor Frankenstein, Ch. 5This quotation is a warning against obsession. The fact that Frankenstein neglected other aspects of his life for his experiments with creation shows that he became too involved in his work. If he had undertaken the same experiment with a smaller abundance of enthusiasm, he might have been less frustrated with the outcome. He could have even seen fit to stop or, at least, proceed with a greater degree of caution. Obsession is able to overwhelm the checks that restraint might otherwise place on our actions."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." - Victor Frankenstein, speaking to Robert Walton, Letter IVThis quotation demonstrates Frankenstein's attempt to warn Walton of the dangers inherent in the pursuit of ambitious goals. As we later learned, Frankenstein suffered because he tried to move past what the scientific community thought was possible at the time. This overstretch was the flaw in Frankenstein's plans for scientific fame and success.
11 Dr. Frankenstein (continued) “Be men, or be more than men. Be steady to your purposes and firm as a rock. This ice is not made of such stuff as your hearts may be; it is mutable and cannot withstand you if you say that it shall not.”- Frankenstein to Walton, Walton In ContinuationFrankenstein's strong advice to Walton suggests that men are men because of their conviction to purpose and strength. However, Frankenstein ‘s life is tormented by his dream to create life and his goal to get revenge. Shelley uses Frankenstein as an example to illustrate how courage is not only defined by being “as firm as a rock” for sometimes the admirable thing would to have the insight to re-examine one’s purpose without hubris.
12 The Creature"I had been accustomed, during the night, to steal a part of their store for my own consumption, but when I found that in doing this I inflicted pain on the cottagers, I abstained and satisfied myself with berries, nuts, and roots which I gathered from a neighboring wood." - The Creature, Ch. 12As the creature sacrifices his food intake for the well-being and happiness of the De Laceys, the creature shows a respectable equilibrium between his goals to survive and prospure and his goal to assimilate into society by making friends. Shelley juxtaposes the Creature’s pursuit of his goals to Frankenstein and Walton for he is still innocent and lacks hubris as the latter two do not.
13 Goals, Desires, Purpose, and Aspirations Shelley demonstrates the power of hubris and how goals and desires can ultimately lead to destruction as characters become obsessed with fulfilling their roles as men and not backing down for any reason. Although Shelley’s characters never give up which might seem courageous, they compromise their sanity and benevolence as a goal becomes divine in their mind. Frankenstein teaches readers that an equilibrium of self-awareness and drive must be maintained in order to succeed.