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Romantic and Enlightenment Ideas in Frankenstein Essay

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The Enlightenment age encouraged everyone to use reason and science in order to rid the world of barbarism and superstition. In fact, Kant argued that the "public use of one's reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men" (Kant 3). Enlightenment thinking not only influenced philosophy and the sciences, but also literature (especially in Pope's Essay on Man). In reaction to Enlightenment's strict empiricism, Romanticism was born. In Frankenstein, Shelley argues (1) that Victor Frankenstein's role as an Enlightenment hero, not only pulled him out of nature, but made him a slave to his creation; (2) that Frankenstein's role as a revolting romantic failed, because he didn't take responsibility for his creation; and (3) mankind must find a balance between the Enlightenment and Romantic ideologies.

In his youth Victor spent his time secluded from nature, studying books. Victor spent every hour trying to learning how to "banish disease from the human frame and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death" (Shelley, 26). He was the perfect enlightenment hero, as he pursued education over everything else. He declared to Captain Walton that the:

world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember (22).

His pursuit of knowledge became even more important when he entered the university of Ingolstadt. He "read with ardour" (35) and soon become "so ardent and eager that the stars often disappeared in the light of the morning whilst I was yet engaged in my laboratory" (35). He was a proud product of the Enlightenment...


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...or Frankenstein, does not live up to his role model. He lacks compassion for his creation (perhaps a reflection on the lack of belief in a benevolent deity in which Mary was raised), and shirks his moral responsibility by refusing to disclose his experiments to the community around him." (Madigan 3)


Works Cited

“Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind.” The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History. Steven Kreis, 3 December 2006. 12 October 2014.


Kant, Immanuel. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. 1990.

Madigan, P. The Modern Project to Rigor: Descartes to Nietzsche. Landham: UP of America, 1986.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. Edited by: D.L. Macdonald & Kathleen Scherf. Broadview Editions. 3rd Edition. June 20, 2012 


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