Self-Education in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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The Importance of Self-Education in Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein tells a story about the creation and the destruction of a man considered by society to be a “monster”. In the novel, there is profound meaning to be found in the monster’s self-education. Patterned after the evolution of human learning, the monster’s spontaneous learning proceeds through major stages. First, is the accidental discovery of fire, this is followed by a realization by the monster that knowledge yields power.

Similar with human history, the finding of fire is the first step of the creature’s learning. In the beginning of Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein, the scientist who applies what he has studied, conjoins different parts of corpses by surgical operation and produces a monster with horrible appearance; yet, he forsakes what he has made. Not knowing what to do, the creature wanders in the wildness and suffers from freezing temperature. The serious matter, which it is facing, is how to keep him alive. Accidentally, he finds fire. In addition to it, the creature amazingly learns the way of keeping fire.

One day, when I was oppressed by cold, I found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it¡K. I examined the materials of the fire, and to my joy found it to be composed of wood. I quickly collected some branches; but they were wet, and would not burn¡K. The wet wood which I had placed near the heat dried, and it self became inflamed. I discovered the cause, and busied my in collecting a great quantity of wood, that I might dry it, and have a plentiful supply of fire.


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...ctor; therefore, the situation is totally out of control.

To the end, Frankenstein breaks through the barrier that separates man from God, and apparently becomes the giver of life, but all he actually can give is death-in-life.4It is Frankenstein who disorders the law of nature and the monster inherits his mistake, abusing knowledge. Originally, the main intention of the creature’s self-education is to learn the skills of survival as well as improvement of life, and the motivation of the learning is basically good. But disobeying the principle of nature makes these self-educators become self-destroyers. The fiction, as a result, ends with a tragic way. All three of the narrators in the novel are self-educated, and fall victim to this problem; seeking knowledge in solitude, they are condemned to find only a more distressing knowledge of solitude.
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