Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein cannot merely be read as a literary work of the early 19th century. It represents the workings of young Shelley's mind. Further, it represents the vast scientific discoveries of the time, combined with Mary Shelley's intuitive perception of science. She views science as a powerful entity, but also recognizes the dangers if uncontrolled. Shelley demonstrates this fear in the book as science drives Victor Frankenstein to create his monster. In the end, it is also his use of science that inevitably becomes his demise.
Mary Shelley's life experiences are blatantly displayed in her writing of Frankenstein. Her use of science in the book directly relates to the many discoveries of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, specifically the discovery of the nature of electricity. For example, Benjamin Franklin was a well-known scientist who studied the scientific properties of electricity in the 1700's. He not only performed the infamous experiment with the kite and lightning, but also studied the possible medical benefits of electricity. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is undoubtedly a product of his research of this crucial aspect in the book, electricity.
In Frankenstein, electricity serves as the very tool which creates life -- creates the monster. It gives life to the lifeless. Early medical experiments demonstrated this phenomenon as a dead frog leg jolted with the injection of electricity, serving as a bridge between electricity and biology and chemistry. This bridge, along with his study of out-dated scientific works, leads Victor Frankenstein to fantasize about the possibilities of creating life using the power of electricity and the body o...
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...ience and the dangerous power it potentially holds are intuitive. Modern day science deals daily with the exact issues of which Shelley was apparently keenly aware. She introduces ethics to the study of science, even gives science a conscious. As the monster acts on Frankenstein's conscious, some would say that Mary Shelley writes literature to act as science's conscious. It was as if she acknowledged that the future of science, if uncontrolled, could be disastrous. The book serves to warn readers, both past and current, of our own powers. It was almost as if Mary Shelley in 1818 could see nearly 200 years into the future, recognizing that our scientific discoveries of nuclear weapons and cloning could eventually be our demise.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein Or, The Modern Prometheus. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.
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