The novel Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelly in 1818, presents the readers with many arguments and questions that intrigue the human mind centuries after the novel was written. It addresses and tries to answers many mysteries and inquiries that have plagued the minds of scientists, philosophers, and the general public over issues such as the advancement of science and man’s innate desire to be like his Creator, to the extent that man often tries to literally play God (Anthology 2006). Shelly takes up this issue, and presents her own version of the concept, debating whether man is qualified enough, in all senses, to try and take over the powers of the Creator, and what would happen if he would succeed in doing such an act. It is true that such a discussion borders on the dangerous grounds of heresy (Anthology 2006), regardless of the faith system that one follows, for almost in all faiths the concept of God is presented as the perfect and the most-powerful being who is the Lord of all creation. However, it is only by venturing in such heretical grounds that one can actually try and understand the themes running through the novel Frankenstein. This paper endeavors to answer the question: did Victor indeed try to play God, or was he just an overzealous scientists who took it too far? The discussion follows.
While dissecting the themes and concepts forming the groundwork of Frankenstein in order to reach to a conclusion for the thesis of this paper, it is imperative to study the historical background and the era in which the novel was written. The 1800s were a time when radical scientific developments were taking place, and there was a sudden boom in the advancements that an ordinary person encountered in his daily life. Just recently, it was demonstrated that electricity could be used to spasm the muscles of a dead human being (Anthology 2006), and it cannot be ignored that this phenomenon must have been the ignition that sparked Shelly’s imagination in writing this novel. These observations tackle the question of why exactly did Shelly choose to write on this topic, which is crucial in understanding the mindset with which she developed the character of Victor.
The basic theme running through the novel is the ambitious pursuance of knowledge and science which finally led to Victor’s death (Frankenstein 1823). He started off quite innocently, with apparently good intentions, and in the beginning of the plot did not have any apparent ulterior motives as to the misuse of his knowledge. However, as he learned and researched, the possibilities of his abilities grew, and it dawned on him just how vast the field was in which he could make his own mark. Hence, we see in Letter 4 that this unchecked quest for knowledge is related to “intoxication and madness” (Frankenstein 1823). Driven uncontrollably by his desire to cross the boundaries and limitations of mere everyday science, Victor went to far in trying to achieve a God-like status. It should be noted, however, that this desire did not guide his actions from the start, but rather grew gradually as he discovered new possibilities, and as his scientific prowess increased through his experiments.
One incident that ignited Victor’s drive toward creation and propelled him to try and act God was the death of his mother, which he strongly believed to be unfair and unjust (Frankenstein 1823). It was only natural then, that he would try to take matters into his own hands and react impulsively and uncontrollably. Regarding illness and death as imperfections and nuisances, Victor sought to come up with a solution to these flaws or faults in the whole web of creation by creating something, or rather hoping to create something that would defy these defects and live to be perfect, devoid of all illnesses and even the prospect of death (Frankenstein 1823). It is important to note here that his desire to play God_ which indeed he did try to do, so it is unarguable_ did not spring from vanity and the sole aim to unmatched power and glory, as is often opined, but rather from a reactionary attitude from the loss of a loved one, a loss he deemed as unfair and avoidable (Frankenstein 1823). This reaction alone does not render him an egotistic maniac who risked his life and the life of everyone around him to prove to the world that he was superior than them. The said concept can be wrongly inferred from the lines in chapter 4 of the book where Victor desires to create “a new species which would bless me as its creator and source” (Frankenstein 1823). Although his statement does illicit the discussed impression, the root cause of this attitude must be kept in mind while judging Victor’s character, and through him, the general desires of human beings as depicted by Shelly. It is obvious Shelly thinks of human beings as always trying to rival their Creator by trying to take over from Him the powers of creation so they can reach the same level as He. This concept is indeed heretical, but there have been many instances in history where incidents point to such an attitude behind certain acts. What is important to note is that Victor started off with good intentions, of trying to use science to modify the advent of illness and disease, and to ward of the threat of death in order to bring perfection and beauty to the creatures. This motive twisted itself into a desire to create something that would revere and worship him, and the overwhelming drive behind it can be the sheer power of knowledge and abilities that Victor had garnered through his studies and research.
Suffice it to say that it can not be denied that victor ended up trying to play God, but failed at it and not only caused himself his life but also the lives of his family and friends. What must be remembered is that there were no deliberate intentions involved in such a misfortune; indeed, it was never Victor’s intention to create a monster, or as is said in the book in chapter 3, “filthy creation” (Frankenstein 1823). Victor failed in his God-act in another aspect; instead of showing compassion and responsibility towards his so-called creation, he was horrified and simply banished it (Frankenstein 1823), thus eliciting violent and savage reactions from the monster, who was dependant on Victor’s guidance and support. When ostracized the way he was, the monster, or Victor’s “creation”, turned into a devil, as Victor always thought of him (Frankenstein 1823). Lastly, it can be argued that Victor never truly “created” something, as he just re-used already created body parts, and just instilled life in a dead man, thus unsuccessfully imitating an act of God (Frankenstein 1823).