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Frankenstein, Community, And The Individual Essay

1691 words - 7 pages

Many innovations throughout the modern world have made life significantly easier, safer, of higher quality, and are said to be done for the "greater good of humanity". However, these accomplishments come at a cost, as expressed through the concepts of creation and responsibility that lie at the core of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It is through these concepts that Shelley explores how society has changed during Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution, with lessening importance on shared knowledge and the "public sphere" and more emphasis on individual achievement and identity, leading to a fractured and isolated society. In this paper I argue that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein criticizes the impacts of Industrial Revolution and Romantic era-inspired individualism on the community and individual, using Victor Frankenstein's disruption of the reproductive process and subsequent relationship with his creation as examples of potential negative consequences.
To begin our analysis, I will look to how Mary Shelley positions Victor Frankenstein's motivations to create life against natural laws within the ideas of individualism, as Victor can correlate directly to the educated human at the center of Enlightenment, Industrialism, and Romanticism values. With the burgeoning interest in scientific discovery during the Industrial Revolution "transform[ing] British culture" and "changing the world"(Lipking 2065), many concepts of society were also changed, which Shelley looked to explore through Victor's actions. Rooted in the scientifically curious spirit of Industrial England, Victor's attempt to create life can show many examples of how an importance of the individual acquisition of knowledge and accomplishment can disrupt society. Victor's pursuit of knowledge is firmly rooted in this curiosity that Mary Shelley would have seen England and Europe enthralled by, evidenced in many passages, but most notably in his escalating interest in the sciences, changing focus at each new discovery he makes.
From a "chance" exposure to the works of Cornelius Agrippa, to the man with the air pump, the electricity blasted tree stump (Shelley 22-24), and the discovery of the principle of life come alive, Victor progresses through curiosity and innovation as swiftly as technology improved during the early 1800's, each promising new leaps, bounds, and capabilities and ignoring repercussions. Each of these steps provided individual accomplishment for Victor, with no concern to the benefit for the public sphere that resided at the core of Enlightenment-era knowledge (Melton 8). For example, Victor speaks of the "pursuit of some discoveries" and the ability of science to provide "continual food for discovery and wonder", then relates the benefit he receives - he "sought the attainment of one object of pursuit...which procured me great esteem and admiration at the university" (Shelley 30-31). The priority of personal reward over community creates an individual identity of...

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