In her author’s note, Mary Shelley tells of the motivation that lit the spark for what would become one of the most famous novels of all time. Interestingly enough, Frankenstein was the result of a bet between four noted writers of the time: Mary (of course), her husband Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori. They all agreed to write a ghost story, and of the four Mary was the only one to finish. She writes that she wanted a story that would rival all other ghost stories. She said that she wanted to write a story that would, “…speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror…” (Shelley, xxiii). In fact, if one were to take English author M. R. James’ points of what makes a true ghost story, then Frankenstein is a perfect ghost story. There are five points that he makes: 1. it has to have a pretense of truth, 2. No gratuitous bloodshed or sex, 3. No “explanation of the machinery”, 4. setting must be of the writer’s own day, and 5. “A pleasing terror”. It is this last point that James says is “the true aim of the ghost story.” Shelley, before she started writing, was set on making this her main purpose of the novel. The result of her toils is a novel that explores the argument of Nature vs. Nurture through her two main characters, Victor and the Monster, by creating them in the image of the two major arguments of the human condition in the 18th and 19th century.
On one side, there’s Victor. He is very easily described as an ambitious and bright young man, both that can be positive attributes of his character. However, both of these turn out to contribute to his hubris, in that after he discovers the “cause of generation and life” (Shelley, 37) he distances himself from society, locking himself in a “solitary chamber” for over two years. Victor’s character, during and after the creation of the Monster, exemplifies Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and English philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ views on human nature.
Garrath Williams’ summary of Hobbes’s picture of human nature is that we are “…vulnerable…easily led astray in our attempts to know the world around us…When we act, we may do so selfishly or impulsively or in ignorance…” (Williams). Wasn’t that what Frankenstein was doing while he was creating the Monster? He was not aware of the future consequences that would be the result of his creation. He made no attempt to contact his family and friends, he became so caught up in his work that at some point he had forgotten about them completely.
Once he completes his project and realizes the mistake he has made he is plunged into what Hobbes calls the “natural condition of mankind”. Shelly, however, in keeping truth preserved, does not do away with government as Hobbes describes, but Frankenstein is cast into a state of being that would follow the absence of government: “a state of violence, insecurity, and constant threat.” (Williams)
Now, Shelley also used another philosopher’s idea of the “natural human”...