Myth Of The 'noble Savage' Illustrated In Mary Shelly's Frankenstein And Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s The Sorrows Of Young Werther

1257 words - 5 pages

Political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau is often attributed to the discussion of the “noble savage,” and the existence of natural man. Throughout numerous works of literature, the theme of the “noble savage” is prevalent and enduring, providing indirect authors’ commentary through the actions and development of various characters. Two such novels are Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. In both novels, Shelly and Goethe demonstrate strong Romantic ideals, while developing various characters using Rousseau’s myth.

Shelly’s Frankenstein follows a young doctor, Victor Frankenstein, who sets out to engineer a working humanlike being. Throughout the novel, Shelly uses characterization of both Victor, as well as the monster he creates, to demonstrate the novel’s roots of Rousseau’s myth. In the case of Victor Frankenstein, Shelly describes an innocent Swiss boy, living with his parents, who becomes interested in scientific exploration by reading various journals of past scientists. Despite his interest in science, Victor is told that “every instant that you [he] has wasted on those books is utterly and entirely lost,” by M. Krempe, a university professor at Ingolstadt, where Victor goes to college. As a result, Shelly acknowledges Victor’s turning point away from innocence, when he begins his studies of modern science at Ingolstadt. Using his knowledge of anatomy, learned at Ingolstadt, Victor secretly begins to work on a humanoid creature. Following months of labor, Victor’s creation is complete, and shows signs of life. However, the creature’s monster-like appearance frightens Victor, causing him to eventually vacate his house, leaving the Monster alone. Victor’s abandonment of his creation further foreshadows his eventual loss of innocence, which is demonstrated by the murder of Victor’s brother, William. Victor becomes increasingly guilty about his role in his brother’s death, yet does not confess, due to his fear of being labeled insane. In addition, as Victor travels through the countryside, nature has a dramatic effect on his mood, further supporting the Romantic ideals of Rousseau’s myth. As the novel progresses, Victor becomes increasingly guilt ridden, nervous and often ill. This instance demonstrates Rousseau’s myth, as it shows Victor’s dramatic changes as a result of his experiences throughout the book.

In addition to Shelly’s characterization of Victor, the Monster is also used as an example of Rousseau’s myth. Upon creation, the Monster’s mind is completely blank, and generally good. However, he is forced to attempt to integrate himself into human society, due to Victor’s abandonment of him. This is evident when the Monster isolated from society, as most humans are made uncomfortable and afraid by his appearance. As a result, the Monster attempts to stay away from humans, yet begins observing a group of humans living in a cottage. Through his observations, the Monster...

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