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The Paradox Of Discovery In Mary Shelley

1802 words - 7 pages

The Paradox of Discovery in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Jacob Wickham

October 10, 2011

Writing and Research

Professor Frazier

The Idea of Discovery in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the idea of discovery is a central theme: original

discovery is wonderful and naive, yet ends in desolation and corruption. The ambitions of

both Frankenstein and Walton (to investigate new lands and cast scientific enlightenment

on the unknown) are formed with the best of intentions, however a grave disregard for the

sacredness of natural boundaries is trespassed. Throughout Shelly's novel the idea of

discovery remains idealized, unfortunately human imperfection completely corrupts all

pursuit of that once so cleat ideal. The corruption of discovery can be seen through the

corruption that is natural in every human life, every child begins as a pure and perfect

creature, but in time hardens into a narcissistic, covetous, overly striving adult. Only by

the end of the novel does Walton understand that he must discard his own desire (the

mapping of previously uncharted land), out of concern for the life of his crew.�

The idea of discovery occurs quite early in the novel. In his first letter to his sister,

Walton compares his feelings on the expedition to a child's joy (12). Walton fondly

remembers his uncle's great library of discovery literature (tales of men at sea and

adventurers), all of which he poured over as a child. He writes of his displeasure when

recounting his father on his deathbed, forbidding him to "embark in a seafaring life" (13).

Walton later informs Frankenstein that his crew is on a "voyage of discovery." It should

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come of no surprise that only at the mention of this word, Frankenstein agrees to board

the ship (23.)� Once on board, Frankenstein recounts his history. Frankenstein, too, was

possessed by a youthful fixation: the desire to acquire scientific knowledge, and to create

an indestructible man (41.) He remarks that science is "a perpetual craving for discovery

and wonder," and tells Walton that he solved the most impenetrable of scientific

mysteries: the principle of life (48.) William Walling in his essay: Victor Frankenstein's

Dual Role points out "Victor Frankenstein is portrayed as "a version of the 'Creator' -- of

God Himself" (107.) This should not stun the reader since corruption surely befalls

discovery and as with any man who deems himself God, the fall will be painful.

Nevertheless the stages of discovery were diligently performed, his "astonishment" and

soon gave way to "delight and rapture"; the "overwhelming" nature of his achievement

erased all the grim steps that had led to its fruition (51.)

The disastrous...

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