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The Science Debate: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus appeared at a time when the science fiction genre was only at the initial stage of its emergence and development. For the 19th century, the story of a man who managed to create an unnatural living being was, on the one hand, a huge shock, and, on the other hand, something frightening and unclear. The story of a scientist who could not take responsibility for his invention can be considered in several aspects: mythological, religious, scientific and social. In this paper, we consider the last two planes to find out how many roles they play in the author’s idea and whether they are related to each other.

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Victor Frankenstein is a resident of Geneva, the son of famous citizens of the Republic. As the hero says, his childhood was happy and full of joy. At a young age, the boy discovers in himself a passion for knowing the earth and the sky, and the secrets of the human soul (Jones 82). Mary Shelley writes on his behalf: “My inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in the highest sense, the physical secrets of this world.” (35). He spent all his time reading books on the natural sciences and began to search for the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life.

As a young man, he went to a University where he could quench his thirst for knowledge. Victor says: “From this day natural philosophy, and particularly chemistry, in the most comprehensive sense of the term, became nearly my sole occupation…One of the subjects that especially occupied me was the structure of the human.” (50). As a result of his empirical research, the scientist created a creature that is too ugly and frightening to be called a man. But it is reasonable and capable of self-learning and cognition, which puts it much higher than the animal. The main character escapes from his creation and tries to hide from the meeting with him in all possible ways.

So begins the emergence of Frankenstein’s thirst for knowledge of human nature and its limits. He begins to study the bodies of dead people and comprehends the mystery of life, Shelley says, “at the cost of many days of inhuman labor and effort” (68) — he learns how to revive lifeless matter. Victor says that this “immense power” turned his head; thus, the motives of his actions were scientific interest and the thirst for universal recognition.

The Monster in the novel is not a timeless archetype. There are many ideas inherent in the century to which Shelley belonged: in particular, the concept of crime and its moral evaluation. According to the writer, crimes are committed not because a monster or a person is inclined to them, but they are caused by specific reasons, independent of them. The Monster is treated bad and even hostile, so he pays the same cruelty and destruction.

He belongs to no one because his creator has renounced him. The Monster has no place in life; he doesn’t even have a name. An interesting metaphor is created in this novel – the autonomous existence of an artificial being. The Monster not only exists independently from Professor Frankenstein, but he discovers the possibility of survival, learns to speak, to enjoy the fruits of human labor, but he cannot be useful to humanity.

Ethical categories are overestimated for him: evil gradually turns into good, since the Creature has no prerequisites to be good; people themselves force him to become evil. When he tries to become kinder, people do not understand him, do evil to him and cause him pain. The Monster has his life principles, as Frankenstein has them. But science turns into nonsense for Frankenstein, he creates for the sake of curiosity, trying to prove the unlimited possibilities of the human mind.

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The Monster proves senseless artificiality of his appearance and the impossibility of abstract existence for the sake of existence. Frankenstein acts as a pioneer of new ways, a researcher of unknown forces, demonstrating the deep secrets of creation. Many of Shelleys contemporaries believed that a child needs a natural upbringing. This means that giving life should be like a bundle to pass it from hands to hands without disastrous consequences. Shelly argues the need for responsibility; and it is higher if coming from persons like Frankenstein because his creation belongs to humanity. The writer creates a generalized image of a scientist-enthusiast, immersed in his special world, inaccessible to others, selfish enough, and remembering his loved ones only in difficult times.

The creation of the human genius presented in the novel turns out to be outwardly disgusting, but inwardly rich, humane and kind. The scientist is afraid of his invention and runs away from it, but the monster continually reminds him of responsibility to people, of the close connection between the human intellect and the society to which this intellect serves. This philosophical work is based on the myth of the modern Prometheus, who did not think what would happen after humanity gets his fire. The product of the human brain is a mighty destructive power because its creator didn’t think about the perspectives and objectives of such a being.

By this statement, the main ideas of this work are extraordinary in their relevance and significance. Science should be turned for the good, not for the evil of people. Shelley in her novel is mostly ahead of time and tries to warn humanity about the irreversibility of the consequences for irresponsibility towards nature, to science, to themselves (Dominy and Yeakel 107). She argues that an independent existence is impossible because an individual is involved in a specific system of connections, likes, and dislikes. Everything in the world is interconnected, and it is impossible to escape from the responsibility, – she states with her story.

However, there is another context in this story: the Monster is like a composite image of someone who is not pleasing to society. It absorbs the full potential of both good and evil. It is not only a scientific experiment but also a model of everyday social life. The Monster is a child, brought up in the orphanage, not understanding that it is wrong with him and why the parents abandoned him. Therefore, he blames himself, and being beautiful, considers himself a freak; and if no one owes him anything, then he, accordingly, also has no debts, including moral ones. The Monster is also a single nation, subjected to discrimination in language, skin color, traditions, and religious beliefs. He is not like everyone else, something different and eye-catching, and therefore despised and persecuted.

Mary Shelley adopts the inexhaustible immensity of the universe and shows the creative and constructive abilities of a human. The story of human evolution from the primitive state in the novel transferred to the metaphor of darkness. Consciousness was not born in the monster at once, but, when arose, it forces him first to distinguish light and dark, separate objects, detect the fire, and then to learn how to extract it. Shelley prophetically predicted the impoverishment of the spirit in humanity, capable of creating beings more reasonable and kind than itself, more worthy of pity and regret.

Works Cited

Dominy, Nathaniel J., and Yeakel, Justin D. “Frankenstein and the Horrors of Competitive Exclusion.” BioScience, vol. 67, no. 2, 2017, pp. 107-110.

Jones, Nicole G. Romantic Literature and Contemporary Philosophy, Science, and Medicine: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Diss, 2016.

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Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus. Ripol Classic, 2008.

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "The Science Debate: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." December 24, 2020.


StudyCorgi. (2020) 'The Science Debate: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein'. 24 December.

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