Theme Of Enlightenment In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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Frankenstein’s Folly
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Shelley criticizes the Enlightenment through characterization, symbolism, and framework in order to challenge the idea that intellectualism is more important than humanity.
The Enlightenment was an era of intellectual and scientific progression in the 1800’s that encouraged reason and rationality over religion. One of the themes of Frankenstein is that the “acquirement of knowledge” is “dangerous” (Shelley 38). Frankenstein tells Walton that the happiest men are those who don’t “aspire to become greater than [their] nature will allow” (38). Frankenstein is so unhappy because he attempted exactly what he later warns Walton against. By trying to create life, Frankenstein was trying to be more
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This is a very Romantic notion, dissimilar from the Enlightenment era. The few times Victor finds solace, it is because of the tranquility and beauty of the nature that surrounds him. When his depression gets especially bad, he holes up indoors in isolation, and when he finally goes outside and surrounds himself with nature, his humanity is reawakened and his depression alleviated (55, 81). However, he eventually becomes so far gone that even the scenic outdoors can do nothing to improve his mood or his health (139). Shelley stresses this healing power of nature through the foil character Clerval, Victors best friend. Clerval finds joy in humanistic studies, such as language and researching society. Yet he finds even more joy in nature! “He was alive to every new scene, joyful when he saw the beauties of the setting sun, and more happy when he beheld it rise and recommence a new day” (139). By highlighting the good nature of Clerval (those who are content with humanness) she emphasizes how truly awful Victor (Enlightenment thinkers) are. While Clerval feels joyful and adrenalized by life, Victor is despondent and “sorrowful” (39). He cannot enjoy the beauty around him because of the morose and gloomy feelings that the monster (his creation) is causing him to feel. Clerval is happy because he focuses his energies on nature and humanity; Victor is sad because he focuses on science and …show more content…
Upon hearing of Walton’s ambitions, Frankenstein begs him to learn from his mistakes and explains to him that the acquirement of knowledge is dangerous and soul-destroying (38). Even with his dying breath, Victor admonishes Walton to “seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition” (200). He wants Walton to be satisfied with his life as it is, and to not pursue the North Pole. Frankenstein now understands that there is danger in trying to be greater than nature made man to be. In the end, Walton heeds this advice and turns his ship back to England, abandoning his goal (198). This fits Shelley’s views that humans should renounce their scientific pursuits and return “home” to simpler, more romantic

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